24 Hours of Lemons, Epic Fail Racing


Sep 12, 2023
Tinton Falls, NJ
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lemonscar1.jpgThis thread is to document my experience running an MN12 in the 24 Hours of Lemons endurance racing series. We built a car and ran it for 4 or 5 years, finding and addressing failure points along the way, all on as low a budget as possible! By the end of our run, the car had been wrecked and rebuilt a couple times, and was definitely worse for wear, and the prospect of building another car was more work than we were willing to put in, so in the end, the car got dismantled, parted out, and crushed, but we had a great time along the way, and learned a lot about what our cars are truly capable of.
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January 16, 2009
Looking to build a car for the 24 Hours of Lemons series. Anyone want to go in on building a car for the CT race in July, let me know. I'm thinking a 5-speed SC with a carbed 351 would be the way to go. Get all the handling advantages of the SC, but you wouldn't have to worry about the reliability problems. Plus you could probably sell off enough of the SC stuff to put a bit of money into the 351.
January 17, 2009
From what I understand it is a road course, so I would definitely want a manual trans. If it weren't for reliability issues, a 5-speed SC would be great. I don't think keeping the 351 cool would be an issue. Just get one of those summit radiators and you should be good to go. That rad was around $150, and it keeps my 393 cool, so I don't see it having any problems. Go with a 4-barrel and a decent manifold on a 302 or 351. PBR calipers wouldn't be illegal. They are something you can get out of a junkyard, so just do it that way and you can easily keep them under the budget. For springs and shocks, I would say the SC shocks set to the firm setting with SC springs with a coil or 2 cut off should make for a nice stiff ride to carve the corners with.
January 17, 2009
Ok, I now officially have a car for this. An 89XR7 5-speed with no title and missing the supercharger that I can get for free. I also have 3 superchargers sitting in my garage, so that's no big deal.

You are correct that the head gasket is the biggest reliability issue with the SC. I suppose with some MLS gaskets and head studs, as well as going through and replacing all the bearings in the bottom end, it could be reliable. They do have other issues though, particularly ignition system issues, but something like that wouldn't fail from beating on it, it would just be chance.

Paul, I have seen pics of your car. I know what you mean on the $500 proof, but you really don't need to prove it to anyone, as long as you know what you spent the money on. As for the PBRs, that would be something I would definitely want to swap onto a road race car. Like I said, they can be had at any junkyard off of any newer mustang, so I would just do it that way, instead of buying new ones, this way you aren't investing much money into them.

What kind of rad do you use to keep your 351 cool in your race car? The summit one is a pretty large and pretty thick radiator, looks just as big as the griffin.

I'm also thinking now maybe you'd be better off to run a fuel injected 5.0 in the SC chassis. All you would need is the engine and harness out of a 5.0 car and this way you wouldn't need to worry about re-doing the fuel system. Plus the fuel injection would be more reliable over an endurance race than a carb. So much to think about.

In any event, I'm definitely going to do the CT race in July with an 89XR7 5-speed. I already have one other driver who said he's up for it, so now I need 2 more. If anyone is interested, let me know. Also any input into setting up the car for racing would be appreciated.
January 17, 2009
I'll definitely make make shock tower braces. As for the purse, the car who completes the most laps gets $1500, and the car the fans like the best gets $500, and the car the fans dislike the most gets destroyed.

