From Mega-Bucks Luxury to Mega-Cubes Racer
By Brian Wood
Mike Mahon's Jaguar is ready to hit the strip for 2001
When former Pro Stock Truck competitor Mike Mahon, of London, Ontario, released an eye-popping rendering of his radical new Top Sportsman/Pro Stock Jaguar XKR coupe recently, a whole bunch of people sat up and took notice. The one-of-a-kind hot rod, nearing completion at L&J Chassis in Hamilton, Ontario, will be the first and only member of its regal family ever to hit North American drag strips when it rolls out this spring.
Power for the sleek new car will be provided by a John Kasse-built 814 cubic inch Ford 'mountain motor', set up exactly the same as an IHRA Pro Stock piece. In fact, while the 22-year old Mahon and his dad Allan plan to compete in Top Sportsman this season, their streamlined screamer will in reality be a legal Pro Stock machine.
And don't be deceived -- this is no fiberglass repli-car. Far from it. The car is based on an actual Jaguar XKR Silverstone coupe that sports a sticker price somewhere in the neighborhood of $130,000. In fact, although the car has yet to see the light of day in its drag racing incarnation, the body already has a pretty impressive pedigree. The account of how Mahon came to acquire it in the first place makes for some interesting reading.
"While we were traveling to an IHRA national event in New York State last July," Mike recalled, "our rig was passed by a Jaguar XK8 coupe. (The XK8 is externally identical to the XKR) Now, I had seen quite a few XK8 convertibles before, but this was the first coupe. In fact, I had to ask a crewmember what the car was when it passed us, just to be sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. When the car's identity was confirmed, I decided right then and there that a Jaguar XKR would be my next racecar."
Now, If you think this sounds like a classic case of 'easier said than done', you'd be right. After all, just how do you go about obtaining a steel 2001 Jaguar body without actually laying out the big bucks for a road-worthy example, and then gutting it? That was exactly the predicament that Mahon and his team found themselves in on their return from the track that weekend last summer.
As Mike explained, "Once the decision was made to actually attempt to construct the world's first drag racing Jaguar, every aspect of our lives went into high gear. After all, if our master plan had any chance to succeed, we had to sell our Pro Stock Truck operation, locate a suitable Jaguar body (where and how we had absolutely no idea) and then, having accomplished the latter, have the car built.
"So as soon as we got home, Dad went to work tying to sell the truck while I investigated anything and everything that I could regarding Jaguars," said Mike. "Through the corporate offices of Jaguar Canada I learned that there were indeed Jaguar coupes currently involved in motorsports, competing in the Sports Car Club of America's (SCCA) Trans- Am series. Now, I figured that they had to get their cars someplace, so at that point the detective work got real serious."
Since there was a shroud of secrecy over the intended project, gathering information proved to be a real challenge. But Mike persevered, eventually getting in touch with Canadian road racer Ron Fellows, who in turn directed him to Paul Gentilozzi, a two-time Trans Am Champion who had recently upgraded his HomeLike-sponsored Jaguar XK8s to XKR configuration.
"I left a brief message with Gentilozzi's secretary about who I was and what I intended to do," said Mahon. "To my surprise, he called me back within a couple of hours. After talking with Paul briefly on the phone, it was soon determined that his carbon fiber Trans Am bodies would just not be workable on a Pro Stock drag machine. Just about the time I began to see my dreams going up in smoke, however, Paul mentioned that he had kept the original steel body that was used to create the molds for his cars. He invited me to come down to his shop in Lansing, Michigan, sometime and have a look at it.
"We finally had our first break, and the timing couldn't have been better since we were leaving for a race in that area within days, and would be driving through Lansing. In fact, after this point in time, the lucky breaks came in rapid succession. For example, lost and behind schedule, a crew member and I were just about ready to give up searching for Gentilozzi's Rocketsports Racing shop when I spotted one of his rigs, and we just followed it home.
"The Jag body, sitting out in the open partially covered by a tarp, was a little sad looking, but it was complete. Quite a lot of work would have to be done to transform this somewhat neglected shell into the car that I saw in my mind's eye, but it was salvageable, and more importantly, it was available!
A week to the day after my first visit to Lansing, I returned to bring the Jaguar to its new home in Canada. Once there, we immediately focused on 'phase three' of our plan; transforming this former British luxury car into a six-second, quarter-mile asphalt eater. Lionel at L&J Chassis was contracted to build the chassis, Joe Van Overbeek was lined up to handle reproducing various body sections, and Bob Yoak would supply the monster 814 cubic inch Ford motor."
Oh, yeah, 'phase one' of the plan had also sorted itself out, as IHRA Pro Stock competitor Yoak bought Mahon's Pro Stock Ford Ranger. This supplied the new motor as part of the deal, in addition to the extra cash necessary to kick the Jaguar project into overdrive.
And what a project it was, as Mike was to relate: "Even though we had overcome a major hurdle by securing the Jaguar body, the availability of external components was still questionable. We had to track down all of the headlights, taillights, external markings, door handles, front fenders, doors and dozens of miscellaneous bits and pieces. Fortunately, Jaguar Canada once again came to our aid, providing us with all of the components we needed to finish the car."
Now, long, hard months later, the product of Mahon's fertile imagination and dogged determination is about to take its final form. Reflectively, Mike recently stated, "Now that the Jaguar is nearly a reality, I'm still not totally certain if I was really all that passionate about building a Jaguar, or if I just wanted to accomplish something that everybody said couldn't be done." Regardless of his motivation, the drag racing world is certainly richer for the efforts of the Mahon Family Racing team and the talented Canadian craftsmen who brought this amazing car full-circle
-- from silk purse to sow's ear and back again.
Watch for this beautiful silver cat at Canadian and select U.S. IHRA events this coming season
-- you shouldn't have any trouble recognizing it!
Update: A disappointing follow-up -- Mike Mahon crashed his new Jaguar Top Sportsman car on its first test pass at St. Thomas Dragway on June 6, 2001. He walked away, but the car went through the guard rail, flipped and tumbled several times, totally destroying it before it could make its much-anticipated debut at Grand Bend. It seems that a bar in the four-link snapped. An investigation is already under way. I'll keep you posted.