I’ll be honest. When Brenden and I packed up our gear and headed up north again to GingerMan Raceway a couple of weekends ago. I was a bit skeptical. I’ll elaborate. We made the two hour trek up to our favorite track, for something that we haven’t attended before. A lemons race. Specifically, the last of the year at GingerMan and one of the last on the Lemons schedule for 2016. The main attraction for our attendance for the event was something very special. It’s name? The “Awful Computer”.
Now. If you’re unfamiliar with “Lemons” racing. Let me give you a quick run down. Lemons, is an endurance racing series aimed at cheap, beater, unwanted cars. Each team has a $500 limit for purchasing and modifying any car of their choosing to race. Now, things like safety equipment, tires, and other consumables (brakes, fuel, etc.) are all exempt from the strict budget, because of this, you end up seeing some pretty out there cars out on track each race.
There’s one last part to the equation here. Each car/team has to have a theme about their racing program. While you may think this is stupid and trivial. Only there to entertain the organizers and the spectators a bit more, you couldn’t be any more wrong.
The theme plays into you’re starting position. So, you could build a really fast car and qualify high up on the grid. However, someone who is considerably slower than you are can qualify just as high because the organizers really liked their build/theme.
Which brings me to the car in question.
Dubbed “The Awful Computer” this car started out life as a humble Geo Metro. You know, those little commuter cars that were pretty popular in the 90’s with people looking for cheap transport? What you see here though, is far removed from its humble beginnings and it all started out with the guys at Charnal House Racing.
Brian, the car’s original owner and builder was inspired by the early pioneers of Lemons Racing and decided to undertake a project of his own. Not knowing where to start, he took stock of what he had. A second generation Ford Taurus SHO, sitting for years, rescued from the clutches of Wisconsin’s harsh winters. The car was rusty and had a bad clutch throwout bearing. Then, a Geo Metro, more neon and stereo than car, was sourced. All unnecessary parts from either car were sold off to recoup the cost of buying the two, and to keep the build in budget.
The team’s original idea was to source a for Festiva to make a “SHOgun” replica. A car that was produced in very small numbers. Which was a Ford Festiva, with a SHO motor mounted amidships. It was hellishly fast for the time it was built. So it quickly became a cult classic. So, taking inspiration from builds past. The Charnal House team set about building their own version.
The car has gone through three themes before the current Porsche 935k replica. Once themed like the soda Grape Crush, a Monster Tajima Pikes Peak replica, and another as a Jaguar XJR-9 “Silk Cut” replica. The original build took place some 7 years ago and a lot of effort and engineering has gone into making the car what it is today. So I’ll do my best to give you a rundown of what’s been done. As telling you about all the work that’s gone in would take many more follow up posts.
All of the members of Charnal House are engineers by trade. So they have access to the materials and machinery to make almost anything they want from scratch. Starting off, the SHO engine was mounted in the back hatch of the Geo on it’s original Taurus subframe. Now, the engineering of the rear suspension took a hefty amount of trial and error for the Charnal House guys.
As the team kept doing more and more races with the car. They, as well as the car kept getting faster. As the speeds rose, they started wearing through parts that they hadn’t expected to. Like, the factory Taurus knuckles and bearings that were on the rear subframe kept wearing out after every race. Soon, as the car got faster, it would happen after every stint on track and having to change bearings every couple of hours isn’t good for competing to win, or for the strict budget for Lemons. So, later generation Mercury wagon knuckles were adapted and have held up to all the abuse thrown at them since their installation.
While it may seem like they are cheating by just getting new parts and throwing them on the car to solve their problems and to try to gain an advantage. The rules can be interpreted (read “bent”) to help teams out should they encounter a problem like this. The good news for the CH Racing guys. Is that, with every race they compete in with the car, they get royalty money back to upgrade/repair the car. So out of the $500 budget, the organizers decide how much they get back after the race to go back into the car. So in essence. The more races you compete in, the more you can do to the car, the better the program gets as a whole. For me though. I am more impressed with what they’ve been able to do when it came to doing things for free or working their way around the budget.