For now I think I'm leaning towards running the 3.8SC, just do new rings, bearings, and gaskets, and it should be reliable enough. The only thing I would be worried about is the SC's cooling system leaves quite a bit to be desired.
January 19, 2009
At this point, I'm pretty sure I'll stick with the SC engine and see how it does. Since I got the car for free, I can afford to spend the $500 on new head gaskets, head studs, and maybe if money allows, a new clutch just to be safe. Since the head gasket is the only real ticking time bomb on the SCs, I figure with that taken care of, it should be OK. Also, I was reading the rules, and brakes, wheels, tires, and exhaust are all considered safety items, so if the budget allows, a 13" brake kit and 17x9s would be the way to go. At the very least though we'll do the mustang PBR calipers.
January 19, 2009
I plan on running cut SC springs at all 4 corners, as well as the SC swaybars. That should stiffen it up quite a bit. Also since we are required to have a cage in the car, I figure I might as well make use of it to tie the suspension together. I'm also going to swap out the 2.73s for 3.73s. With the M5R2 that should be plenty to get the heavy cat out of the corners. To keep cost down, I'm thinking my best bet would be to stick with the 16" wheels. What size tires should I run? Also, Paul, I remember seeing that you relocated your upper control arm mount. What was the reason you did that? I'll probably ask more questions as I come up with them. I really think setting up the suspension correctly is going to be my biggest issue. I know how to make the car reliable and how to make it fast, but I've never built a racecar before, so parts of this will be a whole new experience for me.
January 19, 2009
Well I already have a 3.73TL diff all assembled. I can always go to a higher gear with the 5-speed, but I figure since I'm never going to be coming close to topping the car out, more gear would be better. With the stock 2.73s, the top speeds in 1st 2nd and 3rd are 45, 75, and 120. With 3.73s that would go to 33, 55, and 90, with 4th topping out at 125. The race's website says you will be lucky to get much over 70, so I figure 3.73s would be better cause then I would mostly be in 2nd and 3rd instead of going back and forth between 1st and 2nd. And on the off chance that the track opens up enough to get over 90, I would still have 2 gears to go.
January 26, 2009
By the way, since we are going to be running a cougar XR7, and we need some kind of clever name, what does everyone think about "Team Elemonator"?
February 23, 2009
Well as it is right now, we have an 89XR7 5-speed that we are going to enter. The car has no title, no teves ABS system, and the top end of the SC motor is gone, so we got it for free. We're grabbing a 5.0 out of an explorer with the GT40P heads, and we'll put a decent intake and a 4-barrel carb on it, and between that and losing a bunch of weight out of the car, it should make it plenty fast considering what the competition will be. We'll keep the M5R2, since other than the synchros they are pretty bulletproof. Cut SC springs should stiffen up the suspension enough, and we'll lock the shocks in the firm ride setting, since we are ditching the ECM.

It's a road course, not a dragstrip. The SC's suspension will absolutely shine in this setting, especially since the car will be a few hundred pounds lighter. Traction is the last thing I was worried about. Actually, the only thing I am a little bit worried about is if cooling system is up to the task of 16 hours with the foot to the floor in 2nd gear in July!
March 27, 2009
Well we have 4 drivers going to the New England race. We need anywhere between 4 and 6, so if you want to come along on this one, you are welcome to. We've got an 89XR7 5-speed that we got for free, and we'll be dropping a carbed explorer 5.0 into it. We're splitting all the costs evenly. Between the entrance fees, build costs, necessary equipment etc. I think it was sitting around $500/person. With 5 people, it would probably be a bit less. And then we might actually win the event and then the cost/person would come out substantially less. And certainly someone who's been racing one of these for a while would give us a bit of an edge on that.

As for when I would need to know by, it wouldn't be until they ask for money. I could add you to on the team on the website, and then we could always take you off if you can't make it.
May 6, 2009
Well I just got the email from them, team E-lemon-ators is officially in!

This weekend I'm going to start prepping the car. I have to pull out the old 3.8, finish getting the 5.0 out of the donor explorer, and gut the interior of the cougar so we can send it to get the cage installed.
June 26, 2009
Well the 89 cougar is currently completely gutted and getting a cage installed. The 302 for it is sitting in my garage, intake arrived today, picked up headers yesterday. Just waiting on an oil pump pickup tube. The day is fast approaching, and time's getting a little tight, but we should pull everything together in time and have a blast. Only 2 weeks until the LeMons New England race. Anyone in the CT area should come watch an MN12 tear up the track.
July 13, 2009
Well the cougar did somewhat sucessfully complete the race. It was quite a learning experience too. Our first problem was brakes. We were running the crown-vic master with the tbird booster, and the pushrod didn't allow for enough adjustment, so at the start of the race, we basically had almost no brakes. We fixed that by spacing it out with a 1/4" socket shoved between the pushrod and the master cylinder, and then the second driver, when he got into the car, he accidentally kicked off the wire for the switch for the electric fan, and he didn't notice until it blew the thermostat bypass hose, so it cooked the engine to about 300 degrees. We ran to a local auto parts store and got another hose and refilled the cooling system, but after that the engine was knocking pretty good. It still held together for the whole race, but by the end there was no oil pressure until about 2K rpms, so it is pretty much wiped out. Anyway, we also found out that stock MN12 suspension does not like banked turns at all, and we were at a severe disadvantage because getting on the gas at all on the banked part right before the straight, we would just get crazy wheel-hop, so we weren't able to go as fast as some cars that we should have been much faster than. Still though, we were hitting 80mph or sometimes a little faster on the straight. Our best lap time was 34.1 seconds, and the team that won was running a little early 90s honda civic, and somehow that thing would just pull on us on the straights like we were standing still, and they were running consistent 31 second laps. So for the next time, we know we need to stiffen up the suspension, get some 17x9s and sticky tires, and also upgrade the brakes on the car, since they consider brakes to be saftey items and not included in the $500 budget. Also, we are thinking that we should do the Ohio race next time instead of CT. The track officials here were kind of jerks, and would black flag people left and right for stupid stuff. The first day we only had about 2 hours out of the 10 on the track between 5+ hours of penalty time and the time down fixing the brakes and coolant bypass hose. From what some of the people in the pits were saying, the Ohio track is much more forgiving on stuff like that, and also the Ohio race is actually 24 straight hours, and looks like a much nicer track than this one.

