Story by DinaRella / Photos by DinaRella, Florida Powerboat Club & Mercury Racing

Inside the house of high-performance sit two heroic residents whose high-octane contributions echo widely and wildly among us. They are Don Aronow and Stu Jones. Without doubt, Don Aronow put the POWER in POWERboat. Decades later, Stu Jones stepped in continuing to rock the boat. His wave-making mission -- add the FUN into the fast boat FUNctions!

At the forefront of the powerboat phenomenon, Aronow was the mastermind behind Cigarette, Donzi, Cary and Magnum; when not on the clock engineering in-water exotics, the king of offshore was creating magic and mayhem racing the machines, reaching for his checkered flags with bashed body parts and boat pieces.

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Enter modern-day marine man Stu Jones. He may not have suffered from the Aronow race bug or orchestrated the architecture behind the builds, but it is he and his wife Jackie's legendary Florida Powerboat Club crest covering sides and sterns of every imaginable brand vee, cat and console churning through the chop from Mystic to Nor-Tech.

Jones' story starts when the Canadian native arrived to the Sunshine State, totting more than a set of Samsonites stuffed full of tropical gear. He hit Fort Lauderdale loaded with a surplus of ideas, deep sense of devotion, and an unwavering vision to start a one-of-a-kind club capable of uniting members and igniting engines. After 27 years and counting, it's safe to say that dream played out well; the club's record-breaking 266 flotilla of participants from the Key West Poker Run last November should tell you something. (See RDP's Key West Worlds feature.)

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When the club began back in 1993, home base was at the historic Everglades Marina in the center of the South Florida action, and the pace boat leading his poker runners was a Cigarette Top Gun (TG). Reminiscing back to the flagship model, Jones will tell you, "For decades, I've been a fan of the old-school Cigarettes with the straight-step bottoms. They handle the rough seas like no other." He continued with, "Being that the club was celebrating its landmark 25th anniversary (two years back), I had an opportunity to see what could I do with a meaningful pace boat project. Cigarette came to mind first."

Hence the link, the Don of all Dons designed the dynasty... and Jones refined a classic 2000-model-year TG, purchased from a club member in southern Massachusetts who had it in storage and now runs an Outerlimits. Initially, considering a new machine for the milestone, in the end dropping roughly $300,000 plus a few hundred spare hours (my estimate) of sweat and sacrifice had its own merits. "The good ole it's cheaper to keep her won out," joked Jones, as he dished out the details from start to splash on Project 1080 -- a name inspired from Cigarette's first 41-footer center console, powered by twin 520s and named 1040 Stern Drive.

Project 1080 was repeatedly referred to as a "Resto-Mod" and I wondered why? Jones divulged, "The concept is borrowed from the collector car industry. I always enjoyed watching makeover shows featuring the classics, then after helping out a friend at the Barrett Jackson auction, I understood why the term only applied to cars when the endgame becomes the best of both worlds."

Endgame? What did he mean? Jones explained, "For example, with the old-school Vettes and Camaros, it's like you step back into that lost time of the '50s and '60s. These muscle cars are made to look like they rolled out of that era, but under the bodies it's all state-of-the-art hardware." In similar fashion to their asphalt cousins, resto-moding a motor boat with fresh propulsion and the latest and greatest gadgets is also feasible.

"You visualize an old boat with a clean slate and completely new direction. If it has good stringers and a strong build, it's going to last. Honestly one of the hardest parts is first trying to decide what boat will best suit the project," added Jones. Whatever sentimental speedster is clawing away at your heart, or corroding away in the backyard barn like that Donzi 38 Zx Daytona or old faithful Fountain Lighting... you just need to clean her up and cross your fingers to keep the costs, shall we say... to a minimum!

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Resurrecting the Top Gun reached a new pinnacle when Mercury Racing came along further sweetening the deal, thanks in part to its Race to Repower campaign. Actually, Mercury had been running ads on its DTS system in the FPC's Powerboating in Paradise publication, and the attractive offer with a retail value up to $8,200 had already caught Jones' attention.

