At last, we’ve arrived at the 10 best LeMons cars of all time. Where will all the cheatermobiles fall? Is the E30 really the best LeMons car? Bes ure to click the links below if you haven’t read the whole series to see all 74 car types and their ranking.
After the jump, I’ll give the full list. After that, you’ll get the Top 10 with the Ultimate Cheating Machine, the revamped Roadster, a shockingly competent subcompact, some excellent good Yurpean cars, Japanese luxury, and oh so much more. Read on!
Full Ranking (DOMINATION Factor)
74. Austin – DOMINATION Factor: 0.723
73. Ford MN12 Platform – DOMINATION Factor: 0.735
72. Other British – DOMINATION Factor: 0.759
71. French – DOMINATION Factor: 0.769
70. BMW Other (6-, 7-, and 8-Series) – DOMINATION Factor: 0.781
69. Chrysler K Platform and derivatives – DOMINATION Factor: 0.791
68. Pontiac Fiero: DOMINATION Factor: 0.821
67. Ford Mustang/Capri (Pre-Fox) – DOMINATION Factor: 0.826
66. MGB – DOMINATION Factor: 0.855
65. GM Mid-Size FWD – DOMINATION Factor: 0.855
64. Merkur XR4Ti – DOMINATION Factor: 0.865
63. Air-cooled Volkswagen – DOMINATION Factor: 0.877
62. Opel – DOMINATION Factor: 0.877
61. Mitsubishi Eclipse/Eagle Talon/Plymouth Laser – DOMINATION Factor: 0.892
60. GM F-Body (Chevy Camaro, Pontiac Firebird) – DOMINATION Factor: 0.914
59. Triumph – DOMINATION Factor: 0.914
58. GM Full-Size FWD – DOMINATION Factor: 0.929
57. Nissan 240SX – DOMINATION Factor: 0.930
56. Fox-Platform Ford Mustang and other related Foxes – DOMINATION Factor: 0.948
55. Fiat and Maserati (Non-Alfa Italians) – DOMINATION Factor: 0.953
54. Volkswagen Mk2. Golf/Jetta/Corrado – DOMINATION Factor: 0.959
53. Saab 900/9000 – DOMINATION Factor: 0.959
52. Porsche 914 – DOMINATION Factor: 0.960
51. Alfa Romeo Spider – DOMINATION Factor: 0.970
50. Old Mopars – DOMINATION Factor: 0.971
49. Saturn S-Series – DOMINATION Factor: 0.975
48. Toyota Supra – DOMINATION Factor: 0.977
47. GM B-Body (Caprice/Impala) – DOMINATION Factor 0.981
46. Honda Prelude – DOMINATION Factor 0.982
45. Ford Mustang (SN-95) – DOMINATION Factor: 0.982
44. BMW 1600/2002 – DOMINATION Factor: 0.982
43. All Trucks and Vans – DOMINATION Factor: 0.995
42. Porsche 924/944 – DOMINATION Factor: 0.999
41. Datsun 280ZX – DOMINATION Factor: 1.001
40. GM J-Body – DOMINATION Factor: 1.006
39. Volkswagen Mk. 1 Rabbit/Jetta/Golf/Scirocco – DOMINATION Factor: 1.006
38. Mitsubishi (Non-Eclipse, Non-3000GT) – DOMINATION Factor: 1.009
37. Mercedes 300 – DOMINATION Factor: 1.016
36. Toyota MR2 – DOMINATION Factor: 1.017
35. Korea (Kia/Hyundai/Daewoo) – DOMINATION Factor: 1.019
34. Volvo 700 Series – DOMINATION Factor: 1.021
33. Subaru – DOMINATION Factor: 1.024
32. Toyota Celica/Celica Supra (RWD) – DOMINATION Factor: 1.028
31. Mazda RX-7 – DOMINATION Factor 1.029
30. Toyota Celica (FWD) – DOMINATION Factor: 1.035 (2010 Rank: 32/38)
29. Honda Accord – DOMINATION Factor: 1.040
28. Mazda MX-6/626/Ford Probe – DOMINATION Factor: 1.041
27. Nissan Sentra/200SX/Pulsar/NX – DOMINATION Factor: 1.044
26. BMW E28 – DOMINATION Factor: 1.049
25. Honda Civic/CRX/Del Sol – DOMINATION Factor: 1.049
