An interview with Jay Leno
At 4:30 AM my alarm went off. I almost threw the bloody thing out the window. It would've been a nice fall though, given that my window was on the 19th floor of the Four Queens Hotel, overlooking Las Vegas. We were shooting the video of the Kinky Bathtub a.k.a. Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet (review to follow eventually, don't miss it) till 1 AM. Not that I managed to catch any sleep, I was way too nervous for that. I had a hunch that my esteemed colleague Sipos missed out on a good night's rest, especially since he took off around 3-4 AM to Nellis Air Force Base for some planespotting... figure out that! I just couldn't get his Hungarian prescription drugs in Vegas, sorry.
Our appointment at Leno's garage was only at 5:30 PM, but we still had almost 300 miles to cover, plus we had to make a slight detour to visit an RC car company. There was no room for error or delay. At a truckstop we downloaded the latest podcast of our Hungarian magazine, in which Steve Valyi and Nino Karotta argued over an engine sound, if it was a Countach or not. I'll come back to that.
We obviously stayed longer at the RC guys as we should have, so Sipos floored the Nissan and we practically shot American Taxi 2: LA Rush. The Murano passed the test, LAPD didn't and we rang Leno's doorbell at exactly 5:30. He wasn't there yet, but the rest of the crew greeted us like old friends, steered us to the fridge to pick up whatever drinks we could find and we started to chat. The only unhappy person at the time was Bernard Juchli, the garage manager. He was trying to figure out how he could get in his racecar and push the clutch. This may sound easy but he walked with crutches as something heavy fell on his leg the day before, but he had a race coming up the next day.
A bit later Leno arrived in his Hudson Hornet. He came in, greeted everyone, then came over to us for an introduction, we shook hands, and me, being the professional I am, froze a bit and mumbled something along the lines of ”Hi, I'm Balázs, sorry for drinking your booze”. He didn't even notice it because his sole focus was a cardboard box. He tore it open but we couldn't see what was inside because the whole crew surrounded it.
Sipos and I just stood there for a couple of minutes like some penguins stranded on Times Square, holding our empty soda cans. My colleague, being the nosy motormouth he is, went over there, squeezed him in between two mechanics and asked what those shiny trinkets were:
“Parts for the Doble steamcar,” Leno said and went back to enjoying the parts.
Bernard then looked at him and said:“Jay, these are the two Hungarian journalists. They are here for the interview.”
With a slight blush Leno apologized. He thought we were friends of one of the mechanics. We sat down at the kitchen-area and started the interview...or so I thought. You see, when we set out to organize the interview, we heard all the stories how much he hates to give one. We couldn't shake off the thought that Leno is just another Hollywood A-lister who likes to show off with his rides. We wanted to be proven wrong. Jay and his whole crew did that – with flying colors. Not that we were in a position to judge their commitment but the next almost two hours proved that Jay Leno is one of the biggest and most dedicated car nuts out there. The concept of a classic interview went out of the window because it ended up just as a friendly chat between gearheads.
Jay Leno is not a car collector. He is an adventurous archeologist on a mission. His website is basically an open university for car enthusiasts, young and old. It was great to see that his real goal is to save some of the dying or dead technologies. He's a big fan of long-gone engineering marvels – like Howard Hughes' Doble Steam Car that they just clocked with 132.5 mph on a closed runway. But the list could go on with the Baker Electric Car, the Chrysler Turbine Car, etc. These cars are not supposed to exist anymore but Leno set out to save as many of these unique vehicles as possible... and he has an undying need to share them with others.
When on the road, he regularly picks up random people and takes them for a ride. Once he picked up a young couple with his Stanley Steamer. When he blew the steam whistle of the car, his passengers exclaimed:
“Hang on a minute! This sounds like the Ghost Train!”
“Excuse me?” Leno asked.
“We recently moved to Beverly Hills and were told there used to be a train here but was torn down. Some of the locals claim that sometimes they can still hear it's whistle,” one of them said.
“No, it's just me coming home from work,” Leno chuckled.
It's no secret that being at NBC was Jay Leno's job and the garage is his passion, this is the place that really defines him. To be able to maintain all that he's working almost non-stop. When he isn't, he's at Pebble Beach, at the Friday Cruise night at Bob's Big Boy, Cars & Coffee, in a dark barn, bargaining on some old car or pretty much anywhere else where he can teach about or celebrate engineering ingenuity. But if he's not in any of those places, he's at the garage, talking about cars and mimicking Lambo V12's: