Jay Leno’s Garage:</br> A Personal Speedhunters Tour
A Rare Opportunity

Jay Leno doesn’t collect cars: He collects stories.

Somewhere in Burbank, California, sits a nondescript row of commercial buildings, and inside them is his collection of stories – mostly in motorized form of course.

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So that’s the first amazing thing about this collection, but there are a couple more. When you get the chance to walk around the multiple buildings that comprise Big Dog Garage, you first notice the endless rows of priceless cars. There are a couple hundred of them stuffed in there, and you quickly realize that Jay Leno knows each and every one of them – intimately.

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The third thing that sets Leno’s garage apart from any other esteemed collection or museum is that literally any of these cars can be started and driven at Mr. Leno’s whim. The oil stains on the floor, the trickle chargers everywhere and current tags on every single car prove it.

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But how did I weasel my way into such a special place? This little guy right here. Since my Kaiser was featured on the Jay Leno’s Garage YouTube channel a couple years ago, I sent an email to the production team asking if they would be interested in featuring the Scion Tuner Challenge winning FR-S I built. They showed Jay, Jay liked it, and two weeks later I was in.

More on that soon though, because this story is about the rare opportunity I was allowed in bringing a camera where very few have clicked.

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I sheepishly requested a bit of Mr. Leno’s time before, after or in between takes on the day we filmed the MAXIMUM ATTACK FR-S, and he graciously accepted. Why? Because he loves his garage and he loves sharing it with people who care as much as he does.

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You simply can’t walk through the garage without Jay stopping to show you something interesting, like this early hi-fi system with a dash-mounted record player. “This is how you got chicks back in the day,” he joked.

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My premise was simple: rather than attempt to cover his monstrous collection, I asked Jay to just show me a few cars that were special to him. I have no idea if he randomly chose these or if they really do mean more than any of this other cars. Either way, this represents a pretty nice cross-section of Big Dog Garage.

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To start, we followed Jay into the ‘Steam Room’ where he wanted to show us his 1925 Doble E-20. It was once owned by Howard Hughes who piloted it to 132.5 miles per hour, and it’s been called the greatest steam-powered vehicle ever built.

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Jay opened the door and fiddled around with something. I wasn’t sure what he was up to just yet.

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Then I realized he was going to start it. But how do you really start a steam car anyways?

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“Now watch what happens in that little window,” he said as we heard the boiler ignite.

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Inside that tank are six hundred feet of coil and less than a quart of water. The super-heated steam runs twice as hot as a typical steam car and expands something like twenty five hundred times before making its way to a four cylinder compound engine mounted near the back.

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“It makes one thousand pound feet of torque from zero,” he tells us. “That’s why it doesn’t even need a transmission!” This was the pinnacle of steam technology, just before it bowed to the gasoline engine.

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Leno’s cars are beautifully restored, unless there’s a reason he wants to enjoy them in original form of course. He’s not really a purist though. He’s a driver and he wants to be able to enjoy them.

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Which is why you’ll find things like a disc brake conversion on a steam car. This car is fast, so to take it on modern roads it needs to stop safely too.

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Don’t let that one modern safety item fool you though. This thing works just like it was originally designed, and Jay knows the operation thoroughly so he can hop in anytime and drive down the street.

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The Murphy-built roadster body was the first with a disappearing top that folds down and stores under the bodywork, completely out of sight.

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In case you’re having trouble grasping the finer points of a Doble steam car, there’s a demonstration chassis right next to the real car.

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The compound steam engine has a window so you can watch the pistons pump back and forth.

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It appears to be complete, besides a coach-built body like the E-20 we were just admiring.

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As a casual observer it’s tough to know what does what, but Leno or his mechanics can tell you all about it. They’re the custodians, and they know the fine details of this car and the hundreds of others they restore and maintain too.

Fast Forward 90 Years
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If the Doble was the pinnacle of 1920s technology, then the McLaren P1 must be the same for 2015.

