[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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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)
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)
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]