LeMons Torture Test Revisited: A 2013 Update, #74-71


[Author’s note: This piece has included immeasurable amounts of help from both Murilee Martin and from 24 Hours of LeMons’ Associate Perp Nick Pon. Thanks for the assists!]

Nearly four years ago, the esteemed Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons’ Supreme Court Murilee Martin examined in detail the best cars from the series’ first 21 races for Jalopnik. The original list included 38 types of $500 beaters, which turned up a healthy dose of surprises. With four entire LeMons seasons and about 80 more races complete, I embarked to update the results to give a modern picture of the best (and worst) LeMons cars throughout the series’ history.

I’d be doing myself a disservice if I indicated this was all recent work; I’ve been compiling and maintaining past results to this end for most of the last year. Originally, I tried to follow Murilee’s original method by breaking the results up into weighted thirds of the field. I even completed that analysis and was writing it up when I realized it didn’t quite measure up. So I scrapped it like an aerated Twin Spark block and started over again with this result. 

At this point, I’ve probably already created a rift by introducing numerical analysis of LeMons. Some of you will have stopped reading (I’m not offended, I promise), some of you will not care how the conclusions were reached (skip down to the Honorable Mentions subheading), and some of you will want to know how I could declare your janky racecar far below average (SPOILER: You probably race a Camaro).

This list is classified by a small metric I whipped up that plucks its name from a personal favorite piece of LeMons jargon, which I will refer to as “DOMINATION Factor (DF)” henceforth. Like a good congressional representative drafting legislation, I created the name before the acronym so this is where I fill in some kind of awkward bastardization of English to fit the ALL CAPS:

Detached, Objective Measure INdicating Awful-To-Incredible OrderiNg

DOMINATION Factor is a simple number and one that works well for the purposes of this analysis. Here’s how it’s figured:

DOMINATION Factor (DF) = Actual Distance Driven (in Laps) / Average Lap Total

That’s it*.  DOMINATION Factor can be calculated for an individual performance or, in the case of this analysis, each car type’s DF is an average of the type’s individual performances. I could have added weighting for top and bottom performances, but since the unweighted number measures success against fellow competitors using performance relative to an average rather than by finishing order, it should suffice as a tool for comparison. When parsing these results, bear in mind that a 1.000 DF indicates a perfectly average car.

Take a moment to pause, breath, and enjoy a photo of Los Bastardos’ Renault Dauphine on fire.

*I must credit my brother-in-law Dan Meyer, possessor of an Actual Mathematics Degree, with helping develop DOMINATION Factor. 


Before I delve into the list, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Only car types with at least 20 entries since 2008 are considered for this list. I’ve made note of a few exceptional non-qualifers in the Honorable Mentions section below. Twenty seemed like a reasonable cutoff to avoid creating more work than I could reasonably do, which would have extended this project to well over a calendar year. It still created nearly twice as many car types (74) as the original analysis.
  2. Despite a lot of painstaking research and a few dozen hours of data entry, there are some omissions and probably a few mistakes on the spreadsheet. In many cases, I pulled the car type from the official LeMons entry list, which may or may not be accurate when a team realizes that their registered, extra-hooptie Opel Ascona isn’t ready for the race and they show up instead with a borrowed Sentra SE-R. With more than 7000 data points from the set and probably fewer than 50 mistakes, I’d guesstimate a fudge factor of around 0.7 percent. There’s some play there in the numbers, sure, but it doesn’t greatly affect the outcome of the analysis.
  3. I threw out the data from 2006 and 2007, since it was both difficult to find and the series was much, much different in its first five races. This is also being published right after the 2013 Arse-Freeze-A-Palooza, so that information will not be included either. However, this analysis includes every race from 2008 to the Road America race in November 2013.
  4. In some cases, generations are separated (BMW E21, E30, E36, etc., and Volkswagen Golf and Jetta Mk.1/2/3) and in others they are not (Honda Civic, Ford Escort/Mazda Protege). British cars were a bit dodgy (in this analysis and in real life); Austin, MGB, and Triumph had enough entries to merit their own space, while I clustered together Jaguar and the remaining assortment of awful British tin to create a separate entry. Why? Because I felt like doing it that way. Don’t like it? Do your own analysis. (No, seriously, do it. I’m not an actual mathematician and would like to see what more qualified people can do with the same data.)
  5. Penalty laps presented a bit of a conundrum. Since this study is supposed to be objective, I should have theoretically removed them from the calculations and left it up to how the cars perform without handicapping. However, the timing sheets from MyLaps, from which I pulled nearly all the results, didn’t include notation of penalty laps. Specialty Timing’s timing sheets for about half the races do include penalty laps, but since I would have only had partial results, I decided to maintain consistency by not factoring them in. The only exception is that I removed all cars that finished a race with negative laps because it would have thrown the numbers way too far off. Cast your stones as you see fit.

