From Rescue to Race: I Prepped an Abandoned Crown Victoria for AutoX in 36 Hours
If you would make a list of my favorite vices, you would find two activities near the top: AutoX and collecting unwanted cars. Both activities take significant amounts of my time, effort, and resources, but the pleasure I get from fulfilling each addiction is worth it.
For those who are not familiar, AutoX is an event typically held in empty sections of paved lots where anyone can bring nearly any vehicle, safely pushing both car and driver to the limits as you navigate around a course consisting of only cones as quickly as you can. Like any hobby, it can be as cheap or as expensive as you'd like.
Entrance fees, tires, travel, and vehicle maintenance can quickly eat up any budget if you let them. My Fiesta ST is a fun, competitive, and affordable AutoX car, but I have always wondered how much of the expense could be saved while still having fun.
This adventure starts just like the best adventures do - with a message from a friend. I had recently completed my first 24 Hours of Lemons race with my team when I received a message from a friend who had a disused car in her driveway. She wanted her parking spot back, and I want every 200 HP American V8 land yacht ever made. Making a mutually beneficial deal was inevitable.
A car of this magnitude required an adventure to match. I had to drive from Detroit, Michigan to the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania. While I was in PA, I'd prepare the car for the AutoX outside of Pittsburgh. This trip required over 1,000 miles of driving, and I had to get it all done in one weekend.
Friday Night: 36 Hours to the AutoX
I left work on Friday afternoon and arrived in Pennsylvania that evening with a Michigan license plate, a credit card, and the worst of expectations. I arrived to find the car in much better shape than I had expected. The battery was very weak, the front tires were old and useless, but the Bingo-mobile clung to life and gave me hope for the weekend. I went home to my old stomping grounds in the Pittsburgh area to collect parts and friends to pick the car up the next day.
Saturday - Gathering Parts and Courage: 24 Hours to the AutoX
The front tires on the Crown Vic were unusable for highway driving, let alone for Motorsport. I started my morning at the local self service junkyard, where I pulled some wheels from a Mercury Grand Marquis. These wheels had only the finest Walmart brand tires wrapped around them, assuring our victory for the next day in traction alone.
I grabbed the wheels and a friend and started the two hour drive back to the Vic. This friend is also the Crew Chief for our 24 Hours of Lemons team, so getting the wheels swapped out was a well practiced dance, with us only taking a few minutes to get the car on the road.
Once we hit the highway, the problems started. The car developed a terrible misfire at anything past ~10% throttle. This made 65 MPH a struggle, but a Bluetooth OBD2 dongle made diagnostics easy. A misfire was detected on cylinder 8, and these engines are well known for failing ignition coils. I grabbed one coil and one spark plug for cylinder 8 and figured I would go from there.
Typically, you want to replace spark plugs as sets. However, I am both cheap and lazy, so I only put spark plugs in the misfiring cylinders. Two spark plugs later and Vic Flair was running like a dream.
Saturday Night - Drivetrain Testing: 12 Hours Until the AutoX
Remember, kids - the only difference between science and screwing around is documenting the results.
After a day of repairs and driving, we wanted to unwind at a friend's birthday party. This friend lives a good distance from civilization and enjoys turning tires into smoke, so we thought a surprise visit on the Crown Vic's maiden voyage was in order. This testing was a complete success, as tires had been turned to smoke and laughs had been had.
The car was then drafted through the night for supply runs and as a designated driver car, really showing the reliability of this beautiful machine. It was abandoned that morning and back to work by that evening. This gave me hope for the AutoX the next morning.
Sunday Morning: The AutoX Begins
Arriving at Pittsburgh International Race Complex Sunday morning was a spectacle in itself. A typical paddock the day of an AutoX consists of Fiesta STs, Mustangs, Corvettes, and other machines that are far sportier than your grandmother's Panther body. These cars were all present as Vic Flair arrived, still covered in moss from its time asleep. We attempted to frighten the competition with our arrival, and it was safe to say that every competitor was terrified of contracting some disease that had been eradicated in the 1920's just by touching the Vic's burgundy paint.
Tech inspection included a few interesting moments and conversations. As one tech inspector asked us to tape over our rusty fenders to keep the rust from flying out, another inspector looked at our battery, seemingly afraid to test our battery hold down for fear of disturbing the habitat growing in that area of the engine compartment.
We passed tech by the skin of our teeth.
Saying that a Crown Victoria is the wrong vehicle to take to an AutoX is an understatement. This particular Vic weighs around 4,000 pounds and only has around 200 horsepower. This gives it a power to weight ratio similar to that of a blender.
The suspension is also not made for motorsports. The steering was slow and numb, while the shocks were about as useful as an Amish electrician. Even now, I cannot think of a less competitive vehicle to use. However, this did not dim our spirits in the slightest.
The car was slow. The V8 made great noises but mediocre power. The suspension was useless, making every turn an exercise of self preservation. I spun the car in my very first turn. But we were out there and we were competing.
And we weren't losing.
103 people entered this event. By the time the tire smoke settled and the results were posted, Vic Flair and I came in 100th place.
You read that correctly. There were three people that were slower than a car that was marketed to people who hadn't yet lost their retirement money in the Enron scandal.
What I Learned in Boating School Is:
When this adventure started on Friday night, Vic Flair was a car that was destined for the junkyard. In the span of a weekend, we went from Rescue to Race, showing that anyone can go out and have a blast at their local AutoX.
Vic Flair is not a competitive car, but it is absolutely insane to drive. Every turn makes you feel alive. Every optimistic stab for the brakes makes you rethink any religious beliefs you may have. Every time you see this majestic, lumbering giant take to the course, you know that you're about to see something entertaining.
And you know that it will probably be out on the course for a longer time than average.
What Do I Do Now?
I have so many ideas for Vic Flair going forward. I'll write about whatever happens, so what do you want to see? Give me your craziest and cheapest ideas. The worst I can say is "hell yeah."