24. Ford Panther Platform – DOMINATION Factor: 1.049
23. Volkswagen Mk.3/Mk.4 Golf/Jetta/Corrado – DOMINATION Factor: 1.052
22. GM Full-Size RWD (A-Body/G-Body) – DOMINATION Factor: 1.054
21. Datsun 240Z/260Z – DOMINATION Factor: 1.054
20. Nissan 300ZX – DOMINATION Factor: 1.055
19. Chrysler Neon – DOMINATION Factor: 1.055
18. Jeep – DOMINATION Factor: 1.057
17. BMW E36 – DOMINATION Factor: 1.065
16. BMW E21 – DOMINATION Factor: 1.087
15. Geo Metro/Suzuki Swift – DOMINATION Factor: 1.096
14. Alfa Romeo Alfetta/GTV/Sprint Veloce/Berlina – DOMINATION Factor: 1.096
13. Toyota Corolla/Tercel/Paseo/Geo Prizm – DOMINATION Factor: 1.100
12. Audi – DOMINATION Factor: 1.102
11. BMW E34/E39 – DOMINATION Factor: 1.105
10. Mazda 323/MX-3/Protege/Ford Escort/Mercury Capri (FWD) – DOMINATION Factor: 1.106 (2010 Rank: 11/38)
This bevy of models are all based on the same Mazda platform and it’s shown itself to be a surprisingly tough car in endurance racing. Hong Norrth’s six-time-winning MX-3 might skew the numbers, but the strong showing of Escort GTs and ZX2s in recent years legitimizes these as good LeMons choices. They’re typically underpowered, though the turbocharged Capri motor can take a little bit of extra boost. I can speak from experience that Richard Nixon predictably adds no reliability to an Escort, but I can attest that they’re easy enough to work on.
9. Ford Festiva – DOMINATION Factor: 1.118 (2010 Rank: N/A)
This might be the biggest surprise on the entire list, though I’ve already said that a bunch of times. Sure, it’s weighted a bit by the recent success of We’re Not Really From Iran’s Mazda BP-swapped Festiva, but Team Festivus (and a few more names) in Texas has quietly been a tremendous competitor for years. Added together, it’s still a fairly small sample size (Just barely over 20 entries), but it’s been a pretty successful small batch from a fittingly small car. Take that, Geo Metro!
8. Ford Taurus – DOMINATION Factor: 1.125 (2010 Rank: 31/38)
The vast majority of LeMons Tauruses (Tauri?) come in the SHO trim powered by a high-revving Yamaha V6 that produces well over 200 horsepower. They can be a bit fragile, especially their transmissions, but a successful 2011 campaign by an alliance of Texas SHO teams lent credence to the type after a dismal ranking in the first torture test. A set-up SHO is a powerhouse with fairly docile track manners if you believe the LeMons Road Test Reviews and the “SHO” puns virtually write themselves when you create your team name. The hardest part is SHO’ing up. [Hoons collectively groan.]
7. BMW E30 – DOMINATION Factor: 1.135 (2010 Rank: 8/38)
You may have expected the E30 to reside in the top slot. It doesn’t, but it’s pretty darn close to it, which is impressive for the substantial number of them (around 8 percent of all entries since 2008). They’ve won more races than any other, but finicky ECUs and bad wheel bearings have knocked enough teams to the bottom of the standings to pull down the average from the top slot. Still, if you want to win, the E30 remains one of the better types to develop into a winner. Better yet: Cheat to win!
