Like your childhood poster dream car, Jay Leno’s garage is the stuff made of dreams.
Words by Tony Matthews
Photography by Tony & Carmen Matthew with Juan Trevino
If someone would have told us that in a few years time, we would be in Jay Leno’s Garage, I would have just laughed it off. ‘No way man, we could never get a story on the man and his legendary garage’. That’s what I had in my head when two of our friends Guy and Ilan Ferdman said it to us over 6 years ago. Guy and Ilan believed in our journey of bringing inspiring car stories to life and knew that Jay Leno had a story to tell.
So as we set off on our journey to capture inspiring car builds and their owners story, we kept it in the back of our mind until it was the right time to reach out. You see, we decided to quit our corporate careers to pursue our passion and sold all our possessions to make it happen. Had we not made that brave move over 3 years ago, we would have never had the opportunity to step inside his garage, let alone be able to interview him.
So how did we eventually shake the hand of one of the funniest TV Show hosts the world has ever seen? Well as we were in Los Angeles at the Super Car Sunday meet up, we found some epic car rolling photographs whilst posting on instagram, of Jay Leno’s Garage creative producer Walker Dalton and it caught our attention. Scrolling through his sharkvspolarbear IG account, we knew that we had to meet the man for coffee and a chat.
After reaching out on Instagram, we all hooked up over coffee to find out more about each others stories. We since kept in contact and a year later as we were back in Los Angeles, we met again at Super Car Sunday and thanks to Walker, we bring you this exclusive inside story of Jay’s garage, interview and capture some of his amazing collection.
So after getting to grips with the mind-blowing opportunity we were just given to interview one of the most inspiring car guys in the world, it was time to get a date in place. I mean, how does one prepare to meet a guy you have been following from the days of ‘The Tonight Show’ to now his epic car TV show? We had no idea apart from just be cool when you meet him and then go with the flow.
We had around 1 hour 30 minutes to spend at the garage and we were provided the opportunity to interview him live on our Facebook page…no pressure then! You can watch the replay of the live interview at the end of this article.
So the day came and we were super excited and nervous as hell all rolled into one. Whilst driving to his garage, so many things went through my head, as to what questions should we ask him on the interview. As we arrived at the gate, we pressed the buzzer and in we went. As soon as we drove in, the man himself was there waiting, big smile and ready to shake our hands as we got out of the car.
With such a large collection to capture, we entrusted our awesome friend and pickup truck photographer Juan Trevino to come for the ride, capture some photos and also meet the man. Jay explains that there are two buildings, one is where he fixes his cars and the other is more like a museum exhibit, where the majority of his cars are on display. His team ensures that all the cars are in top working order and ready for Jay to roll out when he is shooting his show or wants to go for a drive.
After Jay showed us around, it was time to find a spot and setup for his interview. We gather two chairs, one for Jay and one for myself, two cameras to capture different angels and Carmen with the iphone for the Facebook Live behind the scenes. Just standing there surrounded by some of the world’s most unique cars, blew us all away. We each looked at each other in awe at just how did a TV comic genius come to acquire such a collection.
What I mean by that is not acquired in terms of the money he made as we all know money can buy you anything if you have enough, but more from the passion that drove Jay to possess cars that we have never witnessed in a garage before. There is a deeper connection here for Jay when it comes to the automotive, like it was his destiny and food for his soul.
As we start the interview, I’m pretty much a rabbit in the headlights at this point and do my best not mess up my words and roll with it. We sit down and I start to ask Jay as to where his passion for cars truly came from.
Where did your passion for cars come from?
I Grew up in New England in a rural area, where people fix tractors. As a 13 year old kid, I had an old car, which I would get to drive in a field, that’s where my passion for cars came from.
What was your first auto?
My first automotive was a 1934 Ford pickup truck when I was 14 years old. It Didn’t run, and I had nightmares of what if I couldn’t drive a stick shifter, you know, silly things you think about as a kid. I did put a 292 V8 engine into it, it was a lot of fun.
What car inspired you when you were younger?
As I grew up in a little town, there wasn’t much to see when it came to cars, not like now where you can look at cars on the internet. Back then when I was a kid, we had to wait for the car magazine to come out or hang out at the local McDonalds in hope to see a cool car. I would leave to go home and then half hour later, get a phone call from a friend that a Corvette rolled in and I missed it!
When you grow up in a rural community, anything with less than 4 doors, you may as well call a Ferrari. Just to see cars was a huge deal when I was a kid.
How did you manage to gather this incredible car collection?
I never set out to be a car collector, I would just drive something, put it away and then another car would come along and I would buy it. ‘Imagine every girl you went in high school, still looks the same and they are waiting for you’, that’s exactly what it’s like with the cars I have. ‘Gosh, I forgot just how awesome this car is and so it keeps that passion alive always for me’.