Is there a better way to compare these numbers? Probably, but the DOMINATION Factor was easy to calculate, compile, and it seems largely to match anecdotal observation. The total results are available here for download as an Excel spreadsheet if some bigger geek feels compelled to find a better method. I’ll be updating that spreadsheet periodically with more information (Classes, etc.) as I’m able to find it.

For today’s post, I’ll give a few Honorable Mentions and the bottom four cars on the list. After that, look for ten more entries per day until we count down the Top Ten. As always, feel free to chime into the Comments section to let me know how misguided all of my research is and how your ’82 Camaro will prove all the naysayers wrong.

Without further adieu, here is the list of the Top LeMons Cars in descending order.




If we overlook for a brief moment the 20-entry minimum, the Acura Legend would take the top spot of all cars. Granted only nine Legend entries have participated, but the 1.307 DOMINATION Factor exceeds that of other non-qualifers the Mercedes S500/S600 (1.278 DF, 11 entries), Ford Focus (1.271, 11 entries), Volkswagen Passat/Quantum (1.255, 9 entries), and Mitsubishi Stealth/Dodge 3000GT (1.223, 13 entries). All of those would have scored higher than our winner. Additionally, Infiniti came one entry short of a tie for 10th place. With 19 entries, Nissan’s luxury badge has racked up an impressive 1.106 DF.


Flipping it around, the bottom of the list would feature the Ford Mondeo platform (Contour and FWD Cougar; 0.715 DF, 12 entries) below the qualifying last-place type. Below the Mondeo, even, would be the Chevy Corvair with 0.657 DF in nine entries (though Hooniverse’s own UDMan took home an Index of Effluency in his) and all AMC products, which produce 0.635 DF from 17 results.

But few things can compete with the absolute worst car with a staggeringly terrible 0.301 DF in six entries. What is it? The first commenter to answer correctly gets somethingorother that is laying around my office whenever I get around to boxing and sending it (Possibly never).

Here’s a somewhat complete list of non-qualifying types with accompanying DFs:

Acura Legend (1.307)
Mercedes S500/S600 (1.278)
Ford Focus (1.271)
Volkswagen Passat/Quantum (1.255)
Mitsubishi 3000GT/Dodge Stealth/etc. (1.223)
Infiniti (1.106)
Volkswagen Fox (1.088)
Geo Storm/Isuzu Impulse (1.046)
Chevrolet Chevette (1.028)
Porsche 928 (0.986)
Toyota Cressida (0.925)
Saab 9-5/9-3 (0.904)
Ford Pinto/Mercury Bobcat (0.896)
Ford Fiesta (0.890)
BMW E12 (0.832)
Chevy Monza/Buick Skyhawk (0.811)
Cadillac (0.790)
Ford Contour/Mercury Cougar (0.715)
Chevy Corvair (0.657)
American Motors Company (0.635)
Mystery Car (0.301)


74. Austin – DOMINATION Factor: 0.723 (2010 Rank: 38/38, included all British cars)


There it is in plain English: If you bring an Austin product, you’re going to fall far short of dominating a race. But if you’re bringing an Austin Mini or an America or a Marina, you’re not trying to win overall or even probably trying to win Class C (though they have four times). You’re probably trying to have a good time driving and (mostly) wrenching on a terrible hooptie and you’re probably succeeding at that. Actually, you’re probably Mike “Spank” Spangler, who is responsible for the vast majority of LeMons Austins.


73. Ford MN12 Platform – DOMINATION Factor: 0.735 (2010 Rank: N/A)


This is maybe the biggest surprise on the whole list. Ford’s post-Fox Cougar/Thunderbird/Mark VIII platform promises the world with a plethora of seemingly great engine choices, none of which actually turns out to be a good idea. In fact, teams who have tried will likely not hesitate to tell you how poor of an idea the type is. You may be (slightly) better off with an older ThunderCougarFalconBird, as we’ll see in the not-so-distant future.


