The early 2000s were good times for the automotive aftermarket, with many good vehicle platforms to choose from and many automakers willing to cooperate with aftermarket companies on upgrades.
One of the products of that era is Jay Leno’s 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Tiger Shark, built by Tecstar and Wheel 2 Wheel.
Paul Rivera, global director of business for the sibling companies, recently appeared on “Jay Leno’s Garage” to explain the Tiger Shark’s history.
The C5 Corvette debuted in 1997, initially in T-top coupe and convertible body styles. For the 2001 model year, Chevy added a Z06 performance model to the lineup, with a unique “fixed roof coupe” body style that was more rigid and cheaper to manufacture. It also came with an upgraded version of the 5.7-liter LS1 V-8 from the standard C5. Designated LS6, this engine made 385 hp at first, but got a boost to 405 hp for the 2002 model year.
Tecstar and Wheel 2 Wheel management thought they could take the Z06 even further. Hoping to get backing from General Motors for an aftermarket package that could be sold through the automaker’s parts division, something it had already done with the S-10 Xtreme pickup truck and other projects, the management initiated the Tiger Shark project. The plan was for Wheel 2 Wheel to design components and for Tecstar to build the cars.
The LS6 V-8 was bored and stroked to 6.6 liters and given a custom exhaust system with quad tips. Output rose to 525 hp. The company also developed a body kit with a larger front air intake and chin spoiler (Leno admits he’s gone through three of them, if you were wondering how vulnerable that low-hanging piece of bodywork is to damage), and dressed up with the interior with carbon- fiber door sill plates and new leather upholstery.
While an impressive package on paper, the Tiger Shark also shows the travails of aftermarket upgrades. A grounding issue would cause Leno’s car to randomly reduce power until it was finally traced to faulty wiring in one of the doors, and the bespoke 6.6-liter V-8 proved unreliable overall. It was replaced with an LS7 7.0-liter V-8 crate motor.
Plans to make the Tiger Shark widely available never materialized. Leno’s car is the only complete one in existence, according to Rivera, although some of the Tiger Shark cosmetic bits have ended up on other cars. With the current C8 Corvette Z06 sporting a 5.5-liter V-8 making 670 hp, there really isn’t much need for the aftermarket performance. So the Tiger Shark is very much a creature of its time.