Click above for our high-res image gallery of our LeMons contender

Not to be confused with the "24 Hours of LeMans" (that zooty French endurance race), the "
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 our obligation to go. We now find ourselves booked for the "Thunderhill Arse-Freeze-Apalooza." The event scheduled during last few days of December promises dreadfully cold weather, but plenty of off-beat racing fun. Our six-part weekly series will take you behind the scenes with our new race partners, the "Tinkerbell Rosso" racing team and their 1996 Crown Victoria "Police Interceptor."

Last week, Part I - The donor vehicle introduced you to the car. Now, the team is hard at work turning the former taxi/police interceptor into a race car. The madness begins after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.

To the casual onlooker, the average LeMons race car looks simply like a junked vehicle flying wildly around a road circuit. In fact, nearly all of the cars are stripped down (to save weight for improved acceleration and handling) and then built back up and reinforced for safety reasons. During weeks of preparation behind the scenes, teams pour countless hours into each self-powered hulk. The rules (yes, there are rules) allow safety improvements, but not performance enhancements... unless they are within the $500 budget cap. There are severe penalties for cheating, as you will see.

The Team Tinkerbell Rosso Crown Victoria (now nicknamed "Vicky" for obvious reasons) was overweight. We needed to remove the glass, dump the poundage, and install a full steel custom roll cage and racing seat. The most logical approach was to tear her down to the painted steel. Once gutted, we could easily find the strongest parts of the chassis and weld in the cage without the worry of starting upholstery on fire. We could also access the floor pan to bolt down our seat rails and other hardware. The teardown would prove to be entertaining, in the least.

With little regard towards creating salvageable parts (our apologies to the countless Crown Vic loyalists out there), we attacked Vicky with the largest and heaviest tools at our disposal. These included claw hammers, crowbars, screwdrivers, drills, cut-off tools, saws and tin snips. We wanted to use heavy boulders, but there weren't any in the yard.

First out was the rear bench seat. With a heavy crowbar jammed underneath, the cushion gave very little fight against our leverage. Unfortunately, the rear seatbelts held it within the cabin. Normally, we'd just cut the belts and call it done. Since we wanted our Crown Vic stripped to bare metal, we had to unbolt the belts from the pan (a matter made more frustrating by two snapped bolts). With the rear bench seat gone, the greasy headliner followed. The stained interior trim was pried off next. The cheap sun-baked aftermarket 6x9 speakers were unceremoniously ripped off the rear parcel shelf with a huge pry bar and thrown into the bed of our pickup... all of it destined for the dump.

With the seats and major trim removed, we focused our attention on the glass. The rear window was already gone (thanks to a tree weeks earlier), but there were still more than a half dozen windows in place. Being men (okay... boys), we didn't want to remove them the correct (aka boring) way. We spent about an hour drilling, sawing and finally smashing the windows out with various hand and power tools looking for the coolest effect. It was hellishly fun, but extraordinarily messy. Once our testosterone returned to normal levels, we realized there was glass everywhere! The little sharp bits ended up impeding our tear-down process as we knelt in it, placed our hands in it or sat in it. Making matters worse, the small but heavy pieces of glass clogged the hose in our inexpensive shop vac while trying to clean up. It was maddening as its fuse would overheat every minute or so. Next time, we bust out the windows at the end of the day (in an abandoned parking lot).

The balance of the interior upholstery was next on our agenda, and we began first by cutting around the driver's seat. The individual bucket would remain inside the car for now (eventually, it would be replaced by a fiberglass racing seat and six-point harness). The carpet itself, however, was quite disturbing. After more than a decade serving as a catch basin for thousands who occupied the rear seat, its initial vibrancy had been replaced by a matted mess of dried soda, food, mud and grime. We used gloved hands to rip and cut it out. Underneath, we found coins and more than a few loose screws seemingly left from assembly in 1996. The toxic wrap was rolled up and thrown into the bed of the pickup.

There were more than a few pounds worth of window seals and gaskets. They would undoubtedly go as well (without windows, nobody was worrying about drafts). They came out like a rip cord in one long motion once you got them started. The interior door panels were angrily pried and ripped off. Then, someone came up with the idea of cutting away the interior steel panel. We did it, but it was a long, loud and slow process with the cut-off wheel. While the shed steel weighed an easy ten pounds, we saved the others for later.

The airbags were cautiously pulled out (battery disconnected hours earlier), and then the dash was cut on each side to allow access for the steel pipes of the safety cage. This wasn't as quick as it sounds. The dashboard is heavily reinforced for the steering column and airbags. Once through the vinyl and foam, there are thick metal bars to be disposed of. Complicating the procedure was the wiring. We needed to rip and cut yet preserve the vehicle's electrical system at the same time as we required Vicky to race (it was only after we ripped the door panels off did we realize we needed the power mirror switches intact).

Stripped to an embarrassing nakedness, our Crown Vic was rolled into the street. With at least several hundred pounds off her beltline, she was riding very high on her springs (and the bed in our Ford pickup was full). The moment of truth arrived when we connected the battery once again. In a small miracle, she started on the first turn. And, as our luck would have it, she was also nearly out of gas. A quick round of "ro-cham-bo" singled-out the unlucky teammate who would have to be humiliated driving the car on public roads in broad daylight to get fuel. Driver strapped in place, and with a screeching one-tire burnout all the way down the street, our naked Vicky went to get her belly filled in preparation for our next stage... the build. We'll be back next week with the frustrating details.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Michael Harley / Weblogs, Inc.

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