As of right now, our plan is to cut the springs some more, install some bilsteins in the rear, and possibly some of the air bags inside the springs. Also I need to replace the strut rod bushings in the front. Between that, I figure that should help the wheel hop considerably, and that alone would have helped us tremendously because on the banked turn, giving it any gas over 60mph would just start hopping the inside wheel like crazy, so even though we may have entered the banking faster than most other cars, we were exiting slower, and therefore slower on the straights than we should have been.
April 10, 2011

1367305[/URL]"]1367305[/URL], member: 6059"]

Anyone here? Any details on the car and how you did? Cougar with unknown donor front cover, pistons on the roof, and nearly enough spoilers from the few pictures I have seen of it, with "phuckoff" plates

1367352[/URL]"]1367352[/URL], member: 8227"]

Sounds like MadMikeyL's car



Yeah that was me, just got back. The car was ridiculously fast in the straights, but we haven't spent any money on tires so we couldn't keep up in the corners. Also, because of the combination of those 2 things, our brakes were not up to the task. We were running the twin piston PBRs up front and stock discs in the rear, but on the straight we were taching out 4th gear which translates to 139mph! Then due to our crappy dry-rotted tires, we would have to slow down to about 45-50 for that first turn. We overheated the brakes so bad that it somehow welded the bakolite caliper pistons to the metal pad! After that, we put on new pads in the rear and new rotors, pads, and calipers in the front, and after only an hour on the track, we had already burned away the rubber boots on the calipers, so for today we had to back off and limit ourselves to 120mph on the straights just to keep the brakes alive! If you look at that last pic on the front of the hood we welded the destroyed pads. We have a running theme of adding the destroyed parts onto the car in some fashion, so this year we got a brake pad hood ornament! The pistons are from last year that the capitol offense where we won most heroic fix. What happened there is we spun the #7&8 rod bearings, and nobody had another small block ford motor that they were willing to sell, so we took it all apart, found the problem and that the crank was shot, so we came up with the idea of welding shut the oil holes for those 2 pistons, rebuilding the engine less 2 cylinders, and we ran it as a 6-cylinder, and put the 2 pistons on the roof. Also if you look closely on the antenna in both pics you can see the heater hose that we blew the first year. Our next race is Summit Point in WV in June, and the plan now is to spend some money on a hubswap, 13" cobra brakes, and 17" wheels with some wide sticky tires. Summit point is a slower track than this one (we were only hitting 115 last year) but if we could have kept up through the turns we would have been doing pretty good. As it is, with horrible tires and brakes that weren't up to the task, our best lap time was 1:27 compared to a 1:23 fastest lap time by anyone there, so like I said, if we could have stopped and turned as well, we would have done much better.

