Cheap car challenges are becoming a sort of annual tradition around here. When we wrapped up last year’s $1,500 all-wheel drive off-roading trip, the theme of “old lady cars” was already brewing, although I didn’t know what we’d do with them. Regardless, I put out a call at the start of 2020 for the same group of people – plus a few new folks – to get together in late August with a car their grandma would have loved.

As we’ve seen, 2020 has forced just about everyone into various states of alternate plans. With COVID ravaging the United States, it was unclear if any sort of event could be held. This, of course, didn’t stop our group from purchasing cheap cars to fit the theme. We lucked out, COVID was “controlled” enough to allow the SCCA to start hosting events, and I messaged the group again. “Rallycross. Summit Point Motorsports Park. See you there.”

1996 Toyota Camry wagon rallycross
Jack’s 1996 Toyota Camry LE wagon

Our $1,500 Grandma Cars, and Some Exceptions

In true Top-Gear-esque fashion, I’d asked everyone to keep their purchases quiet until we met for the weekend. Some hints slipped out here and there, but we largely didn’t know who had bought what. As plans firmed up for our weekend, we had thirteen drivers in nine cars. Six of the nine cars had been purchased with our theme and $1,500 budget in mind, and the other three were daily drivers tagging along.

I had revealed my 1998 Volvo S70 T5M just as everyone was leaving town to assemble at Summit Point. When we all convened, our fleet of cheap Grandma cars represented a wide range of old-lady personalities. I showed up in the Volvo. Garrett and Jake M brought a 1993 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3. Jack faked the sale of his 1996 Toyota Camry station wagon and brought it, as his initial purchase price met our budget. Nate and Jeremiah split “Loretta,” a supercharged 1996 Oldsmobile LSS. Matt and Joe co-drove a 1994 Mercedes-Benz S320. And Paul, Casey, and Greg shared a 1993 Toyota Corolla wagon.

Our friends Christian and James had purchased a 1994 Lincoln Mark VIII, anticipating a spot in the challenge as well. Unfortunately, the cheap Lincoln suffered head gasket failure prior to the event and the boys brought Christian’s daily-driven 2006 Mercedes-Benz S430 instead.

We added another Mercedes-Benz “W140” S-Class in the form of Ben’s daily-driven (ish) S500, and Coleman rounded out the pack with his daily-driven Volvo XC90 V8 Executive.

Failures Were Few and Far Between

You’d think our motley crew of cheap cars would be prone to all sorts of failure, doubly so given two days of abuse in the dirt. In reality, most of the fleet surprised us with durability. My Volvo was the first to fail, splitting a six-inch piece of cooling hose at the end of my Saturday morning runs. Thankfully, I had some spare hose with me and we were able to replace it over lunch.

Our Corolla trio was not so lucky. They ran the wagon all day Saturday and it performed well enough, given the completely blown front suspension and incredibly worn steering rack. And on Saturday evening, the little blue wagon said “no more.” The seemingly healthy-yet-asthmatic engine lost compression on a few cylinders, and in short order the boys had the only two-cylinder Corolla wagon in the world. My friend Chris came to their rescue, towing the Corolla to sit out of the way until it could be dealt with. Paul ended up towing it home and selling it to a friend who was very excited about a baby blue automatic-transmission Corolla wagon project.

Getting Newbies Behind the Wheel

When the twelve of us crashed the local SCCA’s rallycross party, only three of us had ever rallycrossed before. I was the only driver who takes part in motorsport with much frequency. Most were total newbies to motorsport at all, having bought helmets specifically to attend this event. Some had been curious about the amateur motorsport world and not quite known how to get their feet wet. Others gravitate to the “cars and coffees” of the enthusiast space and hadn’t thought they would ever sign a waiver at the gate of a racetrack. And despite all of that, every single person had a blast.

Rallycross is a great way to give motorsport a shot. Yes, some of us showed up in cheap beaters. Others brought their daily drivers. Either sort of vehicle is a perfect match for rallycross. Restrictions on what can be driven are few, and the crowd was full of welcoming faces (mostly eyes, given mask mandates) ready to answer questions before and during the event. Weekend entry fees are fairly low, and the risk of damaging the car is minimal.

Take a look at our video from the weekend – the excitement is contagious.

Looking to join us next year? Follow us on Facebook and Instagram – we have something even bigger in the works for 2021.

And of course, a big thank you to the Washington, D.C. region SCCA’s Rallycross arm for letting us crash your party and answering so many questions before and during the event. We’d also like to thank all of the Out Motorsports crew for their support before and during the event – with a special thanks to Nick, who not only helped document the weekend, but did so while keeping us fed and watered.

We already can’t wait for next year!

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