Jay Leno drives the hotter C5 Z06 that could have been

Jay Leno's Garage

The automotive aftermarket has a way of enabling enterprising enthusiasts to create the versions of our cars that we often wish we could have purchased direct from the factory. Occasionally these support brands build something they hope the OEM will sell. Sometimes, their hopes are realized: Think of the historic relationship between Shelby and Ford, which allows supercharged GT500 Mustangs to sit on the same dealer lots as Escapes and F-150s. The yellow Corvette starring in Jay Leno’s Garage this week was one such hopeful, but you probably haven’t heard about it.

It almost takes a second to see the changes made by Tecstar to the silhouette of this 2002 Z06, clothed in the bright Tiger Yellow paint. No grabby graphics or badges here—the company was going for a subtle yet still polarizing look. The combination of aftermarket wheels and a body kit is understated, and that was exactly what Tecstar wanted: It hoped that Chevrolet would sell the hot-rodded Corvette through its dealer base. The automaker had teased the idea of a tuned Z06 in 2001, at SEMA, with the 742-hp Tiger Shark concept, following it up with 2002’s slightly tamer, 516-hp White Shark concept.

(The latter inspired the Tecstar body kit worn by Leno’s car. Confusingly, Tecstar then named the kit the Tiger Shark, not White Shark. Go figure.)

Why not give the people what they wanted: a visually distinct, hotter version of the Z06? Tecstar got to work to show Chevrolet it could build exactly that.

The Tiger Shark kit was designed for the Z06, which appeared for the 2001 model year and set the bar pretty high for both aesthetics and performance. (We included it on our 2023 Bull Market List for good reason.) Tecstar’s aesthetic improvements started out front with a completely new front bumper and hood, along with a new rear bumper as well. Though the horizontal contours are similar, the Tiger Shark front fascia is significantly different than the one made by Chevrolet.

Leno admits this is about the third front splitter he has put on his Z06 due to how low it hangs and its propensity to catch on obstacles. The low, rigid air dam of the Tiger Shark front end likely explains why Tecstar didn’t lower the Corvette’s suspension, even though the large wheel gaps look a little out of place on such a slick car.

The changes made by Tecstar under the Z06’s hood are less likely to spark controversy. The factory-installed V8 got a replacement crankshaft that bumps the stroke up and gives displacement a nice hike, from 376 to 402 cubic inches—again, matching the 2002 White Shark show car. With the addition of a nice exhaust and some other tuning, Tecstar’s Z06 had 525 horsepower—up from 385. Jay’s Corvette was modified even further before the comedian bought it: It is currently sporting an LS7 engine from the sixth-generation Z06. Jay has proven multiple times that he is not above an engine swap, even for an already hot car, so this is right up his alley.

Leno’s Tiger Shark provides an interesting look at what it takes to sell the Big Three on tuned versions of their own vehicles. Though the Tiger Shark kit never had the successful factory backing that Tecstar hoped for, a Michigan-based company did revive the kit in 2015. (Tecstar is long gone, acquired by Quantum Corporations in 2005.) You can buy your own today, unpainted, for $1960.

Unlike the designs of some tuners and aftermarket companies, which can quickly look dated, the Tiger Shark kit retains enough of the beautifully aging C5 shape to still look classy twenty years later. We think that’s pretty impressive.




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    Jay has a love for the C5. Not just this car but his 99 C5.

    He likes how they ride good, fast, reliable and you can actually haul something.

    Owning one I have to agree.

    The Tiger Shark is really a look at the future. Jays with the LS7 really is an early peek at where the Corvette was going.

    The C5 to me encompasses a fit of every C model. It has a bit of everything for everyone. It links the past to the future.

    I can’t figure out all the hype with that Jay Leno and his thousands of cars he hoards, every make and model, so what if he has more money then the rest of us boomers and can buy one of each of every car ever made. He was nothing more than just a game host and late night talk shows. I could care less what he has or can buy along with all the other celebs that hog up all the classics and drive the prices up so they are the only bastards that can buy them and then brag about what they have on senseless reality TV shows

    Leno has been a car and motorcycle guy his whole life. He started collecting beaters when he was a starving comedian because it’s all he could afford. No reason to stop once he got successful.

    His “hoarding” isn’t even a drop in the bucket and doesn’t affect you in any way. But he employs people maintaining them and gives publicity to the builders and shops. Overall, he boosts the hobby and industry. And on top of everything else, he’s a humble, genuinely nice guy.

    These days, all I have is a ‘66 VW needing a lot of work, but the last thing that would occur to me is being jealous of what other people have.

    What’s so difficult to figure out? It’s all about free enterprise, the free market, and supply & demand.
    Jay has a talent that he exploited in a spectacular manner and made a fortune from it. He didn’t waste his money on nonsense like many celebrities, but invested in his passion: cars. Now he is an expert in automobile history and technology, which he freely shares in an entertaining manner. He’s not “hoarding” vintage cars -it’s called “collecting” and restoring. Besides, he has many classic cars that are not that rare, which anyone else can pick up too at a reasonable cost and restore. He also, of course, has many rare cars. But are you saying that if he did not purchase his Bugatti or his Duesenberg, the price would not have been driven up and it would still be available for you to purchase on the market at a “reasonable” price??
    Really nothing in your post makes any sense!

    Agreed the 5.7 L motor was ubiquitous throughout the C-5 an LS three or an LS seven is a great swap. If you want more power. I have a 2001 C5 automatic car it’s weak link is the four-speed and the factory tall gearing. it is very comfortable Yet capable cruiser. Mine is wearing Michelin pilot all seasons. Next tires will be a more aggressive, dry pavement tire as the All-seasons are pretty noisy. Dream swap would be an LT4! No way I’m pulling it out of my 22 ZL1 though…

    I like JL. I think he has done a lot for our community. He didn’t get “all” the classics nor did he “drive” up the value. At least on the 3, that I own. Like Jay, I purchased what I could afford long ago before the prices increased. And boy am I glad I did. My collection isn’t tv show worthy, but they keep me busy enjoying the old car hobby!!

    A very unfair attack on Jay Leno! I have met him and he is a very genuine person and passionate and knowledgeable car guy. If he was just another rich guy, he would have a collection of Ferraris – instead he has an eclectic mix of everything from steam cars to jet bikes. He is also involved in training young people in the various trades needed to keep old vehicles on the roads.
    He used his intelligence and wit to develop an immense talent to get to the top of a very cut throat business entertaining millions and now enlighten people about old cars…
    Leno is one of the good guys!

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