72. Other British – DOMINATION Factor: 0.759 (2010 Rank: 38/38)


This category contains all of the non-MG, non-Triumph, and non-Austin cars built on the lush British Isles. Lotus and Jaguar take up the majority of the group, but it also includes Lloyd, Humber, Sunbeam, and Rolls Royce. This placement shouldn’t be a huge surprise, although the .010 separating British and French cars could be a serious point of contention among American sympathizers from both sides of the Cross-Channel Godawful National Contructors Championship (CCGNCC) that I made up just now.


71. French – DOMINATION Factor: 0.769 (2010 Rank: N/A)


Buoyed by the occasional success of Punisher GP’s Peugeot 405Mi16s, the French just eek past their British rivals. Call them what you want, the Simca/Citroen/Renault/Peugeot (SCRP) pile can take pride in not being the worst LeMons cars ever. They still remain one of the most character-building types in crapcandom, however.

Check back tomorrow for the next 10 on the list. 


 [Photos: Murilee Martin]

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68 responses to “LeMons Torture Test Revisited: A 2013 Update, #74-71”

  1. Sjalabais Avatar

    Great presentation, and I tip my hat for the thought that went into this. With more variables, a regression analysis could be fun.
    As to the results so far…"British" and "French" – we need a style variable.

  2. LTDScott Avatar

    Nice job compiling all of this!
    I'm surprised that the MN12 did so poorly, since they have essentially the same powertrain as the Crown Vics (depending on year) and they seem to do really well. I'm also surprised that so few Ford Focuseses (Focii?) have been entered, considering the oldest models are now 14 years old and can be had cheap.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Agreed on both accounts.
      Anecdotally, it seems like a lot of dirt-track guys bring MN12s for a first race (because they race them on dirt), they do poorly as most first-time cars do, and then the teams never show up again.

      1. LTDScott Avatar

        Maybe it's a cooling thing? The MN12s have a pretty cramped engine compartment due to the sloped nose, and not much in the way of a grille opening.

          1. LTDScott Avatar

            That's what I call truth in advertising.

    2. Zaxbys Avatar

      Weight. Mn12s are pig heavy. A well known issue is brakes that are merely adequate for street use. So there's a good chance that even with upgrades, you're gonna have braking issues on the track. And then all 94+ n/a cars will have the 4r70w which can be built to handle lots of power, but stock pre-98 units (bird's were only made until 97) have several failure points. Of course you can go with a super coupe and a 5 speed. But a $500 version of those will be super tired. And the m5r2 is a truck transmission that doesn't like quick shifting (Ba bye synchros).
      Feel free to disagree with this. I'm probably not being fair since I daily a 94 v6 lx and some days it feels liner the car is on a personal vendetta against me.

      1. LTDScott Avatar

        Other than the brakes, Crown Vics have those same characteristics and they tend to do pretty well.

        1. Zaxbys Avatar

          but aren't the cv's mostly 98's or newer? Better transmission, better brakes, and I think cv's are just built to be a bit more heavy duty where as bird's seem to have components designed for a 300lb lighter Taurus.

          1. LTDScott Avatar

            I've seen a fair number of pre-'98s as well, but yeah, the Vics are obviously designed to put up with more abuse.

  3. buzzboy7 Avatar

    Can I get a little more behind the math of the DF? Bit of a mathist myself just curious.
    Distance driven per car per race? Distance driven of all cars in that segment over the past four years? etc
    Average lap total? Time, distance, number of laps? Per race? Per car? etc

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      As calculated, it's the AVERAGE DF of each car segment's individual results from the past six years. As a very brief example, let's say Duesenbergs have run three different races. Here are the results:
      Race 1: 30 laps completed. The average lap total is 60 laps, so the DF = .500
      Race 2: 75 laps completed. The average lap total is 75 laps, so the DF = 1.000
      Race 3: 120 laps completed. The average lap total is 80 laps, so the DF = 1.500
      The Duesenberg's average DF is 1.000 then. Extrapolate for 7000 entries of varying makes and models.
      The average lap total is simply (every positive lap on the timing sheet turned by all teams) / (# of entries with a lap turned)

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Wait, how did I manage to miss the Duesenbergs?

        1. Eric Rood Avatar
          Eric Rood

          They weren't that impressive; it's not like anyone flat-towed one 800 miles or something exciting like that.

