• Dec 22nd 2008 at 2:59PM
  • 13
Click above for a high-res gallery of the "Tinkerbell Rosso" Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor

he "24 Hours of LeMons" is an event comprised of low-budget $500 race cars, i.e. lemons. The so-called "crap-car enduro" has enticed various members of the Autoblog team over the years into covering, and more recently participating, in the event. When asked to join Team Tinkerbell Rosso for an upcoming race, we knew it was time to take up the cause again and now find ourselves booked for the "Thunderhill Arse-Freeze-Apalooza." The event, scheduled during the last few days of December, promises dreadfully cold weather but plenty of offbeat racing fun. Our six-part weekly series takes you behind the scenes with our new race partners, the Tinkerbell Rosso racing team and their 1996 Crown Victoria "Police Interceptor."

Our earlier blogs (Part I - The donor vehicle, Part II - The teardown, and Part III - The build) introduced you to the car and tracked our build progress. Now the team is hard at work preparing the former taxi/police interceptor for the race in less than one week! The madness begins after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.

Our 1996 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor (aka "Vicky") should have been ready yesterday. Blame the economy, freezing weather in Seattle, or the Blagojevich scandal. For whatever reason, we are less than one week from the green flag and still scrambling to make lemonade from our lemon.

This weekend was a busy one. We started the cage last weekend but were stymied by wet weather and our job schedules (yeah, paid work still comes first in our lives). In an effort to catch up on lost time, we pulled of a 16-hour work day on Saturday, with even more hours on Sunday. Our focus was to finish the roll cage, install the racing seat, repair the brakes, change the oil, flush the coolant, install an ignition kill switch, build a firewall between the driver and the gas tank, wire a 3rd brake light, and mount the tires. Of course, those were just the big ticket items. Dozens of little things crept up to divert our attention – it turns out that Vicky has more "little issues" than a neurotic ex-girlfriend.

While we exhibit the talent, skill, knowhow, and really cool tools to build a sophisticated roll-cage from scratch, we've concluded that having someone else build one is worth the price – whatever they what to charge (in case you were wondering, safety items don't count towards the vehicle's $500 price). It just saps too much from the clock as we painstakingly measure, cut, and bend each piece of steel tubing. If that wasn't time consuming enough, the welding surface must be clean of undercoating, rust, and paint to ensure a strong MIG weld. The battery must be disconnected preventing certain work from being done on the car, and the constant noise of the air compressor keeping the air tools grinding and sanding for surface prep isn't making the neighbors any friendlier. There is hope, however. As of yesterday, all of the primary tubing had been tacked in place. The door anti-intrusion beams look positively beefy. If the weather cooperates (it is hard to weld in a windowless car sitting outside during a rain storm), the cage will be finished by Tuesday.

The seat rails, complete with a sliding mount, went in mostly without a hitch once we calculated the proper seat height and angle (that in itself was a 45-minute fiasco). We found a used Recaro seat – originally delivered new in a Porsche 996 GT3 RS – that fit all of our physiques snugly (I don't know if we need its helmet support at the speeds we will be seeing, but it looks rather intimidating). A proper six-point harness will be anchored in place and then threaded through the seat this week. All four drivers will be wearing HANS (head and neck support) devices during the race to keep out vertebrae in place if something goes amiss.

All four brakes received attention. Creative use of pry bars, screwdrivers and hammers helped us tear the old rusted parts out. We swapped out the rotors with fresh iron, and put new semi-metallic pads in place. All of Vicky's calipers are single-piston (apparently, later models have dual-piston front brakes). The rotors are big and heavy, but so is the car. The fluid was flushed and swapped with high-temp ATE Super Blue in the hopes that the system can take a bit more heat than it was designed for. It seems that the ABS is broken, and we don't have time to diagnose it. If there is a weak link on our Crown Victoria prom queen, it has to be her brakes.

To change the oil, we needed to get her up to temperature. Of course, she wouldn't start this time when commanded. Upon closer inspection, the connection to the battery was loose – no, it was mostly rusted off. We crimped/soldered a new terminal in place (the temporary terminal is in the pictures). After nearly melting a screwdriver to the frame with an errant slip (thank goodness for rubber gloves and safety glasses), and another 60 minutes gone from the hourglass, she started right up. While we were at it, we installed the obligatory cut-off switch. Don't ask why we chose its middle-of-the-hood location as we really can't give you a good answer. It's there, and it kills Vicky painlessly.

We let her idle for 25 minutes and then crawled underneath in search of the oil plug. The blackest oil you ever saw was drained from her innards into a makeshift oil pan (our "shop" apparently has every tool in the Harbor Freight catalog, but we couldn't seem to find an oil pan anywhere in the garage). We replaced the liquid tar with 5 quarts of synthetic-blend Valvoline MAX Life 5W-30 (simply because it was on sale in a one-gallon container, and I honestly didn't want to carry a bunch of loose bottles up the register). An old water bottle was our improvised funnel because it too was apparently "misplaced" with the AWOL oil pan. Doh!

The coolant comes out on Tuesday. Race rules dictate nothing but water in the cooling system as a busted radiator will spew slippery coolant all over race line. In all honesty, straight water transfers heat better – as long as the block doesn't freeze overnight. We are debating whether or not to touch the transmission. Half of the team says flush and service. The other half says do not mess with it if it still works. In the interest of time and money, the second half seems to be victorious.

