The Hella Sweet Tow Rigs of LeMons at Sonoma Raceway

COE Ford car carrierLast weekend I had the pleasure(?) of dispensing justice upon the miscreant drivers of the 24 Hours of LeMons “Good Enough Grand Prix” at Sonoma Raceway. It was a small field comprised of teams that had been wait-listed for December’s Sonoma race mixed with a bunch of die-hards. As a result the BMW count (particularly e30s and e36s) was higher than usual (as these teams tend to be skipped over in favor of Ramblers and Super Snipes). Very Hooniverse builds (like the 440-powered M-B or blown 3800-powered Suzuki/S-10 thing) were few and far between. However, the overall combination of crappy/awesome intrinsic to LeMons tends to extend to tow vehicles as well. I’m sure Murilee Martin’s wrap up will show up at Car and Driver any moment now, but in the meantime let’s take a look at the (as Jay would say) Hella butt awesome tow/camping rigs of LeMons.

I apologize in advance for the potato-grade image quality on these shots. I was wandering around drunk in the paddock at night with no tripod, attempting not to bug people with a flash.

First off (pictured above), this COE hauled team #146’s notch-back Fox-body. What’s cooler than a ramp-back COE’s from the 60s? Not much.

I stumbled upon this pile of expedition-ized Land Cruisers with roof tents. Judging by the idle clatter I heard, at least one of these was a diesel (and none of these models came to the US in diesel form). FJ40 pickup, FJ60/62 and an FJ80; looks like they’ve still got an opening for an FJ55 on the squad. (Daytime picture courtesy Murilee Martin)

econoline camper van

This 1980s heavy-duty econoline was arguably the most LeMons rig I saw. Likely sporting either an early Powerstroke or a 460ci v8 getting 8mpg, it’s got room for the family, the guts to haul a decent enclosed trailer and the whole thing probably cost less than one of those Land Cruiser’s rooftop tents.

grumman van car carrier (11)grumman van car carrier (12)

Next up is Anton Lovett’s “RV”. The California Air Resources Board (ironically “CARB”) has cracked down on particulate emissions from commercial diesel trucks, essentially requiring retirement or engine swaps on all 2010 or older commercial diesels. As a result, vehicles like this 25ish foot Grumman step van can be had for super cheap. Unfortunately, registration of a big-ass diesel truck for personal use is still a costly proposition, unless it’s an RV. The logic being that RVs spend most of their time parked or traveling elsewhere anyway. To register as an RV, your vehicle must have something like four of six items such as a sink, cooking apparatus, sleeping arrangement, etc (I just tried to search the CA DMV site for the details, but you know: CA DMV). Anyway, to check the necessary boxes Anton bolted in a cooler, sink and microwave. Meanwhile, he uses an extensive series of ramps to get his Cavalier/Cimarron into the cargo bay. Where it rolls up right behind his back. There was debate whether an internal driver’s cage or ejection system would be the better safety solution.

(Interior picture courtesy Murilee Martin)

Not necessarily up to tow rig duty, but still pretty bitchin’ was this butched-up Westy. Those larger BFG ATs fit with no major suspension modifications, while the front and rear receiver bumpers and Warn multi-mount winch provide further offroad utility. While not a four-wheel-drive Syncro model, the owner told me it’s taken him everywhere he’s wanted to go. Asked how much he uses it, he replied “Oh yeah, some. A few long weekends here or there, then a full week once a year, then every once an a while a real long trip all around the country and back”. While I wouldn’t trust it to make to to the other Home Depot that’s farther away, apparently this dude’s managed to get his dialed. Bonus lowered Vanagon next door.

Last but not least, someone on the Sunday Funday “Drag Racers” team (of previous Slave Labor Penalty “fame”) has my Suburban. Ok, not mine yet, but pretty much exactly what I’ll be replacing the Wagoneer with soon one day once it’s done once I give up on it whatever. 3/4 ton, mild lift, malaise brown and that ladder on the back, oh my.

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  1. Kamil_K Avatar

    Those Land Cruiers…. drool…
    Bonus points for the sealed beams on the 80-series. Hella sweet, as they say, indeed.

  2. zetep Avatar

    Wow, the guy with the Cavalier in back has steel nerves and cajones, you don't want to imagine what happens when you make a emergency stop or have a collision…..

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      Anton knows what he's doing. The car probably has a strap or a wheel chock or something. He wouldn't want it getting dinged up or scuffing the truck.

  3. Balzac Avatar

    Someone who is racing a Cavalier can't be trusted to safely transport it…

    1. racer139 Avatar

      That's not fair… I raced four of them over the years. And the worst tow rig I used was a 91 Nissan hard body with a janky tow dolly. Man it was an adventure just getting it down the drive way and onto the road was a sideways experience. Then stopping to get gas the tongue snapped in half. So there I was stranded at the self serve island……..

  4. Batshitbox Avatar

    Helpful info regarding the RV conversion and the forced retirement of commercial diesels. It reminds me of the semi-mythical giant pool of retired Japanese motors I've been hearing about all my days.
    I'm guessing there's also a requirement that the sink be hooked up to a fresh water supply on one side and a not-so-fresh water tank on the other, but maybe they don't look that closely?
    Friends just joined me on my trip to Baja in a diesel Ford ambulance, semi-converted to an RV, no plumbing and limited electrics.
    Long distance was not the first design parameter of Step Vans or ambulances, though. I imagine some differential gears and a decent cooling upgrade would be necessary.

  5. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    The Cavalier is strapped down on reinforced anchor points, but the general consensus was any frontal collision with this setup = game over.

    1. Sjalabais Avatar

      There should be a solution available involving a sun roof, a jet seat and a helmet.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        I like the way you think, but I'm pretty sure it would take more than one jet seat to lift that Cavalier clear of the collision.

      2. racer139 Avatar

        Nahh just the helmet.

  6. Drzhivago138 Avatar

    Normally I'd be most intrigued by that N-series Ford, but the van and the "RV" with the Cavalier are just too cool.

  7. buzzboy7 Avatar

    We have the sameish laws in SC as Anton dealt with for his RV. Our ICBM(Idle Clatter Bus Mobile) has a mobile toilet, camp stove and ghetto rigged sink setup. The Planet Express rides on a trailer outback though.

    1. mdharrell Avatar


    2. austinminiman Avatar

      …Ghetto rigged?

      1. buzzboy7 Avatar

        Anything plumbed by Hyatt is ghetto

  8. Crazy mike Avatar
    Crazy mike

    Yeah – we tow either the Scrubbing Bubble or the California Raisin with the Vanagon – not a Subaru conversion, to everything. Apparently it wasn't photogenic enough.

    1. Tim Odell Avatar
      Tim Odell

      How did I fail to get a picture of that? Ugh…

      1. Eric Rood Avatar
        Eric Rood

        Hella Shitty also tows with a Cannonball Run replica ambulance that ran The 2904 a year or two ago. The ambulance has its own Facebook page:

  9. Breadbox Avatar

    Actually, that '80s Ford van motorhome might not be as cheap as you'd think. It's a repainted Airstream 190, built as a day trip vehicle that you use to tow one of the big Airstream Excellas. My in-laws had one just like it (a '93 BTW, so maybe not as old as you think either.)