Video: What it's like to race a 51-horsepower diesel Chevette


From the outside, driving one of the slowest cars in LeMons looks easy. Since the car’s going slower, most observers probably think that the driver isn’t working too hard, because a slow car means an easy time for the driver. This driver of Zero Budget Racing‘s diesel Chevy Chevette, however, gives great look at how difficult it is to wring the most out of a car with (low) double-digit horsepower at the recent LeMons race at Barber Motorsports Park.


Zero Budget’s diesel Chevette debuted at the infamous “snow race” at Gingerman Raceway in 2011 (above). The team struggled with the car then, but they sorted it eventually and brought home an Index of Effluency. They added a second IOE from their clapped-out, same-engined diesel Isuzu I-Mark and made a splash with the soft Corinthian leather of a “small” Chrysler Cordoba at Barber. It’s safe to say that the cars are slow and the drivers, who are mostly arrive-and-drives, are pretty good and receive some coaching from the car’s owner(s).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Chevette sails through the corners and hardly requires any braking at all. Speedycop, who flogged the Chevette to a stunning 2:00 lap at Gingerman last spring, just pitched the car through corners with scarcely a brush at the middle pedal, leaving a skilled driver to pass several cars through the twisty bits. But on straightaways, the go-pedal makes very little happen. The 51-horsepower Isuzu powerplant makes a terrific amount of diesel-engine noise, but the plucky Chevette continues at its merry pace.


The driver’s helmet cam gives a great indication of what he’s thinking throughout his stint. While on the straights, he checks his mirrors regularly to know who’s coming up from behind and who will catch him by the end of the straight. To make room and to make passes predictable, he also says all the way to one side of the track as much as possible to leave only one possible passing avenue. Finally, he takes the inside corner of most straights, making faster cars take the long way around, although the Chevette’s cornering ability makes other drivers earn the mid-corner pass.


[Photos — First image: Matt Smith’s YouTube channel | All others copyright Eric Rood/Hooniverse]

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16 responses to “Video: What it's like to race a 51-horsepower diesel Chevette”

  1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    Having had the slowest car in a LeMons race, I can assure you that having the slowest car on the track is terrifying. A Fiero powered by half (or less) of an Iron Duke is, under ideal conditions, putting out less that this car's claimed 51hp. It takes some time to warm up to the idea of holding your line even when a dozen cars are whipping around you, but it's less of an impedance to the rest of traffic if they can anticipate where you're going to be. Trying to stay out of their way is good. Trying to get out of their way is bad.

    1. Mad_Hungarian Avatar

      Ditto. I've done it too (the 64 Fairlane at CMP, March 2013).

    2. Eric Rood Avatar
      Eric Rood

      But you've cleverly remedied that by tripling the number of cylinders you start with.
      <img src="; width="600">

      1. smalleyxb122 Avatar

        That was the official rationale behind moving from a 4 cylinder Fiero to a 12 cylinder Jag, but it had as much to do with building a car that I could fit better into.
        I'm not sure how many cylinders weren't firing in the V12, but with a theoretical 290-ish horsepower, we shouldn't have been one of the slowest cars anymore, but we were. With some better tires this year, we should be able to carry more speed through the turns, and with better brake cooling, we should be able to stay on the track for longer stints.
        I might also try to get it running better.

  2. mdharrell Avatar

    That Chevette looks pretty quick.
    We can but dream of 51 glorious horsepower in our LeMons racer, even with all three cylinders firing.
    <img src="; width="400">

  3. B72 Avatar

    That soundtrack is glorious. The groan of the diesel punctuated by the whines, wails and grunts of the passing cars. Somehow it reminds me of the pod racer sounds from Star Wars.

  4. Metric Wrench Avatar
    Metric Wrench

    Everyone should start out in a low horse racer and learn to conserve momentum. So tired of Corvettes divebombing and crawling through the corners. The horses cover up bunches of lack of skill. Until it rains…

    1. buzzboy7 Avatar

      My LeMons car has 60hp/ton and we use street tires. Still a handful in the rain.

  5. Maymar Avatar

    What's it like to race a 51hp Chevette? Doesn't look that different from trying to drive a 51hp (at best) Chevette in traffic.

  6. Sjalabais Avatar

    Lots of work and nice driving – I almost feel sorry for the guy on every straight, though.

  7. buzzboy7 Avatar

    That Chevette was blowing our doors off at Barber. It's hot lap was something like 10 seconds faster than our hot lap. The Cordoba was faster than us by 5 seconds and the Fury's hot lap was 1 second faster.
    With the chevette we could drag it from 60 up but it's so light that coming out of the turns it just blows by us.

  8. Joe Dunlap Avatar
    Joe Dunlap

    Driving with one eye in the mirror is difficult. Doing it with both in the mirror is unimaginable!

  9. Dan Avatar

    Ahem, Ahem, Speedycop wasen't the only one to put up a 2:00 lap that day……

    1. Chevette Avatar

      Can I tell em Speedy's real time, Dan?

  10. Chevette Avatar

    The 51h.p. is G.M.'s factory rating at the flywheel. A few years ago Diesel Power magazine bought a diesel chevette for a run around car. On the dyno it made 29 rwhp.

  11. Ol' Shel' Avatar
    Ol' Shel'

    What was the driver of the red Mitsu trying to accomplish? I would have pitted just to get away from him.

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