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Last time I visited the garage, Jay arrived in his F1 and climbed out of the centered driver’s seat as nonchalantly as if he had arrived in a Honda Civic.

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You can bet he drives the P1 too.

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He’s got the collection pretty well covered, but he’s not the same owner as the guy who started some website and wants to show off his money. We know that guy’s car is destined to skid off the road anyways.

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The difference is that Jay truly appreciates the engineering of his McLarens. Like the Doble, Jay delved right into the intricacies of the P1. He can tell you all about how the electric motors work, how it drives in each of its five modes, and how it compares to the MP4-12C and the F1 as well.

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Outside of a McLaren employee, he was the first to drive the P1 when it came out. Of course, he was one of the 375 individuals who got to buy one too.

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Leno has enough seat time in enough cars that he can actually have an opinion when it comes to a car like the P1. Me? All I would be able to tell you is that it’s super fast.

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Jay explained that he had it lifted up high so he didn’t rip off the nose as he pulled in, because “just the splitter is the price of a Porsche Cayman.”

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We could tell Jay was enjoying giving us an engineering lesson as he explained the merits of hybrid technology as it applies to speed rather than economy.

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If you want to learn more check out this video where McLaren CEO Mike Flewitt visits the garage to walk Jay through his new P1.

Turbine Powered
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We’ve covered a steam car and a hybrid, so why not a jet car next? The Chrysler Turbine car was actually my special request, simply because it’s always fascinated me.

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The Ghia bodies were made in Italy and shipped to Detroit in crates. There’s some great old footage of Chrysler engineers uncrating the bodies in Leno’s video.

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When Jay was 14 he went to the 1964 World’s Fair specifically to see this car. Who would have thought that one day he would own one of the very few examples left?

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He opened the door and pulled the hood release, then asked me to raise the hood. I was giddy just touching the Turbine car’s rare hood. This is the kind of thing you wouldn’t dare do in any other circumstance, but in Leno’s garage fingerprints seem to be okay – with his permission of course!

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Once more, Jay reached inside and twisted the key. The sound that came next was both bizarre and euphoric at the same time.

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The turbine engine lit off and hummed up to a 22,000rpm idle. This car belonged to Chrysler until Jay took ownership (he’s the only owner on the title) and the first thing he did was fix the clock and all the door dings.

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Fifty five were built and put into public hands. To get one you had to write a letter and then be selected by Chrysler. To think that ordinary people had these cars sitting in their driveways; this was jet-age optimism in the flesh.

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The Big Dog Garage mechanics haven’t restored the car so the leather is wrinkled and there are small chips in the paint. I hope they never do, because the ’60s charm would be erased.

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Looking at this car it’s clear that the designers had fun with it. The styling approaches Jetsons status, yet somehow it’s real and it’s right here in front of you.

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The turbine motif is everywhere you look.

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Even in places where it looks perfectly production-ready.

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But then you remember this isn’t a styling exercise. It’s the real deal.

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I guess that’s what I find so amazing about this car – the feeling of concept car and production car all in one. The headlights could so easily have been on a car from the ’60s.

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It’s all there in a package that somebody got to live with as a family vehicle, even if it was only a trial.

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The only place the design fell short was in making the faux exhausts which house simple lights. Surely it was a design cue that they wouldn’t dare scrap; it’s just too bad there aren’t jet fumes blasting out of the finned cylindrical projections.

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Next to the car sat a spare engine. Jay explained that it was manufactured from an alloy that was fine for a car, but not usable for an aircraft. These engines can run on almost any fuel, use just one spark plug, and burn so clean that the oil never gets dirty.

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In the end, the Chrysler Turbine cost twice that of a Cadillac, returned so-so fuel economy and didn’t perform any better than a V8-powered car of the day. Couple this with hard financial times at Chrysler and the jet-car dream was squashed.