          1. mdharrell Avatar

            Ah, right. That was some other team.
            <img src="http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6075/6148222868_e6847519a2.jpg&quot; width="500">

          2. OA5599 Avatar

            This Bugatti Royale was once purchased from a scrapyard for $400, making it Lemons-legal, with a hundred bucks to spare. I'm sure you could find a Deusenberg with a similar postwar history and put it on the track without penalty laps.
            <img src="http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/images/large/3496/Bugatti-Type-41-Royale-Weinberger-Cabriolet_1.jpg&quot; width=500>

          3. ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
            ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

            There's probably something about wheelbase in the rules, pfft, rules.

          4. mdharrell Avatar

            No, but Rule 2.1 specifies that "the vehicle's original, manufacturer-stated curb weight may not exceed 4200 pounds" so it would need a waiver.

          5. Alff Avatar

            Since they used the metric system, Bugatti never expressed the kerb weight in pounds. Instead, they just called it "Le Royale".

          6. Mechanically Inept Avatar
            Mechanically Inept

            That Bugatti looks to be in the Henry Ford Museum. I propose we "borrow" it for a weekend of LeMons-ing, and return it afterwards. Racing pedigree adds to a car's value, right?

          7. mdharrell Avatar

            Briggs Cunningham's acquisition of a pair of Royales in exchange for two refrigerators and $571 was the better deal, however, as that way the team would have a parts car.

          8. Sjalabais Avatar

            Good deal with the refrigerators.

          9. ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq Avatar
            ˏ♂ˊ mzs zsm msz esq

            Okay I'm clueless and some rudimentary googling led nowhere, what is the story about these three cars?

          10. OA5599 Avatar

            There were six total production cars, each with a custom body. They were very expensive cars new, and only half of them found buyers before WWII. In the 1980's, one of them set a record for most expensive car at $6.5 million, then a year later the founder of Domino's Pizza bought it for more than $8 million. Today it would likely take well into the 8 figures to put one in your garage.

          11. Rover1 Avatar

            But the engineering work that went into the engine wasn't wasted as they used them in high speed Railcars like this one in the Blackhawk Collection in California.
            <img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fc/Autorail_Bugatti_Mulhouse_FRA_001-01.jpg"width="500"&gt;

          12. mac350 Avatar

            Isn't that just a very long, wide Cyclops II with twin headlamps?

          13. Van_Sarockin Avatar

            I hope those fridges weren't filled with beer.

      2. nanoop Avatar

        So the df is somehow reflecting if a specific car model tends to manage more (>1) or less laps (df<1) than the average competitor (per race, on average, in that group, if applicable, regardless of lap length or duration).

        1. Eric Rood Avatar
          Eric Rood

          That's exactly it.

          1. nanoop Avatar

            I thought at first that "laps" is a bad measure for vehicular progress, but for /relative/ it's actually pretty good, even for a variation in track lengths (as long as those aren't distributed too awkwardly). One could multiply each lap by its length, but that is unnecessarily complicated. Still not oversimplified – well done!

  4. Irishzombieman☆ Avatar

    <img src="http://img24.imageshack.us/img24/1671/by2v.jpg&quot; width="250/">
    Before I delve into the list, here are a few things to keep in–
    <img src="http://img5.imageshack.us/img5/4447/03pa.jpg&quot; width="250/">
    Shut up.
    <img src="http://img24.imageshack.us/img24/1671/by2v.jpg&quot; width="250/">
    Okay, right after I show how the DOMINATION FACTOR applies–
    <img src="http://img5.imageshack.us/img5/4447/03pa.jpg&quot; width="250/">
    Shut up!
    (long, tear-filled sniffling pause)
    You had me at "Los Bastardos’ Renault Dauphine on fire."

  5. NotTeamSensoryAssaut Avatar

    So what you're saying is bring a rotary!

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      You, sir, are a menace to people's eardrums.
      Carry on.

  6. mdharrell Avatar

    "…the absolute worst car with a staggeringly terrible 0.301 DF in six entries. What is it?"
    Yay! My car hasn't entered six races.

    1. Nuclearspork Avatar

      Subaru SVX maybe

      1. Eric Rood Avatar
        Eric Rood

        Good guess, but no dice.

  7. parkwood60 Avatar

    Is the worst car ever the Mopar K Car?

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      I hadn't actually looked at individual car's performance, but that should be easy to spot.
      Looks like the K was good for 0.588 on its own (not including last weekend). Depending on how many "minimum entries" you'd want to qualify for Worst Car Ever, it's likely not the absolute worst.

      1. Eric Rood Avatar
        Eric Rood

        Nevermind, you meant the mystery car. No, the K-Car is not the mystery car.

