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Old Ford Ranchero makes for an entertaining weekend at Lemons


It’s always great when I get an email from Tim. You know, Mad Science himself. Also known as the co-founder of this here website. That’s because it’s usually about racing at Lemons. So I’m quick to respond with a “hell yes” and then think about the race even though it’s a month or possibly months out. But this past weekend, it was race time. And the story is a familiar one filled with a few curse words, many fluids on the ground, and an absolute blast of a time spent at a hot, dusty racetrack in the middle of nowhere zone of California.

Our “race car” is a 1963 Ford Ranchero. It’s powered by a 250 cubic-inch straight six that’s backed up by a four-speed manual gearbox. This time around, we were excited because the engine was making strong power, sounded awesome, and was ready to rock. So ready, in fact, that on the Friday test day before racing, we decided to dyno the car. And the results were far better than expected. Per the Buttonwillow dyno, the Ranchero was doling out 140 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque, and that’s at the wheels.

lemons dyno chart

Our smiles faded, though, as some on-track testing revealed the familiar jangling of lower-end lurking catastrophe. Instead of running it to see what happens, Tim and the other actually good wrenches on our team set to work trying to see what was wrong. We were roasting rod bearings which means true failure was imminent. Thankfully, this time we brought a backup engine. So cue the flurry of tools, parts, and orders, and sometime later, we had the second engine ready to run. But this one would hold temps fine at idle, but any load and it would start to run the temps up.

Our assumption was a head gasket issue. Tim decided to torque things down more aggressively and then dump a bunch of Blue Devil gasket sealer into the cooling system. This almost seemed to work, but out on track, the temps came back up. I was on track as the car started to climb towards 240 degrees. I could get it to drop into the 230 zone by easing off, but that’s not what you want on the track. So we pulled the car back in with the goal of swapping the other head onto the car.

gross radiator water at lemons

This means Saturday became a full-on wrenching day. But the new head made it over, temps were great after we fully flushed the crap out of the radiator, and we were ready for Sunday. Or so we thought. With cooling no longer an issue, the car begins to struggle with its air/fuel ratio. We run a Holly Sniper setup, so I can actually see the numbers while out on track. It should be around 12, but it was running super lean at 35 or so at times, and the car would struggle for power. It seems our fuel cell may have a pickup point issue for some reason. Because we were able to “fix” the issue by fully topping off the cell and running for a while until the A/F issue would return. Regardless, this move kept us running the rest of the day, and we got the full team of drivers through the car.

fueling at lemons

In fact, I took the wheel to finish out the weekend, and I put over two hours behind the wheel to bring the car in under the checkered flag. The latter portion of the run was a lesson in directional management to try and mitigate fuel starvation issues, but it was still a blast. I learned the car enjoyed left turns far more than right turns, and I did my best to smooth out the rights. I was also fighting overheating front brakes, but I was smiling the whole time. Lemons is always one of my favorite weekends of the year, even when half of it is hoping the car either holds together or comes back together so we can turn laps.

One final note about the weekend is that I finally got to test out the new Go Fast Campers tent on the roof of the Montero. I’m happy to report that it was supremely comfortable, and I’ll dive into that a bit more in a separate post.

montero with gfc rooftop tent



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