It may wear a Jaguar body shell, but this Chev-powered Kiwi-built circuit racer features some of the best race car fabrication in the land
On January 27, 1966, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) announced an exciting new road racing series for production-based sedan vehicles. The announcement was made at the Statler-Hilton hotel in Detroit. The location was chosen in an attempt to get American automobile manufacturers directly involved in road racing (circuit racing). Although there was plenty of factory support for drag racing and the oval-based Nascar series, road racing ” which was generally the domain of sports cars ” was mostly ignored by Detroit, largely because there was no such series in which its products could compete.
In the mid 1960s the SCCA sort of split in two, with one group wanting the rules to stay the same, keeping the SCCA strictly amateur, while another group, led by executive director John Bishop, wanted SCCA to become a professional organisation. Bishop got his way, but the transition was never easy.
Bishop created three new racing categories. One was for wild, big-engined sports cars, and was called the Canadian American Challenge Cup (CanAm), which would be dominated by the New Zealand-owned McLaren team. The second was for stock block single-seater cars with a 5.0-litre engine limit, which became an international category and was dubbed Formula 5000. The third of Bishop’s classes, for sedan vehicles, would be known as the Trans-American Sedan Championship (TransAm).
Although the SCCA had grudgingly gone professional, it was still quick to avoid being associated with Nascar. Therefore, a wheelbase limit of 116 inches and an engine limit of 5000cc was imposed to keep the Nascar teams out. The cars had to be based on the body shell of the production vehicle, with a number of modifications allowed under the skin. Manufacturers were required to homologate many of the performance parts they wanted to use on the race cars, and make them available on road cars. This brought about a number of tough low-volume street cars that today are extremely desirable, such as the Boss Mustang 302, Z/28 Camaro, Challenger T/A, and AAR ’Cuda.
TransAm turned out to be a runaway success. Although the races were split into two classes, for vehicles up to 2500cc, and those greater than 2500cc, it was the big-capacity cars that soon stole the show. Shelby-prepared Mustangs appeared in the 1966 season, while Mercury (Cougar), and Chevrolet (Camaro) factory teams came on board the following year. By 1968 Pontiac (Firebird) had also entered a factory team, as had American Motors (AMC Javelin), while in 1970 Chrysler joined the action to complete the support of American manufacturers, with teams from Dodge (Challenger) and Plymouth (Barracuda). By this time, the factory teams had annual budgets of US$1 million, a huge sum of money at the time.
However, if the 1970 season was the high point for TransAm, by 1971 things had unravelled. With a downturn in the sales of pony cars and muscle cars, a looming oil crisis, and skyrocketing insurance costs on such vehicles, all the factory teams ” except American Motors ” moved out of TransAm and it quickly became a shadow of its former self. In 1974 the SCCA changed the TransAm rules to bring them into line with those of the newly formed International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), which was created by John Bishop, Mr TransAm himself. His frustration with the SCCA had seen him leave it in 1968. IMSA rules were far more liberal than those of the TransAm, and the cars were much more heavily modified.
Mild To Wild
TransAm cars by the mid-to-late 1970s bore little resemblance to those of the early years. They now utilised a full space-frame chassis on top of which a replica production body shell was mounted, itself also heavily modified, with huge front and rear spoilers and massive flared wheel arches. TransAm cars continued more or less in this guise for the next 30 years, until the eventual demise of the class in 2006.
The later years saw some interesting body styles allowed from models including Corvette, Panoz, Mustang, Camaro and even Jaguar XKR.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand a class called Sports Sedans was formed in the early 1970s. Sports Sedans were wild creations that usually mated a small block Chevy motor with a production vehicle’s body shell. V8 Capris, Escorts and Mazda RX-7s were popular choices, and you even saw a couple of Toyota Starlets. But by the late 1980s, competitors could see the value in simply importing a purpose-built space frame TransAm car, rather than messing about with modified road cars, and one by one more TransAm cars appeared on the local scene.
By the early ’90s MotorSport New Zealand (MSNZ) had fully embraced the US TransAm rules (called TraNZam here). Several cars were commissioned by MSNZ to be built in New Zealand based on US designs, and a bunch of high-profile drivers including Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, Paul Radisich, Steven Johnson, Jim Richards and Kayne Scott drove them, while others such as Paul Gentilozzi and Steve Millen also competed in their own cars. The racing was phenomenal, with some hair-raising driving that often resulted in much of the field failing to make it past the first corner.