The incentive was for classic vee-bottom and cat owners to upgrade to 520, 540 or 565 sterndrives and included: a cash rebate, a free Racing DTS Zero Effort control and DTS rigging kit. Reaping the rewards of higher torque, improved cruise speed fuel efficiency, digital control systems and a two year limited warranty... is there any better way to upgrade your old-school speedheart, than with a touch of modern propulsion!

And So It Begins...

Jones recruited the best in the biz to bring his revolutionary Resto-Mod to reality. Under the direction of the respected Pat Sullivan, Performance Marine Trading was tasked with the six-week labor intensive re-fit. Regarding the disparity between today's tech and twenty years prior, Sullivan elaborated, "The Digital Zero Effort controls going into Project 1080 provide smooth throttle and shifting results and Mercury's VesselView details all pertinent motor and vessel data. The difference is with efficiency and reliability. The engines are now controlled electronically with the throttles and the fuel system, rather than mechanically. Long gone are the days of carburetors and following the plugs."

Phase 1 entailed pulling the 540 Bulldog engines to make room for the soon-to-enter Super Silver twin Mercury Racing 8.6-liter EFI 540 sterndrives. An impressive dimension of the EFI engine to note is the propulsion control module (PCM), which is responsible for monitoring water temperature and oil pressure, and includes an exhaust temperature sensor. All function cohesively in constant optimization to deliver a highly reliable package.

The engines would be coupled to Bravo One XR drives with the optional Integrated Transom Systems (ITS). The ITS upgrade differs from the standard Bravo transom assembly in that, it has a built-in seven-inch setback. It is also the only Bravo with the steering built into the transom assembly (similar to the #6 and #8). Integrating the cylinders simplified installation eliminating the need for external mounting; it also makes for a neat and tidy transom. Luckily cutting stringers and cross members was not called for, nor was drilling or fiberglass repair. The K-Plane trim tabs were swapped for tabs with digital trim senders, and the assembly fit like a charm into the existing cut-outs from Cigarette's original rigging process.

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Moving forward, for phase two it was time to rehabilitate the dated decor in the cockpit, and elements were mapped out with finesse and functionality. The man known for his knack with Cigarette interiors, Mike Mears of Fineline Marine Interiors, took the lead on all fabric and panel reconstruction. Starting up front at the helm, the original aluminum stands were powder coated and a fresh set of high-back bolster shells, provided from president of Cigarette Skip Braver, were installed.

The time arrived to wave adios to the flashy Miami Vice purple and yellow furnishings, in lieu of a modern and rugged deep gray vinyl and immaculate diamond stitched light gray Alcantara. On the back of the bolsters, up-to-date 38 Top Gun logos added an extra dash of contemporary authenticity.

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Gracing the rear hatch sides, split cushioning allows the ladies ample lounging and legroom when docked, and a middle walkthrough covered with marine matting provides easy access to the swim platform.

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Responsible for the eye-candy coat of color that matched the exterior to the interior, was Tony Sanmarco and his crew at Dark Force Marine in Pompano Beach. No Coast Design assisted with graphics and eight weeks of diligent demolition starting with sanding it down to bare gelcoat, and stripping out all components. Both dash pods were removed to make way for two new angled panels, each fabricated as one continuous unit, to house the larger sized GPS and updated accessories. Jones also expressed his gratitude toward the massive social media surge from his Project 1080 followers that tuned in during the hand painting and unveiling of the intricate layers of the legendary tri-color No.1 World Champion Cigarette Racing Team (CRT) ovals.

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In addition to the steady-handed, etched insignias, the certified installer for Marine Mat EVA boat decking, Bulletproof Custom Decking worked its magic crafting the CRT branded swim platform. Not to mention all cockpit matting was laser cut to perfection, as was... the bow (yes the entire bow) and lower cabin quarters.