Sponsors are kind of a grey area in Lemons racing. But, if you take the rules literally. Say you get the part for free (like having it donated by a sponsor) it technically works within the budget and can be used on the car. Which brings me to the drivetrain. Because the original transmission from the car is a shared Ford part, it’s built very weakly and can’t really take much more than stock power through it. So when the team kept improving the car, of course, the power went up and they ended up doing some damage to the gearbox.
So their friends, read “sponsors”, at South Bend Clutch donated a very heavy duty clutch to go in the newly rebuilt transmission by their friends, read “sponsors”, at TRE.
Suspension wise. The car is a mix of Ford and factory Geo parts. Any upgrades have been custom made, or scrounged up from what they could find. Like the coilovers on the car for instance. Were made from a box of scrap parts from Stance Suspension in Chicago. The hubs are off of a Buick. Then were tapped and re-drilled to fit the wheels they wanted to run.
The body itself, was designed in CAD by the team. Then made from scrap metal that they found and had lying around. With some actual 911 tail lights, Datsun S30z headlights and other random accessories adorning the exterior of the car, if you squint while looking at it, you could be fooled that it might actually be a 935k. It’s when you close your eyes however, that the confusion really starts.
After blowing up the original 2.8 liter SHO motor. The CHR boys made an appeal to the Lemons officials to see if they could get another motor for the car that would be above the $500 budget. Begrudgingly, the officials agreed…..on one condition. They had to turbocharge it.
So a later 3.0 liter SHO V6 was sourced and mounted back in the rear of the “MetSHO”. Then came the job of boosting the six cylinder. That’s where some good friends and a little bit of luck come into the equation.
Racing driver Scott Sharp saw the car at one of the races and fell in love with the concept of a rear engine Geo Metro race car. So he did what any good enabler does, he threw into heroin into the cocaine fueled fire.
He gave the team four, yes FOUR, blown BorgWarner EFR turbos off the old Tequila Patron Acura LMP1 car. Using parts from the four, they were able to make two usable turbos. Utilizing Nissan Z31 wastegates. The rest of the system is just as “back of the engineering firm” built as the rest of the car. Pool railing and a Chevrolet truck exhaust serve as the charge piping that leads to and from a salvaged, roof mounted, intercooler that came off of an old drift car. All of the piping is hidden behind the body of the car. The only indicators of the car’s boost producing capabilities lie in the WRX hood scoop and blow off valve, both mounted on the roof. Then the two MASSIVE turbos hanging off the back of the car.
On 6psi of boost, the team is able to make 340 horsepower and 340 foot pounds of torque. Back to the confusion I spoke of earlier. When the car would accelerate out of the corners at GingerMan Raceway and come on boost. The sound coming from the mufflers at the rear was all Turbo Porsche. Its uncanny how close the resemblance between the two engines is on boost. It literally sounds like there’s a big turbo, air cooled Porsche going past.
On the interior of the car. The driver sits in a Sparco racing seat and grips an old Personal steering wheel. The stock Metro pedals are retained. However, the most trick bit of the interior comes from the Porsche Boxter cable operated shifter on the the floor. The team had to gear the whole assembly another way so that the gears didn’t face backwards when shifting (1st was down and right, 5th was up and left). Adapting a shifter that was never intended for the transmission was a challenge, but they figured it out and flipped the gear selection back around so the car was a bit easier to drive.
Elsewhere inside the cabin, the vitals of the car are monitored on a vast array of gauges found in junkyards and scavenged off old project cars. A digital gauge from an airplane allows the driver to peruse it’s menus to look at all the vitals of the car, as well as warns him/her of any calamities with it’s built in warning lights. Down to his/her right, next to the shifter, sits the brake bias adjuster. Which can change the brake balance on the Mustang Cobra R calipers which sit at all four corners.
I could go on for days about all the things that have gone into making this car what it is. For the sake of making sure this isn’t a short novel I’m going to cut it off here. What I’ve seen with this car is something that you have to behold in person. Nothing can prepare you for the insanity that is “The Awful Computer”. It is a car that I hope will inspire people to not only get into Lemons racing. But, to show people that with a little outside the box thinking, and some ingenuity thrown in, any problem can be solved on your project.
The car’s current owner Mike and the rest of the guys a Charnal House racing would like to thank all their sponsors and supporters for making this car what it is. Hopefully we see this thing back out next season tearing up the Lemons circuit once more!