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As I finished getting the shots I needed for this story, we found Jay polishing the trim on some other obscure car which I’ve already forgotten the name of. I had to take a photo of him in his happy place though, because Big Dog Garage is a place he created where he can just be himself. Nobody is running up asking for his autograph and he doesn’t have to wear a suit and crack jokes (unless he wants to). This is a place where Jay Leno can just be Jay. He can drive fast, rare and unique cars and talk shop with his small staff of brilliant car guys.

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Soon Jay decided to take his latest project for a ride, windshield or not.

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Because who can resist a test drive in the latest project? Not any car guy I know.

Keith Charvonia
Instagram: SpeedhuntersKeith
keith@speedhunters.com

Cutting Room Floor
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1

Last car (white one) is probably a french Dyna-Panhard

2

He has built himself paradise.  I'm always amazed at how just darn likable the guy seems.  I would love to meet him someday and congratulate him because he has obviously worked his ass off to be where he is.  Keep living the dream, Jay!

3
Jean Sebastien

the last white car is French, called Panhard, body is made in aluminium !!!

4
Jean Sebastien

PauloRebordao exact !

5

Panhard PL17 :)

6
Jean Sebastien

nice to see that people around the world know this French brand

7

out of all the cars, I think it is interesting he has a restored John Deere tractor in there.

8

Jean Sebastien Jay Leno is actually quite fond of classic French cars, especially his Citroën DS. :-)

9

Roulianely Dman, you beat me to it.  ;-)

10

Normally, people with more than two or three cars are annoying. People with a sultan complex who would rather have "more" instead of "better." Leno is the rare exception. A rich guy who somehow has still attained automotive enlightenment through "study and understanding."

A car is the result of millions of dollars, countless man hours, hundreds of years of technology, and thousands of individual parts. It's like a 3 dimensional snapshot of history. Even the shittiest car has history coursing through it. Jay seems like he just "gets it."

11
TarmacTerrorist

He Buys what HE wants, not what he "should" have in a collection, and for that Mr Leno deserves massive props for just doing his thing and not bowing to pressure... now if he could just bottle his care, interest and enthusiasm for the far more money then sense crowed perhaps car shows wouldn't be endless rows of Ferraris and their ilk but instead cars that interest, innovate and mean something.

top work, nice informative and insightful piece, cheers.

12

How about the Chevy Volt sitting next to the McLaren?

13

Never miss an episode! Very down to earth guy, love his passion for all kinds of propulsion methods, petrol, diesel, electric, gas, steam...

14

You didn't post a picture of Jay's Ford Fiesta SHOGUN Keith!

15

What did they use to raise the P1?

16

Leno is such a rude(without punchlines) , unfunny, pompous dick, but who is even worse than Jay Leno? all the "car guys" who kiss his ass and swing from his nuts because they see this one side of him and feel they have something in common lol "he's such a great guy!" So lame.

17
Speedhunters_Bryn

Keith, this is what it's all about. Nice read man and Jay's selection for this is perfect. Nice images too!

18

Çok güzel parçalar var. Otomobil seviyorsanız bir göz atın derim.

19
EricSeanDelaney

There's a Panhard just like that in a garage here in Michigan. I love that car and brand. And the good old turbine car, between the Walter P Chrysler museum and the Henry Ford, I grew up seeing that car. Although I'd love the chance to actually here it run. And please tell me there's another story coming with just photos of his collection.

20

EricSeanDelaney MY dream would be a ride in the Turbine car. Maybe some day.

21

Speedhunters_Bryn Thanks Bryn!

22

AdamBezzegh That's the ultra rare Dick Depek offroad edition with quadruple gas shocks and lift coils.

Just kidding, the car can raise and lower itself depending which mode it is in.

23

LukeEVOVIII Haha, I could say that about a hundred other cars too! I had to be respectful of the fact that cameras are normally not allowed and there are things in the garage that they might not want shown, so I only pointed my camera at what Jay was showing me.

24

stumanfu5 Shop car! :)

OEM's like to loan Leno cars to drive.