As for the details on the car now, it is an 89 cougar XR7 running stock sway bars and SC springs with 1.5 coils cut off all 4 springs. Like I said, we were running the twin piston PBRs but they failed miserably so we'll be going to cobra brakes for the next race. The motor is a 5.0 out of an explorer. The last 2 years we were running carburated, which sucked, so this year with the explorer as a donor, we ran EFI and OBD2. The sheet metal cowl hood was necessary to cover the hole left from the old air filter sticking out the hood, as well as to allow clearance for the explorer intake manifold. We have the quarterhorse for our own cars, so we reprogrammed the ECM to eliminate all the auto trans functions, raised the timing curves, and raised the rev limiter to 6K. The trans is an M5R2, and we're running a 3.27TL rear. The spoilers is another tradition we have where after every race we go around to any cars that people have abandoned and steal a spoiler off it and try to find somewhere on the car to attach it. The front bumper cover is actually off a GT500 mustang, hence the GT499 3/4 on top of the windshield. The story behind that is one of the team members has a friend who had the GT500, and someone backed into the car and put a 1" long gouge in the bumper, and he insisted it get replaced instead of repaired, so my friend grabbed the old bumper, put that sticker over top of the gouged spot, then took a ton of zip ties, and attached it to the front of our car, since our original bumper had gotten ripped off in the first race. If you look in the first pic, that chin spoiler thing is actually the top of the stock cougar bumper cut right above the body molding, then zip tied to the GT500 bumper. We had it on this year too when the race started, but one of the guys lost it and went into the dirt then hit a guard rail (see damage on left fender) and it got ripped off. We did get it back at the end of the race though, so we'll zip tie it on again for June.

Here's an in-race shot of us dicing it up with a MarkVIII!
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June 20, 2011
Well we just got back last night from the Capitol Offense race at Summit Point WV, so I figure I'll update everyone on the car. Upgrades since the NJ race were cobra brakes at all 4 wheels, some 17x9s with some 275/40/17 Sumitomo HTRZ-2s, as well as some suspension bracing. The car handled well, but we definitely need a stickier tire, so we will be going with either the Falken Azenis or the Dunlop Direzza Star Spec for the next race, since those seem to be the 2 stickiest tires we can legally run. As the car was though, I ran a best lap time of 1:58, which is 11 seconds faster than last year when it had the carbed engine, 16" tires, GT PBRs, and no suspension bracing other than the cage. This year's best time was actually faster than last year's race winner, so the car is definitely getting closer to being competitive. For the first time since we put it together, I was passing BMW E30s in the corners! If we could just keep the car together and on the track for the entire event, we might stand a chance of winning. Even with the 13" brakes and a slower course, we were still burning up pads, so we will need to run a good race pad next time. Again for that I went around to other teams to find out what they were running, and I have a few to look up and make a decision.

Now on to the epic failures. The first one of the race I did, and I'm actually kind of proud of it. With about 2 hours left on the first day, I boiled the gear oil out of the rear diff! Let me say that again: the gear oil inside the rear diff was boiling, melting the axle seals and causing it to boil over and out where the axle seals used to be! Because of everything being so hot it took us about an hour to get the diff out of the car and on the ground, and when we opened it up, the gear oil was still boiling inside the housing! From the research we did, the flash point of gear oil is 450F, so that thing was cooked well above the 160F it is supposed to be running at. Surprisingly the gears weren't that bad once I got it apart, so back together it went with fresh fluid and new axle seals, since they had been melted out by the heat, and it made it the rest of the race. Epic failure number 2 came about 15 minutes before the end of the race when the last guy to drive lost it coming out of the carousel, did a 360, then went head first into the wall at probably 40-50mph. So alas the GT500 front bumper is no more. We actually went on track to get it after the race was over, and it was in about 5 pieces, so we'll have to see what ends up coming together for the front end. More important than that though, the left frame rail is pushed back against the rad support, and the electric cooling fan is now hitting the water pump, so that means the rad support got pushed back probably an inch, so some measuring and pulling is in order. Luckily the guy who crashed the car works at a body shop, so I can press him into service to fix the car. Now I just need to find a parts car to steal a front 3/4 nose and a rear diff out of.

