I Spent $800 on a Daewoo Lanos and It’s Going Racing if I Can Fix It
This year's Out Motorsports Rainbow Road Rallycross theme is orphaned cars, and the all-in build budget is $1,500.
Buying and enjoying cheap cars has been my thing for years. I’ve spent almost as long thinking about racing, but it always seemed out of reach. Racing requires a surplus of time and money and I’ve spent most of my life short on both. Well, now that I get paid to do car shit, that’s starting to change. OK, I’m still messing with cheap cars, but this time I’m taking one to compete!
I think there’s a bit of a trope among the readers of every automotive website. Y’all tend to think we don’t know how to, or don’t want to, drive cars fast. Is it deserved? Maybe sometimes. Driving a car fast around a track does sound a little hard and scary. It sounds fun and exhilarating, too. I didn’t want to become “yet another automotive journalist with no interest or experience in driving” so I signed up to rectify that problem and gain some cool points with you folks.
Well, actually, I wanted to do it. So I’m going to, and you get to follow along!
Anyways, as a gay man, I’ve been looking to find safe, affirming spaces to be out and express my love of cars without feeling out of place. What better venue to do than the Out Motorsports Rainbow Road Rallycross?
Jake Thiewes and his gaggle of organizers at Out Motorsports, run an annual themed rallycross event somewhere in Virginia bringing out queers and their shitboxes. Sort of a pseudo LeMons, but only for gays, and only lasting a single weekend.
This year’s theme is “Orphaned Vehicles.” That is: Cars and nameplates that no longer exist in the U.S. market. Any Pontiac, Saturn, Sterling, Packard, whatever — would be an orphaned car. Cars like the Chevy Citation or even Ford Fiesta would be orphans too since those nameplates no longer exist in the United States. Contestants have a max budget of $1,500, including purchase price, and any roadworthiness items (like brakes or tires), labor, tow, the works.
Or, if you don’t want to play ball, you can just bring and drive whatever you’ve got (so long as it passes tech inspection). The event has stock classes for cars that are outside of the challenge.
But, I want to play ball. I wanted to knock it out of the damn park. I mean, I’ve got the skills, right? I scan Craigslist and FB marketplace religiously, I can turn a wrench or two, and I’m a huge bargain hunter. Just running the Abarth, in the stock class would’ve been a boring time at the rallycross. I needed a car and not just any car, but an orphan.
Initially, I wanted to use my newly acquired manual Accord Wagon. But the purchase price, tow, labor, and repairs put me way over the $1,500 budget. And Thiewes expressly said “you should drive something you don’t care about,” which doesn’t really include my long roof Honda. It’s my new baby. Way too nice to have it bounce around in the mud and dirt, I didn’t want such a rare car getting destroyed for no reason at all. Nope, I needed a different car, something unique. Something much, much, much worse than an actually very good rad-era wagon.
What car was I going to use, though? A Pontiac Vibe? I maybe, I’ve owned four of them, they’re not so hard to work on and I know them well enough to wrench on it easily and quickly. The Vibe’s too obvious, though, it’s not really a Pontiac, just a Toyota Corolla with some funny-looking badges. Also, they’re still expensive, and rust and engine issues typically loom in the lower-budget examples I’d be buying to ready for the rallycross.
Next, I thought, “Hm, what if we got some weird oddball FWD Korean pseudo luxury, like the Kia Amanti or Hyundai XG350?” Both sounded like hilarious prospects, especially the Amanti. The big V6 would certainly have a power advantage, and it would be really funny to see those things sloppily falling all over the track. Yet, when I searched for them, cheap Amantis were in nearly destroyed shape; it would take an insane amount of work to get the vehicle to pass tech inspection, and I didn’t trust that car to make it the five-hour drive. Hyundai XG350’s all had rust issues, too.
Issues aside, I needed something really, really bad. I needed something very obscure. I needed a Daewoo or a Daewoo-based car.
Daewoos are total orphans, only sold from 1999 to 2002, before the company folded and was absorbed into GM. Through the mid-2000s reconstituted Daewoo products made it out in the form of Chevys and Suzukis (unaffectionately known as “Daewookis”), arguably destroying Suzuki’s entire US presence.
Oh, yes. My weird-ass sense of humor made its way out, what more of an Orphan can there be, than a goddamn Daewoo? It seemed like the best way too, no one wants Daewoos (or Daewookis), so purchase prices for these vehicles are lower than models from established brands. For most of late June and early July, I stayed glued to Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace for Suzuki Veronas, Forenzas, Renos, and any stray Daewoo out there.
About a week ago, I found one. About 80 miles away in Dayton, OH, a 1999 Daewoo Lanos listed at $1,200, down from $1,500. The owner said the car needed a brake line and a battery. Actually, he said he repaired the brake line, so it just needed a battery.
I took a jaunt down to Dayton and looked the car over. It was definitely not a $1,200 car, even if it was an unloved Daewoo. The body was in good shape, and the motor and transmission run strong. But, the car had been sitting for at least a year, the car wouldn’t hold power steering fluid, it was leaking oil out of the valve cover gasket, and the AC didn’t work, all the tires were flat, and it had a huge exhaust hole. The brake, ABS, airbag, and check engine lights were on, and the turn signals didn’t work right. Woof.
There’s no other Daewoos or Daewookis elsewhere, though. The next nearest car was a Suzuki Verona of questionable quality somewhere in Kentucky, and a Daewoo Nubira in the middle of Indiana. This Lanos, was my last chance. After a bit of haggling, we agreed to an $800 purchase price.
Was that too much? Maybe.
Right now, my budget is a hard $1,500. As it stands, I’ve spent about $870 in total, including tax, title, and registration fees. That means I have a budget of $630, to get the Daewoo road ready before the Rallycross on August 18th.
Will I make it? Wish me luck!