It was these cars that brought about the arrival of several similar machines, and inspired the build of our stunning feature car owned, built and raced by Kevin Bovey, along with his son Stuart. Kevin owns Auto Care Kilbirnie in Wellington, a company specialising in automotive repair and servicing, and in specialist and race car fabrication and preparation. Kevin has been racing for many years, kicking off with a beautiful VH Commodore, built as a replica of Peter Brock’s 1980 Bathurst-winning Marlboro car and including the huge Group C flared guards. From there he built a semi-space-framed VK Commodore and a few stunning customer cars to run in Super Sedans, a class he formed along with Grant Brennan. But his dream has always been to own a full space-frame car.
Building a full space-frame car allowed Kevin greater freedom for locating items such as the engine for better weight distribution. Kevin, Ewan Scott and Stuart set about building the car around three years ago.
The space-frame chassis would use the same dimensions as Andrew Fawcett’s old Mitre 10-sponsored Jaguar XKR TraNZam racer. Both Andrew and the late Mark Porter raced Jaguars, which, under the rules at the time, had to run 5.0-litre small block Ford engines, as Jaguar was owned by Ford at the time. The space-frame on Kevin’s car has been built from mild steel, while the roll cage is made from chromoly.
According to Kevin, building a car from scratch is easier than modifying an existing one, but the builder must first posses the ability to carry out such a task ” skills Kevin and his team clearly possess in abundance. The fabrication work on the Jag is fantastic and hides the fact that the vehicle was built on a modest budget. But the quality of the build was never compromised, and nor was the attention to detail. The end result is nothing short of spectacular.
The 327ci small block Chevy from Kevin’s previous racer, the VK Commodore, powers the ‘big cat’. It currently produces around 570 to 590hp. The Chevy is mated to a Tilton triple-plate clutch, backed by a Jerico gearbox, while at the rear is an owner-fabricated rear axle housing with a nine-inch centre section and three-link setup. The shocks are double-adjustable Konis, while Wilwood six-pot (front) and four-pot (rear) callipers grab 330mm and 305mm rotors.
The team worked hard to create the ideal front:rear 50:50 weight bias. In fact, the guys actually managed slightly better than that by getting a little more weight to the rear of the car.
The beautiful Jaguar XKR body shell is made from fibreglass, taken from the moulds for Fawcett’s car.
After a three-year build process the Jag made its debut at Manfeild at the end of the 2007/’08 racing season. Unfortunately it rained, but the car still qualified fourth in a classy field and ran very competitively. For the upcoming 2008/’09 season, the Super Sedans class is being combined with the North Island OSCA and Super GT classes. The merged classes will be known as GT1, and more than 100 vehicles are already registered for it.
Kevin and the team will be looking to get the Jag dialled in this season, fine-tuning the suspension to get it handling to their liking.
They are currently building a new Chev motor, which they will debut the following season, when it’s expected to churn out 850hp. Now that we can’t wait to see.
Kevin Bovey – Owner Profile
Occupation: Automotive technician
Previously owned Cars: Marlboro VH Commodore replica race car, semi-space-framed VK Commodore
Dream car: This Jag
Why the Jag? “I have always loved to watch these TransAm-type cars race but could never afford the $100,000-plus price tag, and after building some five different track cars for myself and other people I thought, I can build one of these, so this is my first attempt.”
Build time: Three years, but that was generally down to cost
Length of ownership: Built it from scratch
KEVIN thanks: “My wife Lorraine as I didn’t think she could stand another build; Sherie and Jessica my lovely daughters; Stuart for all his help (his reward is co-driving the car); Ewan Scott for another fibreglass job (not to mention Debra); Kim at Francis Place Panel and Paint for another awesome paint job; Zippi Signs Kilbirnie; and all those who have contributed to making my dream come to life.”
2000 Jaguar XKR – Specifications
Engine: 327ci (5359cc) small block Chev, 327 steel crank, Oliver rods, Wiseco forged pistons, Brodix heads, Lunatai roller cam, Isky roller followers, Isky rev kit, Crane roller rockers, GM Bowtie single plane manifold, Barry Grant Race Demon carb, Weaver four-stage dry-sump pump, MSD 6AL ignition, MSD distributor, Holley Blue low-pressure fuel pump, custom surge tank, Holley Black high-pressure pump
Driveline: Nascar flywheel, four-speed Jerico dog box, MVE rail shifter, custom nine-inch rear end
Suspension: Koni double adjustable shocks, custom arms, custom blade adjustable sway bars
Brakes: 6-pot Wilwood front callipers, 330x31mm rotors, 4-pot Wilwood rear callipers, 305x31mm rotors, Tilton pedal box
Wheels/Tyres: 16×12 and 16×13-inch Arrow wheels
Exterior: Full space frame by Autocare Kilbirnie, chromoly roll cage
Interior: Auto Meter gauges, Racetech seat, Silvester harness
Performance: 570-590hp (425-440kW), Manfeild approx 1.08-1.09, Pukekohe 57-59 seconds
Words: Steve Holmes Photos: Ben Silcock