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Jaguar XJS Chumpcar. (Ross Hamilton)
Jaguar XJS Chumpcar. (Ross Hamilton)

Classic Cars

Take a $500 junker, soup it up and race for glory Add to ...

A Jaguar XJS V-12 in fool-race-trim will run on an Ontario racing circuit for the first time in something like three decades, competing in the colourfully and aptly named ChumpCar World Series at Shannonville Motorsport Park this Victoria Day weekend.

It was 1976 when Jaguar's E-Type replacement XJS made its North American racing debut in a TransAm race at Mosport, finishing fourth with legend Bob Tullius at the wheel.

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What happens Saturday and Sunday at Shannonville near Belleville, when a bunch of what one insider terms "crazies" are flagged off in back-to-back seven-hour endurance races in a 1984 XJS they paid $500 for is anybody's guess. And a number of their wives' worst nightmare.

The following phrases, which I'll endeavour to explain, shed some light, if not the sanction of sanity, on what's transpired to bring things to their current pass for a group of, in some cases not so young any more, Jaguar enthusiasts.

The ChumpCar World Series.

Scorched Paws.

The Cat's Cradle.

Jagged Edge.

What part of unreliability don't you understand?

The ChumpCar World Series? Don't panic Indy racing fans; this isn't a rise from track-side marbles of the old CART Champ Car series.

U.S.-based ChumpCar is an off-shoot of a bit of motoring madness called the 24 Hours of LeMons, originally a single event for cars with a $500 purchase price cap, which has evolved into a series. ChumpCar sees its role as bringing "$500 crap-can" racing to areas not served by the LeMons series.

Its roots firmly planted at grass level, ChumpCar says it's all about having a good time and bringing road racing back to the 1950s and 1960s "when it was fun, cheap, and nobody cared if you had Snap-On tools."

The rules? Basically it involves buying a car for no more than $500, making it minimally race-ready and adding safety equipment that includes a roll cage, seat and harness. ChumpCar says total investment should be in the area of $2,500 or so. Plus driving suits, helmets, etc. for at least four drivers and, no doubt, other incidentals.

"Grossly exceed" the rules or the spirit of the event and your car will be claimed by the organizers - who appear wonderfully arbitrary about maintaining their vision - and auctioned off with the money going to charity.

No formal race licence (other than ChumpCar's) is required, although novices must sit through a two-hour classroom session. "Totally insane and fun, but as safe as possible," is the series' motto. And it offers the following advice: "Go see a shrink before sending in your entry form."

The Jagged Edge Motor Sports team, members of the Scorched Paws Enthusiast Club (SPEC) obviously ignored this advice when they began talking about ChumpCar in December. SPEC is an off-shoot of the Ontario Jaguar Association, whose members felt a need to explore other interest avenues, as well as parking lots, where they engage in unseemly behaviour such as autocross.

Take an expensive sports car, a curious teen and a garage door - and mix together to get one very embarrassed automotive writer

An article in SPEC's newsletter purportedly penned by a member of a team Jagged Edge wives' support group, claims the groups maturity level is declining a decade every year. And they can't believe it has chosen a 30-year old Jaguar - dubbed a "ridiculous contraption" - as its race car. "What part of unreliable don't you understand," its author asks?

Jagged Edger Ross Hamilton says the current bout of insanity began when it was discovered ChumpCar was coming to Shannonville, "I thought, this is something we might tackle. Never realizing how involved and costly racing a $500 car would be."

The XJS was sourced from The Cat's Cradle, a Jaguar specialist shop in Toronto, where it had been destined to become a parts car. It cost a bit more than $500, but the rules allow selling off parts to meet the monetary limit.

The roll cage, harness, fire bottle and some other items involved cash outlay, but some sponsors' help, donations of things like the seat, wheels and tires and lots of willing volunteer labour have helped keep costs from becoming too outrageous.

The project, that now involves 20 or so people, fired up reluctantly but is now hitting on all 12 cylinders.

Hamilton says on pushing the Jag into the Cat's Cradle shop in January it was noticed a critical electronic module had been "borrowed." One of the team drove home, removed the unit from his own XJS and it was installed. "It chugged, and chugged and farted and coughed. Then started and blew black smoke and made funny noises. And then settled down and idled as smooth as anything."

A few other setbacks have been overcome in the months of hard work that have followed, but Team Jagged Edge is just about ready to race, says Hamilton. Seven drivers are signed up, four of whom will run the first event and the others the second - should the big cat still be purring.

They are facing two seven-hour races, in which Hamilton says, "attrition is really high.

"I'm not sure how much actual racing we'll be doing. Our strategy is to be around near the end. But if we feel we're within distance of taking first place we'll step up the pace."

Another classic Brit car marque, Morgan, will also be represented at Shannonville's ChumpCar event, although a surrogate, in the form of a 1998 Ford Contour with 285,000 km on the clock, will actually be doing the racing.

It's being fielded by Steven and Martin Beer of Bolton-based Morgan specialists CMC Enterprises - they apparently couldn't find a used $500 Morgan to base their racer on.

Are they looking for a win? "Noooooo," says Martin. Reliability will be the watchword. Particularly as there are six fiscally involved drivers, and some concern has been voiced about getting a chance to drive at all.

What if the car blows up or crashes? "Instructions are, if you smash the car, get out, walk to the 401 (the highway that borders the track), do not come to the pits," says Martin.

And to the inevitable question, why do something this nuts? "Well, women will tell you men never grow up. We're just reinforcing what our wives are telling us. It's the least we can do," says Martin.

Take an expensive sports car, a curious teen and a garage door - and mix together to get one very embarrassed automotive writer



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