Jay Leno Calls This American-Italian Hybrid “Automotive Royalty”

Even with his extensive collection, some cars still leave Jay Leno in disbelief when he gets to drive them. That’s especially true of classic cars, whether they’re historically significant race cars or ‘simply’ rare rides. And recently, Jay Leno got a chance to drive what he called “automotive royalty.” Or, at least, “royalty to me,” he says—a ‘hybrid’ 1967 Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada.

The Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada: a classic hybrid and “one of the most beautiful race cars in the world” according to MotorTrend

The side view of a silver 1966 Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada parked by a villa
1966 Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada side | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

No, that’s not an error, the Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada, aka ‘5300 GT’ or ‘Strada,’ is a hybrid. But it’s a ‘hybrid’ in the old sense of the word. Back in the ‘50s, ’60s, and ‘70s, ‘hybrids’ were cars with European chassis, suspensions, and styling but American engines. The Allard J2X is an excellent example, as is the Shelby Cobra 427.

In the 5300 GT’s case, its European roots stem from Italy. Originally, Giotto Bizzarrini worked for Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, designing icons like the 250 GTO, MotorTrend explains. But in 1961, he struck out with several other automotive engineers and managers to found Italian firm ATS. Unfortunately, that company soon folded. But Bizzarrini then found work designing Lamborghini’s famed V12 and both developing and racing the Iso Grifo.

The black-leather-upholstered seats and dash of a 1968 Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada
1968 Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada interior | Bonhams

That Grifo work came in handy, because the Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada is based on the racing version, the AC/3. The cars even have the same monocoque welded-steel chassis and four-wheel independent suspension, Road & Track says. Plus, while later Strada models have fiberglass body panels built by Riva (yes, the boat maker), early examples have aluminum ones like the AC/3. However, while there was a racing-spec 5300 GT Corsa, the Strada’s leather upholstery and creature comforts make it a road-going GT.

Being a GT, the Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada needs an appropriate powerplant. Underneath its hood is a 365-hp 5.3-liter Corvette V8 linked to a four-speed manual. That might not sound like a lot of power today, but it is for a lightweight ‘60s car. Plus, thanks to its aerodynamic design, the RWD Strada tops out at 161 mph, The Drive notes. And if you need to slow down, it has four-wheel disc brakes, a rarity for the time.

For a teenaged Jay Leno, the Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada was “the car”

Jay Leno has met Giotto Bizzarrini but doesn’t own one of his “legendary” namesake cars. The restored aluminum-bodied 5300 GT Strada in the video above belongs to one of Leno’s buddies. “How this one escaped me, I don’t know,” Leno quips.

In Jay Leno’s mind, the Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada is a reminder of “the golden age of Road & Track and Car and Driver.” It’s stylish inside and out, down to the V8’s Weber carburetors and the finish on the hand-beaten body panels. And he “loves how high the fender is” when sitting in it.

Admittedly, the Strada is a “warm car” to drive, he says, because the V8’s mid-front position puts it right against the firewall. And changing the spark plugs requires going through a dashboard-mounted access panel. It’s also rather low even compared to other classic cars. But unusually for its age, the 5300 GT Strada has a heated rear window. And it has a rather large trunk.

Out on the road, Jay Leno says that the V8’s carburetors could use some adjustment, or perhaps new plugs or better fuel. But “the transmission is excellent,” he notes, as is the clutch. And it gets better the faster you go. The Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada is built more for high-speed cruising than acceleration, but that’s a good thing in Leno’s book. Plus, it rides comfortably, as befits a luxury GT.

How much does one of these cars cost?

The coach-built Bizzarrini 5300 GT Strada comes from the last days of “a romantic era,” Jay Leno muses. And for a ‘60s hand-built Italian car, it was somewhat successful, Hagerty says. However, it’s not exactly common. By the time the company folded in 1969, only about 140 cars had left the factory.

As a result of its rarity and design, the 5300 GT Strada isn’t cheap. A good-condition example typically costs about $795K, Hagerty reports. And well-restored ones can crest the $1,000,000 mark. But because the Strada has a GM powertrain, it’s fairly easy to keep running. So, while it might be automotive royalty, it’s not necessarily high maintenance.

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