Adding the decking on the bow proved to be a winner, earning Jones endless kudos among FPC members all echoing the same, "Hey, I think I'm gonna do that to my boat idea!" As for down below, since not much time is spent here, it was converted into more of a cargo area, with the forward covergirl cabin remaining in tact after a stellar makeover.

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Nearing the finale, the next group of Resto-Mod gods called in were the wizards at Tecnografic Inc. They were responsible for fabricating the custom carbon fiber panels to encase the Livorsi Marine gauges, LED indicators and Garmin 7612s. Placed on the port side was a second Garmin and matching trim tab controls which allow Jones to monitor all the functions, if Jackie or one of their two sons is at the wheel. Tyler, 16, has already been spotted in the pilot's seat, and no doubt younger Max will soon be in line for some drive time.

The dashboard screams Resto-Mod and peeling your eyes away requires skill. I haven't mastered mind reading, but I sense Jones is beyond content with the outcome as he revels in the ingenuity, "If you're a true performance nut like we are, we still want that look. We like having the big dials in front of us. Here is where Livorsi Marine stepped in revamping the helm station with digital gauges and an analog look. NMEA 2000 (National Marine Electronics Association) standardized all communication and signals that transfer from the Mercury Racing VesselView to the Garmins, and the gauges work just the same, so you get the retro look of a 20-year-old Cigarette with 2019 technology." And I don't think any tears have been shed over the loss of the colossal compass that monopolized the middle of the old panel.

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Finishing touches and final enhancements on Project 1080 included: Bocatech switches with built-in breakers (truly a trailblazing leap forward from the old school breaker panels and bucket loads of required wires); and Apex Marine LED lighting embellishing the boat from the cabin and strip lighting in the engine room to the Bluefin LEDs underneath the transom, igniting the rooster tails with colorful sparks of aquatic fire.

Set to Get Wet

With the Resto-Mod wrapped up, Project 1080's two-year Mercury Race to Repower promotional tour of duty's maiden voyage began in January of 2019 at the intimidate Hawks Cay Resort & Marina, proceeded by the Miami Boat Show Poker Run in Key Largo and Tampa Bay Poker Run. The calendar continued with northbound summer stops in Michigan and Canada. And most importantly, the re-done Top Gun should be complimented for its role in raising money for diverse charities along the way.

Once splashed only minor issues needed tweaking. After fifty hours of making waves experimenting with propellers, Jones elected to swap the Bravo XR lower units for Mercury Racing Sportmaster lowers. With the help of TNT Rigging and Howard Marine, raising the props two inches closer to the surface proved to be the ideal modification for the Mercury ITS set up. Mated with FJ Propeller 4-blade 28 pitch propellers, top speed peaks near 80 mph when cranking 5350 rpm.

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When not fixated on Project 1080 moving and grooving on the water, its grabs your attention on land too. Connecting the Cig to the rig is a 18,000 pound MYCO gvwr (gross vehicle weight rating) custom trailer loaded with every possible upgrade. It's also not the first MYCO to prop up a FPC pace-boat. The Bradenton, Florida-based business also built the trailer for the Jones' past pace boat -- the eye-popping 39' Nor-Tech King of Clubs Super Vee. Special features include side scooter racks, a ladder to climb up on deck, and the use of upgraded fire hose material that's been heat-molded, stretched and stapled with stainless steel fasteners. If that's not enough, 20 LEDs light up the night illuminating all cross members.

In both, talking with Jones and stalking his step-by-step videos documenting the labor of love... I inquire, if the Resto-Mod was a success? (I know, stupid question, right!) Jones shared his thoughts, "We knocked it out of the park with the outcome; the fan-base that developed has been phenomenal with people watching... learning... and thinking... about their own personal projects. Phone calls started coming in saying, 'Hey Stu, you inspired me to pull that old Scarab out of the garage, or I just bought an old Cigarette and I’m going to do the same thing, can you give me a list of your vendors?' Sure Mercury was thinking of this potential outcome, and I guess I thought it might stimulate some buying decisions, but I never imagined how inspiring Project 1080 would be to so many."

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