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 the 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."
Our earlier blogs (Part I - The donor vehicle and Part II - The teardown) 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.
It was a good thing we filled her belly with fuel last week because our '96 Crown Vic (aka "Vicky") did quite a bit of unexpected traveling recently. While storing her under a thick tarp in Mission Viejo, we couldn't paint our dear Victoria as the local homeowner's association would have attacked us with dull bayonets. Determined to give her the post professional paint-job possible, we enlisted the help of someone in Costa Mesa who was willing to lend us their one-car garage for the task. Without hesitation, our Police Interceptor took to the public roads again -- minus windows and interior, mind you -- and just like last time, the driver reported that the car was nearly uncontrollable on the open road (it was obvious that we'd need to address the front end, but it would have to wait until after painting).
Once in Costa Mesa, Vicky met our amateur artistic sect armed with some of the cheapest bright red-orange spray paint available on the market. The painters included members of our team, random neighbors, and even some small children (hey, is that an OSHA-approved mask in the picture?). There was to be no sanding, priming, or body work done in preparation for the inexpensive enamel. In fact, the car wasn't even washed before it was coated by countless can-rattling workers spraying in dizzying patterns. Someone shot paint on the front wheels, another hit the tires. The passenger mirror was inadvertently painted opaque. Only the front doors escaped the mayhem... as we ran out of paint. The resulting paint job looks like it cost about $23 dollars, because it did.
Next on the agenda was that front end. We called up an old buddy in Whittier named Lee who agreed to take a look in exchange for some cold beer (the universal currency). Vicky hit the freeways late one evening and made the trek to Whittier. The prognosis was that the whole front end was really, really, tired. Um... yeah. The ball joints were shot, but he could fix them (with more beer, of course) in a couple days. Lee delivered as promised (a shout-out to "J and C Auto Supply" in Whittier for pressing the parts out on very short notice).
Vicky was now in Whittier, and she needed to get back down to Newport Beach for the roll cage, seats, and final prep work. It was my turn to drive. In the middle of a Saturday afternoon, I donned a black wool cap, a thick black jacket, some orange gloves, and my dark glasses and took to the streets for my 55-mile adventure on Southern California's famed freeways. Once up to speed on I-5 and heading south, it wasn't all that bad. I'll admit she handled slightly better with the new ball joints, but she was still far from being confused with a GT-R (coincidentally enough, I received about as many double-takes when I drove the R35 down the same highway several months ago). Few things attract as much attention as a bright red-orange windowless police interceptor doing 75 mph in the fast lane!
In Newport Beach, our team leader Nick generously converted his garage to our new workshop so we could finish Vicky for the race (now, less than two weeks away). With enough tools to make a high school shop teacher jealous, we cut and bent 1.75" mild steel tubing into the components of a roll cage. Nick, the only experienced MIG welder on the team, did all of the hot work as the rest of us scrambled to remove wiring harnesses, sound deadening, and old paint from the path of the fiery electrical torch. He only started one fire. When the welding is done later this week, we will have a full six-point steel cage with NASCAR-style door bars for additional driver protection (Speaking from experience: good call -- Ed.).
The last bit of stock upholstery came out when the lone cloth seat, and the carpet beneath it, was removed. After several of the bolts snapped under tension from our breaker bar, we were forced to hack it out with an air-powered cut-off tool. Once the cage is behind us, Nick will fabricate seat rails and then install our Momo fiberglass seat (most likely worth more than the car itself). A six-point HANS-compatible racing harness goes in last.
The tires arrived last week from Tire Rack. Our mostly-stock Crown Vic Police Interceptor arrived with two 16-inch steel wheels and two 16-inch alloys. We'll dump the aluminum wheels in exchange for more steelies before the race (the steel wheels are virtually indestructible, according to owners). The tires that are on the car right now are all-season 225/70R16 rubber. The wimpy pizza cutters are getting replaced with beefier performance-oriented 255/50-16 BF Goodrich g-Force Sport tires. Even if it doesn't handle better, it will look a whole lot meaner -- at least that's what we keep telling ourselves. Vicky should be race-ready by Sunday... We'll tell you all about our last-minute mad dash 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 $4,000 for children struggling with health issues during the first years of life. If you'd like to help -- you get your name on the car for just $10 -- please visit our donor site.]