LeMons Utah Day One: Volvo 740, VW Golf, Porsche 914 Leading Classes

The quantity of race cars at the first-ever Salt Lake City 24 Hours of LeMons wasn’t so high, but the quality was just stratospheric. We knew we’d be in for a good race session on Saturday, and that’s precisely what we got. Here’s how things stood at the end of the first day of racing at the Return of the LeMonites 24 Hours of LeMons.

Leading Class A and the entire field, we’ve got the Volvo 740 Turbo of Team Too Stupid To Know Better. This team ran a Volvo 740-based birthday cake at Buttonwillow a couple of years back, but that car was destroyed in a wreck last year and this bone-stock red-and-white wagon is its replacement. The Volvo 240 has been quite successful in LeMons, but the 740 has shown a very consistent record of broken parts and DNFs in past races. Things might be different this weekend.

The Model T GT, winner of three previous LeMons races, sits a single lap behind the Volvo. The T GT gets surprisingly good fuel economy, with its two-barrel carburetor and hard tires, but it can’t match the stingy 2.3-liter Swede in that department.

The Too Stupid To Know Better crew took a gamble on fuel consumption as the moment of the checkered flag approached, and that gamble very nearly resulted in the Model T GT grabbing the lead on the last lap of the session when the Volvo’s tank ran dry. Then a Good Samaritan, in the form of the twin-engined MR2/Corolla mashup of Stick Figure Racing, gave the Volvo a push around the track and across the start-finish line.
Photo courtesy of Judy Kiel

Dirty Duck Racing (creators of the judge-pleasing Impala Hell Project diorama a couple of years back), have been chasing a true Class B win with their Volkswagen GTI for many years now. They took home the Class B trophy from the one-day-novelty Sears Even More Pointless race last year, but they’ve never pulled off a proper all-weekend-long class win. This weekend, they finished the first session with the class lead and a single-lap lead over the Model T GT’s Ford Pinto stablemate.

Volkswagens like to fall apart in LeMons, but then so do Pintos. Sunday’s action should be a white-knuckler for these two teams.

In Class C, the Village People Porsche 914 leapt out to an early lead and just kept building on it. By the close of the day’s racing, the air-cooled German owned a commanding 36-lap edge over its nearest pursuer. We’ve seen plenty of 914s in the series, and never before has one performed this well.

36 laps is pretty close to an hour-and-a-half at Class C speeds, which should be comfortable enough for the Village People, but a lot can happen in an endurance race. If the Village People’s Porsche reverts to type on Sunday, the Iron Duke-powered Pontiac Fiero of Team Salty Thunder will be ready to make its move.

Class C always produces the most dramatic subplots in any LeMons race, and that brings us to a couple of heartbreak stories. The Maserati Biturbo campaigned by the Punk Pirates With OCD spent Friday night getting its engine fixed and turbos replaced, only to blow up its engine just two laps into the race. It should go without saying that Maserati engines aren’t easy to find on a Saturday in Utah.

Still, at least the Punk Pirates managed to turn some laps; the 8-Bit Racing Subaru RX Turbo overheated and burned a couple of pistons about 50 yards into the race. Zero laps from one of our favorite cars.

Team Bangers N Mash started the day looking good in their Jensen-Healey, even contending for the Class C lead for a while… but then disaster struck.

Boom! A wayward connecting rod punched big holes through both sides of the engine block; note the “see-through” feature visible in the photo above. This means the end of your race weekend in 999,999 cases out of 1,000,000, what with Lotus 907 engines being about as easy to find on short notice near Salt Lake City as an eight-headed platypus.

However, the octocephalic monotreme in question waddled right into the Bangers N Mash pit a few hours later, with a local racer producing an intact, dust-covered Lotus 907 from his garage at the track. The swap should be finished in time for the green flag on Sunday.

Plenty of teams suffered catastrophic mechanical failures, with several punctured engine blocks among the casualties. Here’s the engine of the Neon Pope Nissan; the connecting rod that did this also managed to break the starter motor nearly in half.

The Flaming A-Holes Rover SD1 suffered the expected series of problems that you get with a first-time British LeMons car, ranging from fuel contamination to an electrical fire caused by Joe Lucas, Prince of Darkness. Still, the once-luxurious British Leyland machine finished the day with 130 total laps.

The most shocking development of the day, however, was what happened with the Grumpy Cat Racing 1950 Dodge pickup. This truck, which not long ago was a long-dead abandoned heap in Denver, ran all day long without a single problem (unless you count a loose throttle cable, which took all of 45 seconds to fix) and racked up 149 very slow but glorious laps. This sort of performance from a first-time LeMons racer of this vintage is utterly unprecedented in the history of the series, and we believe that the Chrysler flathead six-cylinder engine, based on a 1929 design and built well into the 1970s, must be considered the most reliable engine in human history as a result of the Grumpy Cat Dodge’s amazing day at Miller Motorsports Park.

Once all the cars rolled into the paddock on Saturday night, the cooking began. The Dirt Poor-sche Racing team chipped in and hired Salt Lake City’s best taco-cart operator to prepare hundreds of his savory creations for throngs of hungry racers.

As the sun went down behind the mountains, the sounds of Sawzalls, ratchets, and hammers were just starting; we hope to see all the broken cars patched up and ready to race in the morning.

About Murilee Martin