Here’s some stuff you can’t make up, a fitting way to wind down my Car Talk year with five utter oddities:
Winning isn’t everything. Truly in the spirit of Car Talk is the 24 Hours of LeMons (get it?), which really caught on in 2013. The idea is to compete in cars that cost no more than $500, with fees of $100 per driver. “That fee covers registration, track time, paddock pass, safety crews, cheap sweatshop-made commemorative crap, and anything else we come up with by then,” says the team. “For $75, non-driving team members get all the same bennies except track time. Spectators who aren’t driving or wrenching for a team can get all-access paddock passes at the gate—they’re $30 and good all weekend.” NPR producer Ian Chillag slummed it for Car Talk for a day, and filed this pretty damned amusing report from the field.)
Since real racing can be witheringly expensive, there’s something refreshing about this. LeMons races are coming up all over the country. Check here to see if there's one of these pathetic spectacles near you. Rumor has it, by the way, that Car Talk might be entering a car next year. Fun fact: If that's the case, Tom might be shopping for a car that's up to $450 more valuable than anything else he's previously owned.) And if motorsports on the cheap doesn’t turn you on, there’s always lawnmower racing.
The man who loved LEGOs. I’d love to meet Raul Oiada, a 20-year-old Romanian. With a partner, Australian Steve Sammartino, he built a life-sized car out of LEGO blocks, including the engine, and it actually runs. “It has four orbital engines and a engines and a total of 256 pistons,” the team said. “We were scared of a LEGO explosion so we drove it slowly.” But 18 mph was attained.
Up from the ground came….Not a bubbling crude, but boiling hot water. The location was a British car park. The scene attracted hundreds of seagulls. See the video:
The power of elves. A plan by the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission to build a highway from the tip of the Aftanes peninsula (where the president lives) to a Reykjavik suburb has been put on hold because of an unlikely alliance between environmentalists and “elf advocates” who “fear disturbing elf habitat and claim the area is particularly important because it contains an elf church.” The "Huldufolk" (hidden folk) have a lot of political clout. As someone who’s both a) visited the President on that peninsula; and b) been straight-facedly shown elf habitat in Iceland, I take this story totally seriously. A University of Iceland poll found that 62 percent of respondents believe that "it's at least possible" that elves exist. The Icelandic Supreme Court has yet to rule in the case.
If it quacks like a duck. A British motorist in Baldock, Herts thought she had killed a mallard duck last November when it flew into her Ford C-MAX, leaving a cloud of feathers. In reality, it was trapped under the “bonnet.” For, like, three days. “The unsuspecting owner only realized the duck was trapped…when her dog picked up up the scent at the front of her car,” said the UK newspaper account. The duck remained trapped until a team of vets and mechanics dismantled the front of the car. The duck was rescued mostly intact, and is now getting rehabilitated.
I know this kind of thing can happen with animals, because I was party to an incident involving a kitten and a Subaru seat. The kitten was so lodged in the seat springs of my brother's car that it had to be completely dismantled. The cat was fine, but the seat was never the same again.