Project: Baptism by Fire

As a car guy I bought my first car when I was 16, a barely running Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, overpriced and with tons of potential. It turned out that this potential would lead nowhere so I ended up selling the car to a friend for a big loss. The ordeal wasn’t a complete loss though as I learned that I did actually enjoy working on cars- that car required a lot of work- and that I was way more interested in driving and racing than I was in being a mechanic. I then set out to find a more practical project so I bought my second Galant. I still own it but it’s not finished, and I came to a second revelation during the build: I don’t want to go fast on the street. It’s just too scary. Police, other drivers, deer, there are just too many reasons to avoid it. So what’s the solution to this? A track car. But again a problem arose: I’m a college student and college students have no money. I spoke to my brother who is also an avid gear head and CarRacer, the guy who races the the JDMVette and we came up with the 24 Hours of LeMons series as a solution. Considering that my problem was that I couldn’t afford a real track car, what could be more perfect than a race where I’m not allowed to spend more than $500 on a car? The rules require a four person team so my brother and I agreed to team-up with a few of our friends. Once we committed to actually doing these races our first decision had to be what car we should get, so I talked to CarRacer since he had some experience. He recommended that we get something light with a small engine to save on gas that we know will be reliable. He recommended a few options like the Dodge Neon or even BMW’s even though they aren’t well liked by the competition because they are so good. So we bought a Mercury Grand Marquis. The car is big and heavy, and has a 4.6L V8. It will be bad on gas, it will go through brakes and tires quickly, it won’t handle well and it won’t be that fast. But we don’t care. At this point, we are all car guys who have never raced against other cars let alone on real race tracks. Our goals are not to win or even do particularly well but they are to get a taste for racing and have fun doing it.

The car: my brother works at a metal fabrication shop as a design engineer, and one of the other engineers there was telling my brother about an accident he had just been in in his 1995 Grand Marquis. My brother was familiar with the car and asked him what he was going to do with it, and when he said he was going to scrap it my brother instead picked it up for the $400 his coworker would have gotten from the scrap yard. With an obvious abundance of parts for these cars and the good condition that it’s already in, this is an easy starting point that won’t require extensive prep aside from safety.


The drivers front headlight is gone, and the doors don’t open properly. The worst part of the damage is that it seems to have caused a leak from somewhere in the cooling system, and the repairs for that will have to come out of our remaining $100.

Here is the reason we got the car. The strong running V8 will be one less thing that we don’t have to worry about preparing heavily.

The interior is actually in beautiful shape, and since we have to strip it anyway hopefully the sale of it will help us increase our budget for modifications.

Being a fan of lists, here is what we have to do to prep the car:

  1. Strip the interior
  2. Remove glass
  3. Install the roll cage
  4. Install the seat
  5. Install the harness
  6. Wire the car (especially the interior and kill switch)
  7. Fix the coolant leak
  8. Replace brakes
  9. Replace tires
  10. Acquire parts (brakes, tires etc)
  11. Paint for our theme

We have picked a theme that I don’t want to reveal until we are completely prepared to race. What I will reveal is that it will not involve any sort of police reference, as this has been by every other Ford Panther platform team in the world. I also won’t put anything on it that makes the car “bigger.” For some reason it just bothers me

when people attach things to the exterior of their car even though that’s sort of the spirit of this race. With whatever money we have left we hope to install a manual transmission from a Mustang because it will be more fun to drive, but this won’t be realistic. With that kind of money though, what will be realistic is police package suspension from a Crown Victoria, which is not particularly expensive. The cage won’t be a big deal because as I mentioned, my brother works at a fabrication shop where he will be able to get tubing at cost and works with professional welders who have race car building experience. My father has a degree in electrical engineering so he will be able to help with the wiring. Our real problem now is not having a space to work on the car. It’s located in Buffalo so working on it in the near future is out of the question. If we had some place to work on it, we would likely have it ready by early May, but our goal for now is the June 16th race at Summit Point Raceway. I have a very optimistic goal of 3 days of all-day labor to make it so we only have minor “fine tuning” to do. CarRacer says we can do it and enter the race, but we won’t finish the whole thing. I’m sure he’s right, but I’m also sure we will end up not slapping it together at the last minute. Updates on the project coming as soon as they happen!

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