In late 2019, Sean Falls of Chicago purchased a 2006-built Cigarette Racing Team 39 Top Gun. An internet marketing professional and longtime go-fast powerboat owner, Falls was stepping up from a 32-foot Sunsation Boats Dominator with 800-plus-hp Whipple Superchargers supercharged engines. He found the 39-footer, which was powered by staggered supercharged 572-cubic-inch Sterling Performance engines and Arneson drives, through an online classified advertisement.
For Sean Falls, the journey from buying a 2006 Cigarette 39 Top Gun to actually getting it on the water was challenging and longer than expected—but more than worthwhile. Photos courtesy Sean Falls.
From the outside, the boat was in great shape. Its Louisiana-based owner had recently updated its paint and had the dash redone.
“I did a lot of research on the boat,” Falls said. “It is a one of one—the only 39 Top Gun ever to be equipped with Arneson drives. So I decided to buy it.”
With the intention of replacing the 3.0-litre Whipple superchargers from the engines in his newly acquired Cigarette with the 4.0-litre versions from from the engines of his Sunsation, Falls reached out to his friend Jeff Harris of Harris Performance, LLC, a certified Mercury Racing dealer and service center in Dadeville, Ala. Falls came to know Harris through his neighbor Mike Lopez, who had Harris install IMCO SCX Dual Down-shaft drives on his 2001 dual-step Cigarette 38 Top Gun.
“Our original intention was to do a simple blower swap,” Falls said, then chuckled. “It snowballed from there.”
“The Sterling engines had good parts, but we decided to go a little farther with them,” Harris said. “We had the cylinder heads reworked and changed out the solid roller cam for a hydraulic roller cam. We did a whole bunch of valvetrain work, swapped out the blowers and repainted the engines. We got them on the dyno and tuned them up. We were ready to rock and roll.
“And that was when the fun started,” he added.
Sean Falls approached his Cigarette 39 Top Gun project with an open mind—and an open checkbook.
When the boat was first built in 2006, it was equipped with staggered Mercury Racing 525 EFI engines and Bravo drives. The conversion to Arneson drives reportedly was handled somewhere in Turkey in 2011.
After Harris removed the drives and completely redid the bilge, it looked ready to go. But when he and his team, during a visit by Falls with his girlfriend and son, began to reinstall the port engine, which is farthest aft in the engine compartment, they discovered a glaring issue.
“There were no bolts connecting the engine mounts to the transmission,” he said. “The port engine had been left to just ‘float’ on its own in there. The engine needed to be one inch back, but there was a bulkhead in the engine compartment that prevented that. So I guess they just decided to leave it as it was and just go with the port engine not properly secured.”
Harris discussed the issue with Falls, who was committed to getting the job done as it originally should have been. The solution arrived in removing the bulkhead, ripping out all the existing rigging and building a bulkhead four inches further forward in the engine compartment. While the fiberglass work was being done by a sub-contractor, Harris and Falls also had him remove a previous haphazard “fill” in the transom notch and replace it with more-solid fiberglass work that included foam coring.
The recently repainted exterior of the 14-year-old boat needed no improvement.
“Moving that bulkhead forward allowed us to place the port motor exactly where it needed to be,” Harris said. “After I tore out about a 55-gallon drum’s worth of old messy rigging, we mocked it up, fabricated new motor mounts and began the installation.
“Anytime you have an unconventional engine stagger, meaning the aft engine is on the port side of the compartment, you run into fitment problems,” he continued. “We installed what would have been a belt-driven Hardin Marine sea pump by mounting it backward and making it a crank-driven sea pump.”
Falls wanted his repowered beauty to debut at the 10th annual Cigarette Owners Rendezvous sponsored by Performance Boat Center in June. As timing would have it, that meant picking up the finished boat at Harris Performance during Falls’ second trip to Alabama (he made three roundtrip treks from Illinois to Alabama in just six weeks), and then pulling it overnight to the Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri.
Check out the slideshow above to enjoy more images from the project.
Shortly after he launched the boat that morning, its rebuilt portside transmission failed. (Both BAM transmissions had been rebuilt during the repower process.) The day was over before the Cigarette even got on plane that day, but a few days later Harris was installing brand-new BAM 1500 transmissions. Once the work was complete, Falls hauled the boat back to Chicago for some July 4 weekend fun.
“We had a successful water-test before the boat headed back to Chicago,” Harris explained. “We ran it to 5,500 rpm and 100 mph, and it was still pulling like a freight train. I believe the engines each made 1,033 hp on the dyno.”
But one more speed bump, a faulty MSD distributor, was in the cards for Falls during the holiday weekend. With a new distributor in place, he returned to the water with friends the following weekend. He plans to get the most out of what’s left of the boating season.
He certainly earned it.
Falls’ friends helped him celebrate his first full day on the water in the 39-footer.