Junkyard genius builds world’s first racing airplane for endurance race

In the annals of the 24 Hours of LeMons — the racing series that combines a $500 vehicle spending limit with "Let's Make a Deal" costumes into a weekend jubilee of junkyard engineering — few racers and builders have brought more innovation to the track than Jeff Bloch. Bloch, known around the pits as Speedycop, has built 13 cars for the series over the years, none more involved than the craft he unveiled this weekend that combined Toyota minivan power with the body of a Cessna to create "The Spirit of LeMons" — a road-racing airplane.

Most LeMons projects involve a few friends pooling money and tools, creating a theme and finding a cast-off car (the more unique and less suited to racing, the better) that might run 24 hours around a track over two days if everyone wishes hard enough and stays sober while wrenching. Compared to those cars, the Spirit of LeMons is a Saturn V rocket with warp drive.

Starting with a complete 1956 Cessna 310 heading to the scrap heap, Speedycop and associates spent the past five months carefully gutting the Cessna, along with Sawzall-ing the body of a 1987 Toyota VanWagon — whose rear-wheel-drive and mid-mounted 4-cylinder engine offered the right general layout. From there, it was a simple matter of mating the Cessna body to the van. And moving the steering. And forming the body. And building a subframe. While working outside, in the dark, in winter.

Bloch and team finished the race this weekend in South Carolina, but more importantly won the Index of Effluency award, the more valuable prize given each race to the vehicle that holds its own on the track but should never see public roads in the name of general common sense. Now that he's crossed over into other forms of transportation, Bloch will have to push even harder to top this creation — although the phrase "land yacht" does offer one suggestion.

Photo: Speedycop via Facebook