25

koko san Down to earth is right. He personally called me the day my Kaiser video came out to say congratulations. He didn't have to to do that at all, but it meant the world to me.

26

olason I'm pretty sure that's steam powered too.

27

Roulianely Ahh that's right. This was the first time I had seen one. Neat looking engine too.

28

Was that a steam powered motorcycle in the 6th picture? I mean, I can tell that's a boiler instead of a v-twin, but I need confirmation that something so awesome and absurd exists.

29

From what I've read, the main reason why the turbine car didn't catch on wasn't fuel economy (which was about the same as other cars of the time), but rather that the engine's power delivery characteristics were such that you had to stomp the pedal and wait for the car to move, every time you wanted to accelerate. Nobody wanted to drive a car with that kind of throttle lag.
Since people were used to driving big V8s with an avalanche of instant off-idle torque, the turbine felt gutless, and that's what killed it. Even though a turbine is actually the last thing you'd properly associate with zero torque.
It's one of the 20th Century's great failings that we're still driving piston-powered cars because nobody could make the turbine car work.

30

KeithCharvonia EricSeanDelaney I drove one :D

31

milkplus best comment

32

My favorite car in the garage had to be that beautiful Chevrolet Volt in a picture next to the Mclaren P1.

33

RobbyChamblee Sure was! Seems a bit frightening to be sitting on a boiler...

34

Larry Chen KeithCharvonia EricSeanDelaney The Granatelli Jet Vette, right?

35

A video of the jet car running would be awesome. I want to hear the noise you referred to.

36

Its the appreciation for these cars that jay has, he is a true car guy. Not a guy with a bunch of cars. Jay is all of us here, he has the love of cars but has the money to buy any car he wants. Lol
Just for anyone who wants to know more about the record player, you had to buy special records from the dealership because regular records were too lightweight and the special dealership record were thicker and heavier so they weren't bouncing around when you hit a bump in the road. Plus the needle was designed to stay down and not move up and down only until you needed to change the record. This feature didnt take off because the records cost too much and they still didn't play as well as they hoped they would. BUT jay is absolutely right you can pick up chicks with that thing, just make sure your not driving lol

37

CSAlltrac I was too busy shooting to get video, but you should check out the Jay Leno's Garage video I linked to in the story.

38

I applaud you for your approach to this feature. You were super humble, gracious, and professional about it. I know I would have been freaking out lol You kept your cool and featured a few choice rad machines and I think that Jay would have no qualms inviting you back again because of that.

39

A gentleman motorist recognises only two speeds - a moderate tootle and a fair old lick. Never venture behind the wheel of a car unless in suitable attire accompanied with goggles and a pipe. Never take the names of Stirling Moss, Alfred Dunhill, W.O. Bentley or Alec Issigonis in vain. Jay Leno should be added to those names.

40

KeithCharvonia It's probably no more dangerous than the turbine bike he has. Metal canister filled with steam at a really high pressure directly under your crotch vs. fan blades spinning at 60K rpm directly under your crotch.

41

RobbyChamblee KeithCharvonia Pick your poison LOL

42

Incredible !!!
You could spend a week wondering around there just looking at cars.

43

Epic. Thanks! Jay and Speedhunters

44

Does it have some offroad mode or something? The height on the photos is kinda high..

45

Who ISN'T fond of the Citroen DS?! lol

46

Great article!! There are a lot of largish private collections in SoCal that have gone unnoticed on SH.

47

"...he doesn’t have to wear a suit and crack jokes (unless he wants to)..." Sure doesn't -- just a sweet Canadian Tuxedo :D


Great feature - so much cool stuff and tach/clock combo in the turbine car is soooo choice.

48
Pete the perfect pilot

Such an eclectic mix of cars in his garage, but you missed a classic, as Jay has a Mazda 110s, as in Mazdas first production rotary.

49

I can't stop looking at the Turbine's gauges.

Analog future is the best kind of future.

50

That is the definition of success. Happiness.

