Low-Buck Tech: Why Not an AMC for Lemons Racing?

By Staff Writer
Apr 20, 2021 | AMC, 24 Hours of Lemons, Low-Buck Tech | Posted in Features | From the May 2021 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credits: 24 Hours of Lemons

American Motors: Those two words are almost interchangeable with “24 Hours of Lemons.” The 2020 season proved to be an epic year for AMC, the long-lost Kenosha cousin of the Detroit Three. As it turns out, you don’t need epic engineering or hilarious themes for an AMC. The car itself is the theme.

Team Lowball Racing ran three Lemons-grade AMCs: a Gremlin, a Hornet Sportabout, and a Spirit-based AMX. They eschewed any V8s in favor of the legendary AMC six-cylinder. All three of their cars looked amazing, and in two races last year–at Inde Motorsports Ranch and at MSR Houston–they snagged both Class C wins with 15th-overall finishes.

East Coast racers Rally Baby Racing–racing the Murder Whorenet in 2020–have also beaten their heads against a Malaise Era AMC Hornet. The car once had a homebrewed draw-through turbo system. That went away, and the once again naturally aspirated straight-six powered the Mark Donohue-tribute AMC to 14th place overall at Thompson Speedway.

Last but not least, Lemons’ first “real” AMC Javelin took home top Index of Effluency honors at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in October 2020. The onlooker may say, “A $500 muscle car? Surely you jest.” But the Oscar’s Junk Heap team–former Rover P6 racers, mind you–sold off what few decent parts remained from a 304-powered car to bring down its $1000 purchase to align with the rules. 

So how well does a pedigreed pony car do in Lemons? This one carried no illusions of Trans-Am success. In its third outing, it managed to finish 37th overall with the 77th quickest lap in a 96-car field. That’s not so much domination as “good enough for Lemons.”

All of those factors combined to give AMC the 2020 title of Lemons Real Co-Constructors Champions alongside General Motors. No, they didn’t score the most top-10 points–or any top-10 points, actually–but few would argue that a 14th place, two 15th places, and an Index of Effluency constitutes AMC success.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Javelin (Forum Supporter)
Javelin (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/20/21 10:57 a.m.

While I have never road raced an AMC, I know a thing or two about autocrossing them. A Ford Explorer 8.8 rear axle is an easy swap that solves all of the AMC Model 20 issues and nets you an LSD. A later model Grand Cherokee "quick ratio" steering box will also make the steering highly improved.

noddaz GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
4/20/21 11:46 a.m.

That is a good looking race Gremlin!

sir_mike New Reader
4/20/21 7:16 p.m.

Shades of Team Highball Racing from the very earlier IMSA RS series.

buzzboy Dork
4/20/21 7:35 p.m.

Any car that came with an AMC straight 6 will take a modern 4.0 and (hopefully) AX15. Now that's a winning racecar.

L5wolvesf HalfDork
4/20/21 8:39 p.m.
sir_mike said:

Shades of Team Highball Racing from the very earlier IMSA RS series.

Weren't those the guys who drilled holes on the underside of the intake manifolds to get more air into the air/fuel mix?

rogue_ryder New Reader
4/21/21 5:26 p.m.
buzzboy said:

Any car that came with an AMC straight 6 will take a modern 4.0 and (hopefully) AX15. Now that's a winning racecar.

"Car performance doesn't matter if you can't use it." ~Robbie

Definitely good for Endurance (the 4.0 anyway), the NV3550 is much better shifting than the AX-15 and even stronger! (I never had any failures with my AX15 but it sure did't like to shift to 2nd when cold).  I'd rather swap in an AMC 304 as those are usually close to free! Everyone wants a 360 or 401 in their car. The 304 gets you and extra liter of displacement and is still a reliable engine!  A World Class T-5 is easy enough to adapt to an AMC since non-WC were factory options in AMC and I think the ratios are better for racing than a Jeep tranny.

This definitely exceeds LeMons budget: 

But a VERY stout low compression 304 after some work!

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