One of the best things about the 24 Hours of LeMons race series is that it gives mad-scientist types the excuse they’ve always needed to build gloriously impractical, quasi scratch-built race cars, and the rest of us a venue to admire such creations. Sure, you could almost certainly get around the track more quickly in a Neon with a set of $49.95 eBay coil-overs bolted on, but you won’t have as much fun as you would in an elderly sub-sub-compact with four times the original horsepower. The latest in a long line of such LeMons machines is the “Saanda” Honda 600 coupe, an early-’70s kei car with its front-mounted 600-cc air-cooled motorcycle two-banger replaced by a rear-mounted turbocharged B234 out of a Saab 9000 Turbo. That’s 200 horsepower driving the rear wheels instead of 45 horses driving the front wheels. The Saanda made its LeMons debut a week ago at the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race in California. Let’s take a look at this amazing race car, and some of its predecessors!
The great-grandaddy of all the tiny-car-with-ill-advised-drivetrain-relocation LeMons racers was the Honda CBR1000–engined Geo Metro of Team Metro Gnome. This car won an early Thunderhill LeMons race with a CBR900 motorcycle engine chain-driving the front wheels, then underwent a cut-and-paste conversion to the bigger 1000-cc engine and a (still chain-driven) rear-drive setup. To get an idea of what this screaming banshee is like on the track, check out this in-car footage from Sears Point.
The Metro Gnome remains one of the fastest cars in West Coast crapcan racing, although its fragility has made its campaigns win-or-blow-up (mostly blow-up) propositions. Naturally, dozens of fabricatin’ freaks around the country saw or heard about the Metro Gnome, thought “That’s a great idea!” and broke out the cutting torches.
After watching the Metro Gnome in action, alpha nerd, rally racer, and genius machinist Tim Taylor decided that he liked what he saw, but the Geo Metro was just too big. The 1300-pound Honda Z600 with an even more powerful motorcycle engine seemed like just the ticket to LeMons success, so Tim plucked the big V-twin engine out of a Honda Magna V65 and proceeded to build the best-engineered LeMons car we’d seen up to that point.
The Angry Hamster Z600 proved, after several connecting-rod-scattering outings, that the Magna V65 engine isn’t a good LeMons choice, so a CBR1000 was swapped in. The Angry Hamster still hasn’t lived up to its full potential on the track, but at least it’s deafening fun to drive.
Really, the problem with the Metro Gnome and Angry Hamster was insufficient power, at least according to the members of the Midwest-based Team Charnal House Geo Metro team. Let’s see, what’s the best low-budget way to get lots of power to the back wheels in a Suzuki-built micro-econobox?
Why, a 220-hp Yamaha V-6 and front-drive transaxle out of a first-gen Ford Taurus SHO, of course! The “Sick Gut Gaguar” has shown flashes of great speed during LeMons races during the last couple of years, but more often it has shown flashes of great mechanical failure. Still, this car is orders of magnitude more spectacular than any boring RX-7 or Integra LeMons car.
How has the Los Bastardos Dauphine performed under real-world racing conditions after a half-dozen LeMons events? Let’s just say that it’s quick (at times), but some of the bugs still need to be worked out.
The list of these Franken-cars goes on and on, including the reasonably successful Colorado-based Rocket Surgery Racing Renault 4CV, which features a mid-mounted VW Rabbit engine and Audi transaxle. We’ll go in-depth with this one in a future post.
Likewise, we’ll be taking a closer look at the Misfit Toys Racing 1958 Wartburg 311. This East German Cold War relic features a Subaru engine in the trunk and has logged a lot of street miles since being built in 2010.
Then there’s the Pink Lloyd in California. This 1958 Lloyd Alexander Kombi was was found cheap on Craigslist, features Fiat X1/9 front suspension and Subaru power, and has yet to spend much time out of the pits at a LeMons race. Once the Car and Driver LeMons Investigative Squad takes a closer look at this car, we’ll do a feature on it.
Building on this background of ante-raising tiny-car/radical-drivetrain fabrication—and taking advantage of the fact that the 24 Hours of LeMons $500 budget restriction doesn’t apply to gajillions of gallons of sweat expended on a project—enter Team Apathy, the lunatics hard-core LeMons enthusiasts who built the Saanda Honda 600.
Team Apathy looked at the problems that the Angry Hamsters had in fitting everything in their Honda 600, not to mention the fragility of a motorcycle powertrain when hauling the weight of a car, and they decided to take a different route. First, they’d stuff the 200-hp turbocharged engine and front-drive transaxle out of a Saab 9000 into the rear of their car. Second, they’d add gigantic box flares, to enable them to widen the car’s track by about three feet.
The complete story of the Saanda’s build may be found here on the LeMons forums, so we won’t get into too many details here.
Instead, we’ll discuss how the Saanda performed during its first time on the race track. The car needed a few fixes to get through the LeMons tech inspection on the day before the race, but it was ready to go on Saturday.
On Sunday, the Saanda rejoined the race, but suffered from more teething problems. At one point, the Saab-specific air cleaner fell off (the car draws engine air in via a cleaner mounted on the underside of the car), and the team had to pit in order to prevent the very fragile turbocharger from sucking up dirt, rocks, and errant starter motors.
With the nearest parts stores at least 50 miles away (Chuckwalla Valley Raceway is located way the hell out in the Southern California desert), the Saanda spent much of the weekend in this position, as Team Apathy members scurried off to Blythe or Indio.
In the end, the Saanda managed just 51 laps, which is actually pretty good for the first time out in a race car like this. Its best lap time was about 20 seconds off the quickest entries as well, but reliability and performance will improve as the bugs get worked out.