I always kept every car I bought, I never sold any. The beautiful thing about California, is that cars don’t rust thanks to the weather. You see so many classics rolling the streets and people think that the owner is a collector, but as the weather conditions are great, it seems that way. So British people when they see them here, they are so excited because as we know in England, the weather is a huge factor of rotting cars.
I liked cars so I figured that others out there will like cars to and I’m not a stock and bond guy, I don’t have much knowledge on investment, I just love cars. I remember when I bought the Mclaren at a reasonable price back then, now it’s worth so much more. Sometimes I get cars given to me for free such as the yellow Lamborghini Muira from Dean Martin back in the 80’s. He bought it new and his kid blew up the engine, so it sat in a repair shop. A friend of mine bought it thinking he could fix it, but the garage owner said it would cost more to fix the car than it was worth. A friend said to give it to me as I could probably fix it, which I did.
So back then, I managed to gain such cars that are now worth a lot more, very cheaply. But for me it’s not their value in terms of money that matter, it’s the enjoyment I get from them and how they also give joy to others when they see them.
What’s your favourite car from your garage?
It all depends on what you like, so I rather like steam cars, these are great fun to drive and also cars that don’t give a normal driving experience. The reason is that we now live in a world where cars all have to be regulated so every part of it is a certain way.
‘Everything that brings a different driving experience, is fun to me’ – Jay Leno
What car would be describe you as a character?
You mean which one is a complete foney and has no power at all? No Joking aside… For me, I enjoy just driving cars, as I don’t put into the car my personality. There are certain quotes I remember from David E Davidson from Automobile Magazine saying ‘Everybody should drive a V12 car at least once in their life time’. When I read that I was only a kid and remembered saying to myself, ‘When will I get to drive a V12 car?’ When I finally did drive one, I understood what he was talking about and thus inspired me to drive it one day.
What cars are the most interesting to you?
Any car that is ahead of its time, any that is a noble failure, any car where the engineer made it far better than what people needed. Next door I have the Chrysler turbine car, there is no reason to have one if you are a general person looking for a car to use daily. We live in a world now, where people look at cars the same way as a washing machine, just something to get them from point A to point B. I like a car that does one thing really well, not multiple things, so that’s one of the criteria’s I have when I chose a car.
So how does that lead to the birth of the Youtube Show?
I was doing the ‘Tonight Show’ and I thought it would be fun to do a Youtube Show based on cars. So we started filming videos, which started to become popular with car enthusiasts and then we took it to network TV, invited a few celebrities but still made it about cars. One of the things that the show brings, are the cars in their natural environment. It allows people to get the right perspective on the vehicle instead of behind ropes at an event, where you can’t truly take it all in. For me, I just want to be seen as a regular guy driving these cars, I’m not a racing driver, I just relate what the average person would do, if they could afford to buy one of these cars.
What’s the most memorable vehicle you have ever driven?
People like the steam cars and one blew up in my face! Any time you get a car, it catches fire and rolls over, people love that.
How do you choose your cars?
Sometimes the cars find you, sometimes people call and offer a car, but I prefer to buy a car that my team can work on and improve or restore. I do like to also find cars that reflect back on my youth to.
What are your thoughts on the evolution of the cars? 14mins – autonomous lipstick
I see the future of the car hobby is where you will be able to 3D Print parts. In terms of autonomous cars, I think it’s great. Most cars autonomous now, as I see people putting on lipstick, on their phone…there is nobody driving that car. I think that the future will be that you will use your car on the weekends to go to car meets, for a drive and then in the week, you will get into your electric autonomous car. Cause lets face, a Ferrari in London traffic isn’t fun to drive. We actually drove faster in towns back in the early 1900’s than we do now. I’m one of these people that believes that engineers will change the world.
Best most memorable driving experience?
The Mille Millia in a Jaguar xk120, that was fun. Everywhere there are hills such as in Malibu is just amazing. We are blessed in California to have the best roads close by and the weather to. Driving in England was fun as I went to the Mclaren factory and drove through the Cotteswalds.
Do you have any favourite driving songs?
I don’t actually, I just like listening to the sound of the engine. However, I use to buy records that played sounds of cars, which would drive my wife crazy.
People in the car world that inspire you?
Gordon Murrey, Enzo Ferrari, Fred dusenberg, WO Bentley, because their cars were created from passion.
Any inspiring words of advice you would like to give to someone looking to achieve their dream of owning that car or having a collection?
You have to start looking a cars that are now on the road as being potentially collectable as back in the day the Miata was never seen that way, yet now it is. Think ahead as to what you might think will be a future collectible. That’s how I managed to have so many incredible cars. ‘Buy are car because you like it, not because you think it will go up in value’ – Jay Leno
Watch all of Jay Leno’s Garage latest episodes right here.
And you can also watch our Facebook Live of the interview here.