Jay Leno Presents Legendary Trans-Am Race Cars, Drives 1966 Shelby Mustang GT350

vintage Trans-Am race cars on Jay Leno's Garage 11 photos
Photo: Jay Leno's Garage/YouTube
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Jay Leno's already famous YouTube series is mostly about classic road cars and modern automobiles, including EVs. But once in a while, he welcomes iconic race cars to his garage. Well, the former TV show host just took it up a notch and brought not one, not two, but three vintage Trans-Am cars into the spotlight.
A show that's more about the history of the SCCA Trans-Am series rather than the car themselves, this episode also welcomed Mike Joy. You might know him as the "NASCAR Play by Play" announcer on Fox Sports but Mike is also a Trans-Am buff. Making things that much better, he was joined by historic Trans-Am racer Ken Epsman.

But what about the cars? Well, you're about to see a trio of the coolest "over 2-liter class" racers that burned rubber and gasoline in what was the most popular motorsport series in the U.S. at the time. Starting with a 1966 Shelby GT350.

Granted, Shelby had trouble fielding the GT350 in the Trans-Am series due to the car's rear-seat delete, but the beefed-up Mustang did hit the track in a few events that year. It's not the non-Shelby 'Stang that won the championship that year, but it's quite the looker thanks to its Hertz-like black-and-gold livery.

Yes, it looks very stock because that's what the regulations required in 1966, but this Shelby has a few tricks up its sleeve including all-original Ford GT40 heads.

But if you're into the sportier Trans-Am racers of the early 1970s, there's also a 1970 Chevrolet Camaro sitting on Jay's garage floor. This one's not exactly famous though. Fielded by a semi-factory team, it ran alongside the white Jim Hall-prepped Camaros that year.

Having won the championship in 1969 with Roger Penske at the helm, Chevrolet had a disappointing 1970 season under Chapparal Cars finishing third in the manufacturers' standing. Still, this Camaro looks the part thanks to a comprehensive restoration that lasted a whopping 10 years. And yes, it still features a race-spec, destroked 302-cubic-inch (5.0-liter) V8 engine.

But it's the third car that's actually more important and successful. It's not a Ford, a Chevy, or a Mopar, but an AMC. Looking to add a bit of sportiness to its image, American Motors joined the Trans-Am championship in 1968. Following a couple of disappointing seasons, AMC signed Roger Penske and scored second place in 1970.

The company went on to win the championship in 1971 when the Javelin driven by Mark Donohue won eight of 10 races and defeated Ford by a large margin. Donohue left in 1972, but George Follmer took over and won four out of seven races to bring AMC its second consecutive triumph.

The blue-white-red Javelin you see here is the car that won both championships, which makes it one of the most successful racers in Trans-Am history. And just like the Mustang and the Camaro sitting next to it, it was fully restored and looks like it never races. Oh, and the 401-cubic-inch (6.6-liter) V8 under the hood (destroked to 304 cubic inches / 5.0 liters) cranks out a whopping 490 horsepower.

Unfortunately, the Camaro and the Javelin are way too noisy to be driven on public roads in California, so you'll only see the 1966 Shelby GT350 stretching its wheels and flexing its V8 mill. But it's definitely entertaining to see it hit the road given that it's not completely stock.

Before you hit the play button below, here's an interesting piece of Trans-Am trivia: did you know that Pontiac paid the SCCA to use the Trans-Am name on the Firebird? The company paid $5 per car built, which was enough to keep the SCCA afloat for a few years. The second-generation Firebird Trans Am alone brought the SCCA a whopping $2.3 million.

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About the author: Ciprian Florea
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Ask Ciprian about cars and he'll reveal an obsession with classics and an annoyance with modern design cues. Read his articles and you'll understand why his ideal SUV is the 1969 Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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