51

milkplus this is a great comment

52

Bravo Keith, bravo Jay Leno

53

Jbrady43 That made my day knowin that Jay Leno "sometimes" drive the same car than me.

55

That Chrysler Turbine is just WOW. Interestingly enough I think some other American makes imported Italian-built shells too, I think there was an 80's Chrysler or Cadillac documented on SH recently. It just goes to show there is always a place for Italian design houses in the car world, and it is important that the likes of Ghia/Pininfarina stay around. The Japanese were copying American designs in the 70s with cars such as the Celica liftback taking cues from the Mustang fastback but I really think the fuel crisis in the mid 70s along with the advent of the turbocharger allowing more power from smaller displacement engines really changed the game. Could anyone confirm this please. 

BTW - props to you on your work on your Kaiser, that is really ambitious and props also to Jay. You both are an inspiration!

56

so who's "that" guy?

57

AdamBezzegh That is the "speedbump and pothole evasion" mode ;)

58

I had a fun time in the twisties with Jay..

59

It's a A Great Accomplishment to have to reach. To have a Creative Collective Hobby . To a Specific Enrichment to one's Life. Especially bringing Others personal Stories to remain in the Life of the Public not to be Forgotten. They have Enriched Our Lives in may ways. Jay has Shown Such Gratitude by Sharing his Hobby with All of Us Thanks Mr Jay Leno :)

60

My Meeting fir first time in November 2014. Tonight Show in the Audience

61

I personally never had much respect for Jay as a comedian, his jokes just....well....sucked. My opinion. However as a car guy, my respect for him gets higher and higher each year. He truly loves the automobile, the human fascination with it, the culture of it, the engineering, and most of all, the LOVE of it.
I feel this has been one of the best Speedhunters features ever. Keith, if there was any way you and His Rodness could finagle a quarterly visit to him with a small chat and a couple neat cars, that would be fantastic.

62

@Cameron Ha - Canadian Tuxedo :). I'm pleased to have learnt that term today for the fashion crime of denim on denim, and I'll be using that next time I see my Dad rocking his outfit.

63

Ice Age Funny you mention throttle lag...makes me think of a modern day automobile that has drive by wire and a CVT.  Talk about lag city.

64

This is why I love Jay Leno and Tim Allen--true car guys.
An oldie, but a goodie: Tim Allen and Jay Leno burnout contest.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cJYF48mfr2k

65

I wonder if Jay is actually reading the comments section?

66

Straight up goal lifestyle right there. 
Great article

67

Jay Leno's garage saved my life. No if only he got interested in classic BMW..

68

KeithCharvonia I was just going to ask if it were possible or practical to put in a variable air suspension on a P1. But you're saying it has a built-in height adjustment... cool.

69

KeithCharvonia My kind of king among men. Or Kaiser, if you prefer. ;-)

70

If Speedhunters ever had its own time capsule, Jay Leno's stuff would be part of it.

71

Jay is the original speedhunter indeed!

72

"He’s got the collection pretty well covered, but he’s not the same owner as the guy who started some website and wants to show off his money. We know that guy’s car is destined to skid off the road anyways."


who is that guy?

73

KeithCharvonia

74

KeithCharvonia

75

KeithCharvonia

76

The last car you forgot the name of looks strikingly similar to an old Panhard

77

What a cool experience it must have been to spend time with Jay while documenting for this article, he is definitely a true Speedhunter and someone I've admired (and slightly envied) growing up as a car lover. That Chrysler has some true character, would love to experience it in person.

78

Best day of "work" ever?

79
NFC_Performance

Thanks for the support Tim! carwriteups

81

NFC_Performance Hey, you're welcome - #keeponmotoring ;)

82

Matt Khoun I would guess Robert Himler on youtube

83

FunctionFirst Yes, yes indeed.

84

Very good article, thanks also for putting in the link to your Kaiser.  I've never seen it before - beautiful motorcar!

85
JoshuaWhitcombe

samnc Matt Khoun Or as the internet likes to know him, Robert Himlier

86

The car in the 60's are pure artwork.

87

Beautiful images, Keith!

88

Being from the UK, I never really knew all that much about Jay (other than the obvious). But I've been following his youtube channel recently and read a few articles on here and I have to say he's becoming a bit of a car hero of mine. He isn't some rich guy who buys them as ornaments, he buys them to enjoy them properly whilst still respecting their history and maintenance. Bravo Mr.Leno, you've made the hero list.

89

So Keith, what did he offer you for the Kaiser in the end? :)

90

@mattinthebox Thanks! This was a bit challenging for me so glad to hear you liked them. I got one shot to follow Jay and started with the wrong lens!

91

Kirk_B It's at home in my garage. :)

92

I would like Jay to see my Hi-Performance Hybrid Honda Civic Si it can be seen here uploaded. Contact info at Future7@aol.com  ----Pete

93

milkplus  well said sir.

94

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95

Hey Jay, do you have any ford torino's? My first car was a 72 forest green gran torino sport fastback. It had a 351 Cleveland, 2 barrel. And it had power. Even with a 2 barrel carb. This was my high school years in the 80s. I wish I had it back. My brothers wife's brother has it now. Maybe some day I'll find one that's close to mine. And I'll be happy again. Love the videos. Keep them coming.

96

This is what it looked like. This one I copied off the Internet.

97

Dear Jay, yes I'm a gi r l but I was raised with 3 brothers. I grew up racing on the weekends take auto mechanics and living cars. Sure I can dress and be the lady any lady can be. But my heart belongs to cars after family. Do you ever sell or have tours of your garage? At one time my brother (Rip) his father in law knew you. His name was Ray Coc. He Delton many collectable cars. He had inventory in 7 different ststes. I don't know when he exactly met you but he also has passed away. My dream I'd with my husband is to your your garage and listen to the stores of your cars. I'm around CA starting late Nov through end of Match. Is there anyway? 440-479-4272 Sue from Ohio.

98

Mr.Leno, Hi my name is Harry Crawford, I'm just wondering if you allow handicap car enthusiasts to visit your collection? I know you have many cars but they may not be accessable, obviously you wouldn't be against it otherwise. My wife and I really love cars of all years and makes. Do you have an affordable package that would get us there and back from Florida and through your collection. I have huge respect for you because you actually get your hands dirty unlike alot of other collectors. It's Awesome that you're able to work on everything you own. I was a mechanic before MS took my opportunity to work. It kinda stinks because work was fun not just a job. Thank you for any help or guidance to allow us to visit your collection. Our email is jahcrawford1@yahoo.com. Thanks for any response.

99

Hello,  How can we make a donation in order to take a tour of your wonderful collection??
We live in Baltimore Maryland.  We attended a special in California where you gave everyone that donated $1,000 a tour.
I wish I would have made the donation then.  My husband's birthday is coming up in Dec, I would love to get him the tour
for his birthday. Even if I can at least give him a print out of when the tour is, I would greatly appreciate your assistance.
thank you in advance.  CathyHave a nice Thanksgiving!! !

100

Jay, my name is Stephen Kinstle, in 2013 i bought a 2013 Shelby gt500 at Gaudin ford from Manny.  Then we shipped it to Carrol Shelbys garage to become a super snake.  I got the 29,995.00 version cause they didnt offer the 750hp version for 35,000.00. any more.  Manny told me i could get 750hp if i got hedders and k&n; air cleaner and scat tuner.  I did and they told me i had 760hp on the ground..  We, my wife and I and brotherinlaw flew out to get it and drive it home.  At that time i wanted to come see your collection and show you my car.  But we were short of time.  My wife just told me yesturday to price a enclosed car trailer for the trip to see you.  Can you tell me if we could tour and hook up with you if we drive from rome, new york?  Naturally youd have to give me an address to get to you or phone number.  Anxiously  waiting to hear.  Stephen D. Kinstle and Pamela.  My email is sdkinstle@gmail.com

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