When the Florida Powerboat Club Winter Poker Run fleet departs the Miami area bound for Key Largo later this month, a predominantly silver, 38-foot Cigarette Racing Team Top Gun V-bottom will lead the pack, at least at the start. The 2000 model-year 38-footer, which is owned by Florida Powerboat Club president Stu Jones, is far from the newest or fastest boats among the 700 boats owned by club members.
But it is the most immediately recognizable.
Like Project 1080 before it, the Top Gun Flight 1130 will be more than a marketing vehicle for Florida Powerboat Club head Stu Jones and his family. Photos courtesy/copyright of the Florida Powerboat Club.
To celebrate the club’s 25th anniversary five years ago, Jones repowered the classic conventional-hull sportboat with Mercury Racing 540 engines, had it wrapped in vinyl graphics and dubbed it Project 1080 in a nod to the boat’s total horsepower. More than an eye-catching marketing piece for the club and its own events and others, the vintage 38 Top Gun was a family boat that Jones used for trips and adventures with his wife, Jackie, and their two sons.
At a glance from a distance, the Jones family’s 11,000-pound Cigarette looks much the same as it did when it first hit the water as Project 1080. Move a little closer, however, and you’ll notice that the graphics have changed. The Project 1080 handle has been replaced with Top Gun Flight 1130 and there’s a new and instantly familiar graphic element on its hullsides.
Yet the biggest change is under the hatches.
In another collaboration with the Fond du Lac, Wis., high-performance marine engine and accessories company, Jones repowered the 38-footer toward the end of last year with a new pair of naturally aspirated 565-hp engines. The project got rolling shortly after the 2022 Miami International Boat Show last February, where Jones “met with the Mercury Racing brass” to discuss another power-upgrade collaboration.
“Of course, the new power package required a new name and new branding for the Cigarette 38 Top Gun, and the sum total of the twin 565-hp Mercury Racing sterndrive engines in part led to the new name,” Jones explained. “Having just seen the new ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ movie in Fort Lauderdale, I thought that the F-18 fighter jet theme would be the ideal visual packaging for the boat.”
TNT Custom Marine in Miami handled the repower and rigging job before Glarb Wrapped the boat’s new graphics at the Unique Custom Marine storage facility in nearby Pompano Beach. In addition to the engine installation, the updates included new Bravo One XR SportMaster drives and ITS, as well as adding new 380S K-Plane trim tabs.
“It was a pretty standard repower job,” said John Tomlinson, who co-owns TNT with his longtime business partner, Mike Thomas. “We did some upgrades to the rigging and made new motor mounts. I think we had about 150 hours into it.”
The Top Gun Flight 1130 Cigarette is eye-catching from any angle.
The boat debuted at the 30th annual Florida Powerboat Club Key West Poker Run last November as the event’s paceboat. But before the fleet departed Thursday and Friday—the normal Wednesday departure was scrubbed thanks to subtropical storm Nicole—Jones took the repowered and rebadged Cigarette out for a last-minute Atlantic Ocean trek to check conditions.
“Intimidating as it was that we had these rare six-to-eight-foot seas offshore, I still felt the urge to take Top Gun Flight 1130 offshore at Port Everglades, just to see how bad things were out there,” he said. “At the very least, I didn’t want any of our club members to question our decision to make the long idle from Fort Lauderdale to Miami.
“I soon discovered I was in between mountains of water that were surreal in many ways, but I felt confident to negotiate a wide 180-degree turn and head straight back in Port Everglades,” he added. “There’s no way we were going in the ocean that day.”
Jones has logged 28 hours of running time on the boat’s new engines and so far its top speed is just a tick less than 80 mph. He’s planning on installing shorter SportMaster lower units and has been playing with 28-inch-pitch, five-blade propellers loaned to him by Florida Powerboat Club member Jimmy Harrison of FJ Propeller in Miami.
Said Jones, “I thought that the F-18 fighter jet theme would be the ideal visual packaging for the boat.”
Jones said he’s hoping to see that “magical 80-mph” speed in the coming days, maybe even before Top Gun Flight 1130 pulls paceboat duty the club’s Winter Poker Run at the end of the month.
“I am not obsessed with the top number,” he said. “I just want to know what the boat’s capabilities are with these new Mercury Racing 565s. It’s more important to me that I have a very reliable platform to stage poker runs and take the occasional romp across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas without having any fear of mechanical gremlins.
“I’ve never felt better about this boat—it’s an old-school, 38-foot Top Gun with a straight bottom that loves the rough water,” he continued. “It’s an exciting and unique boat that performs well and is reliable. I’m very proud of it and it suits me just fine. It’s a keeper.”
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