Our decal guru arrived as scheduled long after the sun when down. With bad luck on our side, the cold sheet metal on our Crown Vic was dripping with condensation. Eric at G1design (a thank you shout-out for only charging us materials on our charity racer) was forced to laboriously use a heat gun to warm and dry the panels before adhering the stickers. Take a look at the pictures. Each of those names represents a donor to our charity – our objective is to cover the car by the end of the week! We are still leaving room for our race number (#5), and the Children's Hospital logo. Both are scheduled to be done by the end of Monday.

The technical inspection for all of the entrants in the race is Friday (the day after Christmas). As of this minute, our red-orange windowless Vicky is parked in a driveway 519 miles from where she needs to be at the end of the week. Before long, regardless of whether or not all work is done, she'll be loaded into a trailer (you didn't think we'd drive her up, did you?) for our departure to Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, California. We leave at 5:00 AM Friday, with an estimated arrival at the circuit around 3:00 PM that afternoon. The race runs all weekend. If you find yourself trackside next weekend, freezing in the 30-degree near-horizontal rain, stop by our pit and introduce yourself. If you'd rather snuggle up with your family during the holidays, sipping a warm drink as you pass time by the crackling fire, be sure to check out Autoblog as we'll give you all of the colorful details (and results) this time next week.

[Team Tinkerbell Rosso is racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons to raise money for the Children's Hospital of Orange County. To date, the team has raised more than $5,400 for children struggling with health issues during the first years of life. If you'd like to helpyou get your name on the car for just $10please visit our donor site.]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      I guess we're in good shape, we're almost done with the roll cage and the race isn't until October!

      • 6 Years Ago
      I don't know if it would be legal, but it is possible to upgrade to the later model ('98+) brakes for not too much trouble. They are significantly better and if not technically legal, who would know since they are still "stock" pieces. They are the biggest brakes Ford could fit under a 16" wheel.
      • 6 Years Ago
      hey guys; Serj from the #42 [CMP & Detroit(ish)] (1998 CVPI). if the shifts were smooth when you guys were taking it between locations, leave it alone. usually taxi and police liveries keep the maintenance up on it. I'd service the diff and give the intake the "ghetto air-box" treatment. Make SURE you guys have spare brake pads, tie-rods, spare tires, and a method of getting water to the driver. good luck out there, I'd love to see some video if you guys get the chance.
      • 6 Years Ago
      You said the brakes were bad... but you used generic semi metallic pads?! WTF. You should have used some decent track pads... regular semi metallics will not hold up on the track at all. Look forward to lots of brake fad, a mushy pedal, and flying off the track. Sheesh. Also, you should at least drain and fill the transmission with new fluid. Heat kills auto transmissions, and the cause of that heat is worn out fluid. Fluid overheated even ONCE past it's max operating temp now has a life about HALF of what it should. Each time it overheats, it's lifespan gets cut in half. Doing nothing is incredibly stupid. You guys might have experience at blogging about cars, but it's kinda clear you don't really know what you are doing. Drain and fill the transmission, and get some better pads. Stat!
        • 6 Years Ago
        "You guys might have experience at blogging about cars, but it's kinda clear you don't really know what you are doing."

        Everyone on the team races dedicated track cars during the year, including your author. In all honestly, this really isn't a "race" in the traditional zoom-zoom fashion. There are 100+ cars on the grid and max speeds will be about 60-70 mph (a crawl). Ambient temps will be in the 40s. Most brake issues on any track are driver induced (braking too late, too hard, etc...). With new rotors and quality aftermarket semi-metallic pads (OEM were "heavy duty" pads), and skilled drivers behind the pedals, the brakes may be the weak link... but they aren't going to fail on us.

        - Mike
        • 6 Years Ago
        Don't worry, it's a Crown Vic, remember? The plastic coolant bypass on the intake manifold will crack LONG before the tranny gives out.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Sure is pretty cold here in Seattle lately. 5" one day, stopped snowing the next, and the day after that, it resumed snowing for another what, 3 inches? Hey, I'm only 17 at the moment, but I'd love to maybe tag along and help you guys out if you guys are ever up here. I love Autoblog because I'm an avid car enthusiast; keep up the good work guys =)
      • 6 Years Ago
      Good luck guys. If nothing else, you can punt the other cars off the track.
      • 6 Years Ago

      I suggested this last time they posted, when they said they had gotten some 16" steelies to replace the stock (for '97) 15"s.

      Apparantly they don't need to stop.....
      • 6 Years Ago
      Glad to know we aren't the only team behind schedule! Keep the chins up!
      • 6 Years Ago
      you should have removed the dust shields, helps with brake cooling, a getto fab brake duct system would have been nice but there is never enough time
        • 6 Years Ago
        Time we don't have. If they do overheat, we will use tin snips and remove them in the pits, and then fabricate some deflectors/ducting to help. Like I said, ambient temps will be very cold...so we may be okay.

        - Mike
      • 6 Years Ago
      For the Transmission, I would go half and half. Pull the pan, and let it drain. Slap in a new filter, and then top it off. I would not flush it, at the risk of breaking free grime, or finding a new leak. I am sure the fluid has to be a bit dark on it, and the filter most likely is a bit plugged, which will cause you to lose some power, and generate a whole lot more heat.

      Good Luck :)
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