24 Hours of Lemons – Capital Offense

Toby and his friends Pat and Ram entered the 24 hours of LeMons (not LeMans) race at the Summit Point Shenandoah Circuit.

24 Hours of LeMons is an endurance race series for cars (lemons) that “cost” less than $500.

Toby’s 2-minute of fame! (Picture by Jalopnik)

37298_1506470385284_3320298_nThe team decided to enter in a 1987 BMW 535i.  It had a lot of horsepower in its days (and could blow the doors off e30s and 1.6 Miatas.)  The rule allowed selling parts to get the cost down to $500, excluding safety equipment and consumables.  A few day of hacking at the car and many “for sale” posts in BMW forums later, we met our cost goal.

Toby trailered the car out to a West Virginia race shop for a roll cage.  Although it was nothing like the beautiful fabrication work we had in our own race cars, it was heavy and sturdy and safe.

A set of shorter springs were installed to correct the ride height after the weight loss.  An oil change, brake fluid flush, new brake pads and a whole lot of voided Maryland Lottery tickets later the car was ready to race!

Not so fast… the pre-race tech inspectors found a a hole in the drivers footwell.  A quick trip to a race shop just outside the track to weld it up, and the BMW was declared “Good Enough” to race.


The car was competitive despite a few pit stop snafus (including Toby (though correctly) sensed a bad front end vibration and pitted, only to have his teammates yelled at him “what do you expect for a $500 car!”)  Patrick even had the fastest lap at quarter race distance.

37298_1506470185279_7089275_n 37298_1506470225280_1771178_nHowever, their race was beset by reliability issue.

The twisty Shenandoah track is too much for the 22-year old suspension.  The left front spring perch gave way so and needed a looooooong “pit stop” to remove the shock, take it to a race shop just outside of the track, and had it welded back together.  The team fell 1 hour behind the race leader.  Any hope of a competitive finish was dashed.but the team was glad to be on track.

37298_1506470305282_8166443_nAt half distance, the car was suddenly down on power.  During the overnight break, we pulled the valve cover and found one of the rockers was broken in two!  Thankfully the broken piece stayed in place and did not grenade the whole engine.  There was no repairing it since we (1) didn’t have a spare e28 rocker (we found one from an e30 but it wouldn’t fit) and (2) the “Big 6” motor was too long for the engine bay and short of pulling the whole engine we could not change the rocker.

The car was surprisingly still competitive (pace-wise) with e30s and Miatas, though not against Mustangs.


The last straw though was a broken exhaust flange and the muffler fell off with only a couple hours to go.  The damage was beyond repair and the team had to retire.


It was a fun race despite the DNF.  It was great camaraderie building, racing, and fixing the car.  The racing was also a lot close than what everyone were used to.  (You can try a lot more risky move with a $500 car!)

Epilogue:  As for the car, the team replaced the 3.5 motor and with a newer 3.3 that winter and entered it in another 24 hours “Chump Car” (not Champ Car) race at Virginia International Raceway.  Unfortunately after about 6 hours the car limped back to pit road with an electrical fire (seriously smoking!) caused by shoddy 1980s German electrics…