If there’s one person built to babysit a $2.5 million Shelby Cobra, it’s Jay Leno. The former Tonight Show host is a noted auto enthusiast and also has one helluva garage. This prompted Putnam Leasing to ask Leno to shelter its prized four-wheeler in the wake of the devastating California wildfires.
Leno, of course, obliged. He gave the rarity a temporary home and also featured it in an episode of CNBC’s Jay Leno’s Garage (above). It was the first time the 70-year-old comedian had been behind the wheel of an original Shelby Cobra and, evidentially, he was in complete awe.
“This car is like driving a hand grenade, it’s a lot of fun,” Leno yells over the Cobra’s deep purr.
The explosive weapon, a.k.a. the 1965 Shelby 427 Cobra Competition, is one of only 23 examples ever made and worth a cool $2 million and change. Fitted with a gusty 7.0-liter V8, the rare ex-racer is a double championship winner that took home first place at both the 1968 U.S. SCCA A Production Championship and the 1971 Eastern Canadian Endurance Championship.
Following a crash during the last round of the championship at Circuit Ste-Croix in October of 1971, the 620 hp brute left the racing world. It was sold without its engine and was meticulously restored for show. The racer was exhibited at the 1982 Palo Alto Concours d’Elegance and subsequently auctioned in 1986. It hammered down for $138,000 to become the most expensive Cobra ever sold at the time.
Shortly thereafter, the car changed hands again and was toured for the following 25 years. In 2011, it got a new owner and was restored once more. The suspension and transmission were rebuilt, while the interior was refreshed and the black exterior restored. An updated 427 engine was also installed in 2014. The Shelby Cobra went under the gavel again at RM Sotheby’s in 2016 and sold for an eye-popping $2.25 million.
Today, the Cobra is intended for the road. It has a full windshield and has been fitted with a (slightly) quieter exhaust to make it easier to live with on the streets. It is still, however, a gobsmacking machine. Even though there are plenty of top-notch continuation and replica Cobras out there—in fact, Leno has even built his own—nothing can compare to the original.
“I’ve driven many Cobra replicas. They all feel different,” said Leno. “This feels original. It feels exactly what Carroll Shelby intended it to be.”
Check out more photos of the Cobra below: