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 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 help – you get your name on the car for just $10 – please visit our donor site.]