Part 1: Building a Lemon, Our Porsche 924
The Ilumuna 24-hour race is now in its third year of running. In 2020, when the world was falling apart, it was an honourable first for the African continent—the first 24-hour motorsport endurance race hosted on African soil. What a feat! The rules are simple. Find a lemon (a car) for under R50K and race it for 24 hours. Easier said. Safety equipment doesn't have a cap, nor does the time contributed by team members, but any performance upgrades do.
Let's rewind the clock. The call came through one day from Clinton, a close friend of mine, who inquired about my willingness to join the team. Naturally, with my usual knee-jerk reaction to anything car-related, I needed little time to think about it. "Ja cool. Let's do it, sounds like fun". A meeting was then called where an actual boardroom table was used, along with a projector, those addictive mints, and printed notes Mike made, all under load shedding.
This felt all too professional now, had it not been for the candle lighting. Before I knew it, agendas were laid out, and a team had been formed. Craig for his car building; Dan, our international connection with a 7-second drag car back in the US of A (I hope he remembers to turn at the end of every straight), his engineering skills; and Clinton, another engineer/race car driver turned car builder (against his will, he loves to admit). Mike, as mentioned earlier, was all about organisation and planning. I am a hybrid automotive writer, one part, on the other a race car driver. Hans joins the conversation later as a toolman and backup driver. There we had it. A 24-Hour of Lemons team had been formed—a team without a name. But there was just one thing missing. A car.
Before we knew it, we were on the back foot. It is hardly an ideal start to be told from the outset that the choice of car will come with a caveat. No more BMWs or VWs, as the organisers did not want this to turn into a VW/BMW cup but rather a more diverse spread over manufacturers. How inclusive in this modern age. Now what? Honda? Toyota? Perhaps even an old DTM-inspired Mercedes C-Class? An old Chevy was even thrown into the mix but quickly shifted to one side and straight into the bin. Chevy aside, anything seemed like a better idea than a 924. Full disclaimer… I'm not sure when, at the first meeting, the decision was made to go with a 924. Perhaps we were lost in the excitement and jabbering during load shedding, or perhaps our collective eyesight was impeded, and we made the wrong choice. I know that I wasn't drinking that night, so alcohol can't be blamed (this time, at least). Perhaps the diesel fumes from the generator? My mind boggles. So why the 924? Why!
No sooner had I made any sense of it all and found closure when the online classifieds were desperately searched and options started rolling around possible donor shortlist 924's. Full disclosure: There wasn't a short list. There were only three options. Three terrible options. Two stripped-down cars. "Rollers", the racer guys call them. Both have partially completed setups and engines missing. Another scrapped idea (you'll find there are many as this story unfolds) was to fit a naturally aspirated Volkswagen engine, but I'm glad we opted for the third. The best of a bad situation in the backyard of Kuils River, a Northern Suburb known more for its fire-spitting Ford ST specials, stock cars in the front yard, and the breakfast special of choice consisting of a double brandy and Coke. Indeed, it's not the place that births a 24-hour-winning Rennsport special. The Mzansi spice needed to find its way in here eventually.
This place was special. Home to a UCT lecturer by day and a Porsche repairman by night, Dirk Matthee, who had let Craig know that he had something special for us. Beyond the wrecked Cayenne, laid under a blend of thick dust and ten-year-old moss, is a complete 924 Turbo. The once-new car smell of 80s wealth had now turned to a barf-inducing damp stench. This 924, along with its brown velvet interior, had fallen from grace badly. Was this the barnyard find of the century or a potentially devastating financial decision? Time would tell.
With only 13 weeks to go, the clock was ticking fast, and getting all the work needed to be done would be a press given even double the time. The decision needed to be made regarding whether to acquire this bona fide lemon or continue shopping. After more tyre kicking along with back-and-forth chats on the WhatsApp group (you know it's serious when there's a WhatsApp group set up), it was this or nothing. Before we knew it, Mike had made the EFT, and we each became one-fifth Porsche owners. Where's my Grade 9 maths teacher who said I'd amount to being nothing more than a chocolate fromage? Yeah, I thought so.
Now, to build a race car…