6. Acura Integra – DOMINATION Factor: 1.148 (2010 Rank: 15/38, counted with Honda Civic)
The Integra is the oddball LeMons car that’s great on paper and actually matches that result on the track. Integras don’t really win very many races, but one or two of the lightweight Integras is in the running of just about any given race. With good fuel economy and a substantial aftermarket, the Integra is the best front-wheel-drive car in LeMons. That said, they’ll still go through head gaskets and occasionally toss rods through their (mostly) B-Series blocks.
5. Mazda Miata – DOMINATION Factor: 1.165 (2010 Rank: 17/38)
Mazda’s roadster, especially first-generation versions with the 1.6-liter engine, tend to run low on power compared to most fields, but like the Integra, there’s usually one in the Top 10 at a given race. Eyesore Racing have proven that the engine can take forced induction well and most teams will find that a given motor is good for several thousand race miles. They don’t take a physical pounding well, but the little two-seaters are otherwise remarkably durable.
4. Alfa Romeo Milano – DOMINATION Factor: 1.172 (2010 Rank: 2/38)
Alfa Romeo was a surprising resident toward the top of the original list and Milano teams seem to have only gotten better. While they still occasionally launch connecting rods or possess wonky electronics, they also can fly when everything on the car is sorted. The Alfa V6 sings Arias that would melt Caligula’s heart. Or something. Writing this has required a lot of words and I’m running out of them. But dang, these ugly Alfas do really well in LeMons.
3. Lexus (RWD) – DOMINATION Factor: 1.175 (2010 Rank: N/A)
As noted in the Honorable Mentions at the very beginning of this list, Japanese luxury cars seem to do well, even though the sample size is relatively small (21 entries in Lexus’ case). As it turns out the market for depreciating, 200,000-mile Japanese luxury cars doesn’t really exist, so finding an overbuilt SC or LS for LeMons money isn’t too much of a challenge. The 1UZ V8 found in the SC400 and LS400 is a solid LeMons motor that produces good power, though they tend to be a bit thirsty. Even burning upwards of 10 gallons of gas per hour, it’s only a matter of time until a Lexus takes an overall win.
2. Mercedes 190 – DOMINATION! Factor: 1.201 (2010 Rank: 10/38 – All Mercedes)
In the crapcan seas of BMWs, Mercedes’ Bimmer-killer has quietly produced stellar results. Sure, the sample size is relatively small and probably skewed a bit by Ziegel Scheißhaus Racing’s 2013 success, but the 190 has shown so far to be reliable and quick with a couple of overall wins. A $500 example can be pretty rough, but probably no moreso than an E30. With a little development, these four-cylinder Benzes can put down long stints at a good clip. Expect the 190 to earn a few more overall wins and to earn a reputation as the Vehicle for the New and Refined LeMons Cheater.
1. Volvo 240/262 – DOMINATION! Factor: 1.219 (2010 Rank: 1/38)
Yes, those super-tough Volvo bricks still are the best LeMons cars, as the original LeMons Torture Test discovered. While only one—a V8 swap—has ever won outright, most LeMons regulars can name a half-dozen 240 teams with multiple Top 10 finishes. Credit the durable B-Series motors and legendary Volvo toughness with the success and look for more good 240 finishes in 2014, especially in the Northeast of the country. I hope the stock of Volvo 240s (and dilapidated 262 Bertones) never dries up, because I’ll never tire of seeing these bricks circulating ceaselessly, oblivious to the horror and woes of competing K Cars and DSM products.
That’s all folks! Feel free to leave a comment telling what surprised you and what maybe didn’t surprise anyone on this list.
Extra conspicuous hat tip to my brother-in-law Dan Meyer—a mathematician and a world-class air hockey player (that’s of some relevance, right?)—for his help with developing the DOMINATION Factor calculation used to figure these standings.
[Photos: Murilee Martin]