We have some good in car video, as well as video of the diff, so once I get my teammates to upload them, I'll post the links here.
June 20, 2011
We tossed around a few ideas for cooling the diff, but haven't come up with anything solid yet. One thought was mounting a reservoir with a submerged oil pump, and then using an AC condenser as an oil cooler, and tapping into the cover for feed and return lines. The downside to that is we haven't found an affordable oil pump that will push 90W gear oil and hold up to the heat. That also involves lot of experimentation to see exactly how much oil we need to run to keep the diff well oiled, but not overfilled, and not starve the pump either, so while that would probably work the best, it is also the most complicated. We are also debating whether it would be better or worse to go to an aluminum housing. On the plus side it would dissipate heat faster, and we could probably fab up some kind of heat sink and try to duct some cool air over the diff, but then the aluminum housing might deform if it does overheat, and that could cause other issues.
Here is a video of the gear oil boiling!
April 17, 2012
Well we ran the car this weekend at NJMP again. With good tires on the car for the first time, the car's handling was incredible. There was literally nobody that I couldn't pass either in a turn or on the straights. The diff cooler we built using a power steering pump we had laying around the shop, driven off the driveshaft, and pumping the gear oil through an A/C condenser mounted in the trunk. The first day it blew the belt off because under hard acceleration the diff mount bushings would flex and loosen the belt, so for the second day we made some solid mounts using some rollbar tubing and big washers, and then it worked flawlessly, so that problem is solved. We still can't keep brakes on the car. We were running hawk racing blues in the front on the 13" Cobra brakes, and those were down to the metal by the end of the second day, so we need to go with something a little harder for the next race. Also the rears we need to upgrade because now that the fronts were holding up better, we melted 3 sets of rear pads off the car, so any reccomendations on durable pads would be appreciated. Also we had some electrical problems so we are going to go through the whole wiring harness to eliminate any potential problems, and the $680 set of nitto's that I put on the car are completely done after one race, so I have to get another set of those, and then we'll run it again in June at Summit Point. Hopefully soon there won't be anything left to break on the car and maybe we could actually do well if we can keep the car on the track.

Here is a quick video showing the diff cooler setup
June 21, 2012
OK, we ran the car again last weekend at the Capitol Offense in Summit Point WV. The good news is we finally fixed our fuel starvation issue! The issue we were having is that when we got below about 3/8 of a tank, on hard right-hand turns, the fuel would all slosh away from the pickup point, and the engine would starve for fuel. I had looked into this before, and found that the pickup sock on the bottom of the pump was missing, and thought that was the problem, but we were still having the same issue at the last race. Our solution is we are currently running 2 in tank fuel pumps. One is in the stock location, and the other is at the end of a length of high pressure fuel hose floating around in the bottom of the tank. This way when we take any hard turns, the secondary pump always follows the fuel. Running it this way, we didn't have fuel starvation issues until the tank was down 14 gallons, and that works good enough for me. The weekend wasn't without problems though. On saturday, after about 3-4 hours of racing, we blew the fuel pump fuse and had to get towed in. Put in a larger fuse, and blew it again. It turned out that heat shrink tubing is not resistant to gasoline, so the soldered and heat shrunk splices that I made for the wiring for the fuel pump became exposed and were shorting together inside the tank. Once we figured this out, both splices were replaced with butt connectors, and we had no more issues on Saturday, but we did lose quite a bit of time between getting towed in 3 times and diagnosing the problem. The only other issue on Saturday was that by the end of the day, the motor was done. It lasted the whole day, but we were down to 10psi of oil pressure at idle, and 20-25psi at 5Krpms, so we were pretty sure the motor wouldn't make it through the day on Sunday, so after racing ended at 8pm on Saturday night, we pulled the motor out and swapped in one of the spares we brought along. Sunday our only issue was we blew the bypass hose that goes from the thermostat housing to the intake within about a half-hour of going out there, so we lost maybe another 15mins there between finding the problem, swapping it out, and topping off the radiator. In the end we finished 57th out of 122 cars, so not too bad.

When it was on the track, the car was quite fast, with only maybe 5 cars that were faster than us around the track. Now with that being said, one of those 5 cars, namely the fastest one there, and the one that won the race is this rusty fox-body cougar that has run there as long as we've been going to that track, and they have sort of become our nemesis. I don't know what they've done with it to make it so damn fast, but they turned a best lap time of 1:47 compared to our 1:50, so in spite of how well the car did, I need to make it faster now. I'm running out of metal to cut out of the car, so any ideas on making it lighter or making it handle better, I'm all ears.
The car has been back to EFI for the last 4 races. We originally made it carbed because we thought it would be simpler and therefore less to go wrong, but we quickly learned that was not the case. It is actually running full OBD2 with the explorer engine harness and ECM.