  8. jeepjeff Avatar

    I'm going to guess 3rd gen Camaro for the mystery car, but I think there have been more than six entered.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      It is not a Camaro.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        Is it a Camero?

        1. Eric Rood Avatar
          Eric Rood

          This is my favorite.

  9. Nuclearspork Avatar

    The English and French cars still dominate our hearts so that has to count for something right?

  10. Alff Avatar

    Opel GT?

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Opel GT is not the mystery car and Opel is, in fact, on the list.

  11. cmcpokey Avatar

    The elusive Ford Capri?
    Saw one a few years ago that showed up, then left with nary a single lap. Though i knew they made it to other races, each time faring badly.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Nope. The Mad Maxeltov Capri has occasionally been not completely terrible.

  12. racinrob Avatar

    Is the mystery car a Simca?

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Simca was part of the SCRP/French group.

  13. derekste Avatar

    1.26 DF for my Quantum? So pretty much I should just sign up for a race, not even bother showing up, and await my trophy's arrival via FedEx?

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      You were also excluded from the actual results due to small sample size. I'm pretty sure the Chicken and Waffles car makes up at least half of the Quantum/Passat entries.

  14. ninjacoco Avatar

    I'm so proud to have contributed (hopefully) to a the number of "did not start" entries for the 944.

  15. OA5599 Avatar

    How about a Biturbo? Cheap enough to race in Lemons, rare enough that six entries sounds realistic, and Italian enough that .301 makes a good target.

  16. Zaxbys Avatar

    .301 = 22r?
    I've done some more thinking (watch out) on why the MN-12 has such a turrible turn-out and I wonder if it partially based on who enters it. People are attracted to it because it's a sports car, with a seemingly reliable drivetrain, and can be found stupid cheap. So they expect if they buy, gut it, cage it, and through it onto the track it will be AWESOMAZUZING! Because sports car! Now, even though I haven't prepped a lemons car (or much of anything bigger than a 10th scale r/c car) I'm guessing it takes more that removing the interior and adding a cage. Now if you throw in the weak spots the MN-12 has (headgaskets/cooling, brakes, 4r70w… actually that might be mostly cooling again…) and you have consistent back runner car. Now compare this to a crownvic. No one is gonna mistake a cab for a racecar. So wouldn't it make sense that people buy these expecting to put some work into the suspension in order to make it competitive. Plus it has beefier coolers and brakes right off the bat that help cover up any lack of preparation (not that lemons cars are ever thrown together at the last second… right?)
    Now with that said, there is a MN-12 that's on the east coast that's going through development and may someday hit 1DF

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      "…I'm guessing it takes more that removing the interior and adding a cage."
      Oh my, yes. It also involves adding a fire extinguisher and a kill switch, then painting a set of numbers on the outside. Some people claim there should be other steps, too, but I remain unconvinced.

      1. WarpdSpazm Avatar

        Uhhh, you forgot pit booze. Can't race a lemon with a dry pit!

  17. Spiro Agnew Avatar
    Spiro Agnew

    Was the mystery car the C4 Corvette?

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Of course Agnew gets it right.

  18. Racinrob Avatar

    Awwww Spiro, that was my next guess. But, I don't think there have been 6 entries for the Vette. How many times did the Cor-vegge race. I think that and one more were the only Vettes to run.

  19. Marc Fuhrman Avatar
    Marc Fuhrman

    Racinrob, from what I can tell from the data, there's the Corvegge, which was entered into three races, as well as a C4 Corvette raced by the team TrannyLumberjacks, who either changed their name or sold the car to another team who raced it for two more races.

    1. racinrob Avatar

      So that would be six entries then, correct?

  20. Hoonatic Racing Avatar
    Hoonatic Racing

    how did the XR4Ti do? HQ is convinced it is the worst.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      Check back and find out.

  21. ZomBee Racer Avatar

    I'm looking forward to making illogical excuses, no matter what the outcome.

  22. Sjalabais Avatar

    #72, the Rolls-Royce, appeared on BaT today. Not happy with their spot, probably? 🙂

  23. Tom Lomino Avatar
    Tom Lomino

    I'm kind of confused how the VW Fox was ineligible. We ran 12 races since 2009 in a Fox, and the Flying Lumberjacks also run a Fox and I think they have been in quite a few as well. Maybe not as many as I thought? I believe we are the only 2 Fox teams

  24. Lava Avatar

    I would guess Ford Pinto, but they rule.

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