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LeMons Torture Test Revisited: A 2013 Update, Top 10

Eric Rood December 19, 2013 24 Hours of Lemons 41 Comments

lede8 

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.

Introduction,  Honorable Mentions, and Entries #74-71
Entries #70-61
Entries #60-51
Entries #50-41

Entries #40-31

Entries #30-21
Entries #20-11

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)

ford_escort

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)

Ford_Festiva

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)

Ford_Taurus

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)

BMW_E30-2

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)

Acura_Integra

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)

mazdamiata_1

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)

alfamilano2

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)

lexus

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)

merc190E

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)

volvo240-2

Yes, those super-tough Volvo bricks still are the best LeMons cars, as the original LeMons Torture Test discovered. While only onea V8 swaphas 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.

 

Thanks again to LeMons Supreme Court Justice Murilee Martin and LeMons Assistant Perp Nick Pon for their help with the data entry.

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]

  • Eric Rood

    Cue mzs zsm msz esq rejoicing in 3…2…1…

    • nanoop

      duet with sjalabais?

      • Scandinavian Flick ★

        What about me……? 🙁

        Everyone seems to forget that I was, before anything else, a Volvo enthusiast…
        I suppose it doesn't help that I haven't had a running one for over 5 years…

        • nanoop

          Aaaw, sorry!
          But it was only Eric and me, all the other hoons here thought of you, really!

        • Sjalabais

          You are the essence of the brick ideology. The invisible sleeper sneaking up from behind. Don't interpret that too much though.

  • Modesty compels me not to show too much interest in the detailed standings, so I stopped reading after the lede photo and first sentence.

    • Sjalabais

      I have to say, I doubted the inevitable for a second when I saw that photo. Smart move, Eric, smart move.

      • Yeah, that's what got me to click, too.

  • Scandinavian Flick ★

    No doubt it helps that Volvo modders were turning their bricks into budget hot rods with junkyard parts for years before LeMons was any more than an idea.

    LeMons is probably part of the reason you can't find a decent 200 series Volvo for under $2500 anymore though…

    • Their popularity in general has spiked up recently, along with E30s. I think the combination of nostalgia, RWD, and affordability are attracting newer drivers who want a fun car to play.

      • Scandinavian Flick ★

        True. The entire top 5 on this list are cars that have seen an upswing in asking prices over the last couple years.

        • Can't say I've seen much more interest in Lexii or Mercedes 190 (well, except the 2.6s and Cossies of course), but then again I haven't been shopping for them.

          • Sjalabais

            In Europe, the Baby Benz has become popular. Lexii have a harsh fall in value early in life, but they meet some kind of high bottom. They are never cheap around here, except for in Britain. Somehow, the RHD market follows its own logic. The Volvo 200 series started to rise in value ten years ago, and continues to do so. If you're lucky, you can still get a fine 140 for small money, but they, too, have become collector cars in their own right. Not just donors for cheap Amazon owners anymore. The car that really has been raising in value though are late models Volvo 940. Good cars easily go for 10000+$.

    • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

      <img src="http://www.bilsport.se/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/hemsk-480×320.jpg"&gt; I agree Flick, people have been turning their old 240s into endurance race cars for a long time before lemons and that experience paid dividends out on the track where it mattered most.

      Also, yippie!

      • Scandinavian Flick ★

        Haha, exactly! I know of a number of psychos running 12s on a monster turbo and intercooler jacked from trucks. Chop the springs and custom fab a mount to double up on the front sway bar, and you got yourself a race car.

    • FuzzyPlushroom

      I bought my fourth one today.

      <img src="http://i.imgur.com/LxzfMdwl.jpg&quot; width="600/">

      '92, 262k, M47, couple of dents/scuffs, no real rust. Runs well, shifts like a typical M47, needs a new master cylinder and windshield, and a few other things looked into (power steering isn't, clutch and shifter reverse lockout both need to be respectively adjusted, hood's being replaced with the hella sweet one I have in storage…). The blue vinyl's mostly nice, and there are even map pockets (still) and an armrest (woo!). Suspension was gone over several years and ~50k ago. The Virgos need new tires, but there are six of them; it comes with 14" snows.

      Could have bought it three times for $2500.

      • ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

        Congrats Fuzzy, I know what hood you are referring to, that IS going to look fantastic!

      • Scandinavian Flick ★

        Nice! So you just caught up with me. (I've also owned 4…)

        I did a quick search on my local CL, and there isn't a single one under $1200, and most are between $2200 and $3000. If I had to pick a "typical" one, it's this: http://monterey.craigslist.org/cto/4114509778.htm

        Atypical would be this one… http://sfbay.craigslist.org/sby/cto/4244585704.ht

      • Sjalabais

        Nice, I respect your will to work on it! Is this going to be a daily driver? You need something to tow the Saab?

        =8^)

        • FuzzyPlushroom

          Baab's finding a new home with a friend. The 245 will be my new daily driver (and project – first thing is making it stop!) for 2014.

          • Sjalabais

            Well, that was a short adventure. I guess you're a good friend to have? 😉 I really appreciate that you keep cars like that on the road, or better: Put them back on it.

  • MurileeMartin

    Every self-serve wrecking yard in Northern California has at least a half-dozen Volvo 240s at any given moment, and they turn over their inventories every three months. Plenty of 240s get crushed every day. Compared to that, the effect of LeMons on Volvo prices is negligible.

    • Sjalabais

      Can anyone quickly tell how many 240s were sold in the US? Out of a total of 2.8 million, probably half went to the US? It is a shame how quickly stocks of 240s get reduced. Here in Norway, I have a look at ~Craigslist every day. The 240 is the car of choice for the senseless modder, and that's how they usually die here. People try to get rid of raped examples every single day. That is why a good one, in collector condition, really gets a good price here now.

  • The top 10 is interesting in that it contains some cars that a general uninformed car guy would predict to do well in endurance crapcan racing (E30, Integra, Miata), and some that would get you laughed at (Festiva, Taurus, Milano).

    Fascinating stuff. Thanks for compiling all of this, Eric! Of course Jay and crew won't be happy until they have a race filled exclusively with cars whose manufacturer name is nowhere to be found on the Autotrader.com list, but for the rest of us, this is great info!

  • RacinG73

    One area not mentioned that probably held back the E30's – their drivers.

    For every competitive top-10 team out there, I count about 2 or 3 seriously agro teams that rack up black flags faster than my car takes on fuel.

  • ThirdPedalGirl

    I don't know whether to be proud or or be embarrassed at the fact that two of my *actual cars* are in the top 25 of list of crapcan racecar survivors!

    • Rover1

      A mix of those emotions is entirely normal on this site. 🙂

  • Sjalabais

    Of all the stupid team names in this series, "Ziegel Scheißhaus" really made me crack.

    Fantastic effort, Eric! This was a nice read.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Where is Jaguar? Where is FIAT? Where is Horch? I call bullshit on this list!

  • m4ff3w

    Have there been no 6cyl versions of the 190e?

  • Mike M. (Tinyvette)

    The Volvo does not surprise me. The fact that the Opel showed up on this list at all did.

  • C³-Cool Cadillac Cat

    Off to CL to hunt for really inexpensive LS400s!