Here's a couple quick pics I snapped of how the car looks now.





As you can see, we have a stock cougar front bumper back on the car due to the GT500 bumper got busted into about 15 pieces when the car hit the wall at Summit Point last year, but we had cut out a section of the original bumper from the car and attached that at the bottom as a splitter. It was honestly more done as a joke than for functionality since I don't think the urethane bumper plastic has enough rigidity to create any kind of significant downforce, but it probably does help keep some of the air out from under the car if nothing else. As far as making an actual functional splitter, maybe some balsa wood covered in fiberglass would have enough strength and rigidity to actually create downforce while still being lightweight and cheap. Did you notice a substantial improvement at turn-in with your splitter, or did it not help that much? Also how did you attach it to your car?

We haven't dyno'd or weighed the car. The dyno wouldn't really help us much since it is a stock motor, but some corner scales would probably help us to figure out where we need to lose weight and where we'd be better off leaving it alone. As you can see from the pics, there really isn't much weight left to take out of it anyway. I could shave some weight off the nose by cutting down the front bumper, but I'm not sure the weight is worth the safety risk of doing that. At this point, the car has a fiberglass lift-off hood, hood hinges are gone, wipers and wiper linkage are gone, dash is gone, doors are gutted to the point of being nothing more than a skin and a latch, interior is all gone, most of the inner quarters are gone, sound deadener is all gone, roof bracing is gone, headlights and header panel are gone. I had been avoiding taking weight out of the back end of the car because I was trying to keep the car as balanced as possible, but now I'm thinking maybe the weight savings of skinning the trunk and ditching the trunk hinges would help more than throwing the balance off would hurt. Also I'm wondering since I have the cage, if there is anything that was structural that I can now remove without hurting the rigidity of the chassis and hurting the handling.

The only things I know for sure that I am going to do before next year is rebuild the suspension again, and I'm going to weld up the seams for the front shock towers to try to stiffen that up. I'm also going to try to see if there is any way I can tie the front suspension into the cage and try to make a front shock tower brace. Also, since I changed the engine and I have the old one still, I'll probably spend some time porting the GT40 heads and have a 3 angle valve job done on them, and maybe see if I can find a cheap used B or E cam for it to help make a little more power. Any other ideas, I am all ears.
The car ran one more race after this, at NJ Motorsports Park in June 2013. The car was run in pretty much the same exact configuration as the previous race, with the only change being a differential change. When the car boiled the diff, it was running 3.27 gears. Since those gears were obviously not in the best shape after going through all that abuse, we decided to change them, however we did not have another set of 3.27s laying around, but we did have some 3.08s. Well 3.08s made the car notably slower around the track, so for our last race, we figured that if 3.27s are better than 3.08s, then 3.55s should be even better, right? Well for getting out of the corners, the 3.55s were great! However hitting 135ish mph on the straights, we ran into driveshaft critical speed. The vibration cracked the tailshaft housing of the trans, spilling trans fluid everywhere. We replaced the tailshaft housing in the car, and got back out on the track, but we had to limit ourselves to around 120mph on the straights, which was really frustrating because that is the one area where we always walked away from literally everybody! We ran out the last race, but by the end of it, we were all pretty tired, and the writing was on the wall that this chapter in our lives had come to a close! The car had been wrecked and rebuilt twice. The floors were getting rustier each year due to having to store the car outside. The windshield, which developed a crack I think our second race, had gotten worse and worse to the point where we almost weren't allowed to race this last time. The floorpan had been cut up to gain access to change the tailshaft housing in the car without pulling the whole trans out. We had spent the last 3 years buying every wrecked 5.0 Explorer that came up on craigslist and were finally starting to run out of motors. Realistically, if we wanted to pursue this further, it would have meant building another car from scratch, and none of us had the time or energy to do all that anymore. It was definitely a fun experience! Doing things on such a low budget helped me learn to think outside the box and made me a better fabricator. It also made me a better driver. I thought I drove my car hard on the street, but driving on a racetrack, you learn what a car is truly capable of, and how to control the car at the limit!

So that was my experience racing an MN12 in the 24 Hours of Lemons.

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