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Performance Specialists Since 1963

The LeMons Torture Test: Volvo, Alfa, Saturn The Most Reliable $500 Beaters!

2010-02-11 - ipd staff

Recently the Volvo 240 earned the distinction of being the most effective/reliable car for competing in the 24 hours of LeMons. The 24 Hours of Lemons is an endurance race with a twist. You are limited to spending $500 on the cost of the car! We have sponsored a few Volvo teams running in the Lemons over the years and it seems like a great way to have some fun on the track at a pretty low cost and the event organizers also seem to have a great time putting the events on.  You can learn more about the rules, upcoming events  etc  here on the Lemons website.

The event organizers kept statistics on the 21 races they have organized over the past couple of years (each event had between 50 and 150 teams entered) and loaded the data into a spread sheet and they were surprised to see the Volvo 240 came out as the most reliable choice fishing the most races in the highest overall position.  
The full story is below
Written by  Murilee Martin and republished with permission from the popular automotive enthusiast website

With 21 LeMons races in the books, we've learned a few things about which vehicles can take the torture. We've analyzed the LeMons records of 38 vehicles and ranked them according to performance. How does your car measure up?

You see, the results of all those races, each with 50 to 150 competitors, gives us a real-world look at which vehicle types can hold together under some of the worst full-throttle, panic-brakin', suspension-bendin', rod-throwin' conditions found anywhere on the planet. All the single-interest car guys in the world can get on their respective car forums and throw out unverifiable statements such as "FAGSTANGZ ARE TEH SUCXKKK!!!1! CAMARO OWNZZ!!!!!!1!" all day long, but only the student of 24 Hours Of LeMons racing can point to the numbers… which show that Mustangs hold together quite a bit better than Camaros under truly punishing conditions (though even the Mustang comes out looking pretty miserable, according to our analysis).

What about this analysis? Where do we come to the insane conclusion that the Alfa Romeo Milano is a much better $500 race car than, say, the Toyota Supra or BMW E21? What we did was go through each LeMons race from 2008 and 2009 and divide the standings into thirds; every vehicle is placed in the top, middle, or bottom third of its respective race. We're looking at reliability more than anything else here, because even the slowest car on a LeMons track will finish in the top third of the standings if it never breaks; penalties aren't a large factor here in most cases, because even the most black-flag-prone team will almost always crack the top third if their car keeps driving all weekend. As for the bottom third, the only way a LeMons car ends up in the bottom-third dregs is via mechanical woes that knock it out for at least six hours (or if the car gets zapped with vast quantities of BS laps, which doesn't happen frequently enough to make a real difference in our analysis).

Because teams that spend a good chunk of their race weekend wrenching on their broken car have a lot less fun than those who get to do more driving, we've weighted failure more heavily than success in our breakdown. Those of you who geek out on stats are free to download my spreadsheet here and recook the books any way you see fit (and if you can find a way to present British LeMons cars in a less-than-sucky light, please do).

Speaking of British cars, you'll note that we've done a certain amount of arbitrary lumping-together here. To be considered for this list, a vehicle had to have racked up at least 10 car-races (one car, one race; a unit much like man-hours), so we ended up grouping all British cars together. Same goes for Audis, Mercedes-Benzes, non-240 Volvos, all pickup trucks, and so on. We're also considering the Civic/CRX/Integra to be the same car for our purposes; we did likewise with BMW E24s/E28s, Toyota Supras/RWD Celicas, and Nissan 200SX/240SX.

For those of you who don't feel like clicking on the thumbnails below, which are arranged in order of least to most sucky and feature pie graphs indicating top/middle/bottom-third breakdowns, here are the big winners and losers:

1. Volvo 240
2. Alfa Romeo Milano
3. Saturn S Series

1. British cars
2. BMW E21
3. Pontiac Fiero

OK, here's the complete analysis. Feel free to scream in the comments about how your favorite car got totally hosed by our obviously rigged analysis; we'll enjoy it!

Nobody pays much attention to the humble Swedish brick on the race track (unless it has a V8), but when the dust settles it turns out to be the most reliable LeMons race car in history! They have excellent brakes, well-made suspensions, and unkillable engines; solve the electrical problems and you've got a relentless competitor. We're hoping to see more 240s with the 16-valve B23 at future races.


  1. Volvo 240
  2. Alfa Romeo Milano
  3. Saturn S Series


  1. British cars
  2. BMW E21
  3. Pontiac Fiero

Community Comments

Thursday, February 11, 2010 10:40 PM - "TG"
after reading this passage and have had personally owned a 240 wagon in the past as my first car, i am so happy to know that my faithful brick is still the best beater car out there! and am damn proud of it!
Saturday, February 13, 2010 11:43 AM - "S"
i bought my 85 245 for $500 exactly a few years ago! it's already got ipd/bilstein/etc. underneath, custom exhaust and 16" steelies... hmmm...
Sunday, February 21, 2010 6:11 PM - "N"
I think that IPD should have a forum where people can buy and sell <$500 volvos for use in the 24 hrs!
Friday, February 26, 2010 5:57 AM - "B"
This is good to hear... We are in the middle of building an '88 244 for the 24. Last weekend, someone was even ambitous enough to run a 744 turbo diesel in the 24 and even it held together. All hail the Volvo!
Friday, March 5, 2010 1:54 PM - "R"
Bernal Dad's Racing drives a 1984 245DL in the 24 Hours of LeMons. At the Nov 2009 race at Thunderhill Raceway, BDR came in 26th out of 158, and this was the 5th race using this wagon (aka The Whale) It is going out for its 6th LeMons race at Sears Point on March 6-7.
Monday, March 15, 2010 1:07 PM - "TV"
This is really good news! Team Vulvinator is in the process of building an '84 240 Wagon Turbo Intercooled for the 24 Hrs of Lemons BFE GP outside of Denver, CO this summer. Any donated IPD parts are welcome!! Especially suspension components. Anyone have any recommendations for cheap/easy performance mods??
Monday, April 5, 2010 11:54 PM - "P"
i had a 1994 saturn sc2 coupe i used in scca racing in the midwest for a few years and now drive a 1991 244 auto and have to say i like latter better. im not surprised ive got to say out of all the engines weve drained the oil out of then red lined out of boredom at the shop, the b230 was the only one that took so long to blow up i got bored and shut if off. then drove the car to the store after putting oil in it.
Friday, December 10, 2010 1:34 PM - "CL"
Shame on you, Paul...that's an unkind thing to do even if you are bored! (I'm driving a '86 240/B230 SW with 544K on the clock, but I've never red-lined her without oil.)

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