Jay Leno drives the hotter C5 Z06 that could have been
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.