Stuff I needed to know about the car hobby I learned from Jay Leno

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In the Philippines our late night network institutions are a string of telenovelas book-ended by current news programs. In America you have the late night talk show. The leader of late night was, for many years, a guy named Jay Leno.

I like Jay not so much for his comedy (though he is hilarious) but more for his passion for cars. He talks about “things that rolls, explodes and makes noise” through his Youtube channel called “Jay Leno’s Garage”.

Since retiring from the “Tonight Show”, his guests nowadays are not celebrities but interesting cars and their owners. Sometimes he even talks about one of his own cars or motorcycles. When he does tackle a ride of his, be prepared for a lot of detail on its history, its features, what it took to restore it, and so on.

Surely it would take him more than a couple of years just to document each and every one of his cars and motorcycles. He calls his vast warehouse complex his “garage”, containing more than a century of automotive motoring, featuring both exotics and plebeian transportation.

An adjacent building houses his “shop”. Chock-full of tools and equipment and staffed with some of the best in the business, they can practically repair any car, create any part. At any moment they are restoring rare and unique cars and motorcycles.  featuring either lost technology or are simply from forgotten marques.

I look forward to Mondays when a new Jay Leno’s Garage web clip is uploaded. Every episode is a learning experience, and Jay shares bits of wisdom on how he looks at his hobby and how he does things.

The following are some lessons from the Youtube show, and how I’m applying each.

Buy a car you like. Don’t think of monetary value. 

While Jay has several exotic cars, many of his favorite cars were from more humble backgrounds. The first-owned Hudson he bought from a family who used it to move to California. A pick up truck he saw at the curbside and saved it from neglect. A Buick he lived in when he was starting out in Hollywood.

He buys cars for the stories, not for their collector value or for any financial consideration. Whether they go up or down in value, he doesn’t care because he likes them just the way they are.

Therefore a guy like me who likes Korean cars need not care what other people think or for how much I can sell them for. But yeah, having three 96-98 Elantras is weird.

Drive them. Keep them in good shape.

Jay also uses them as cars. Ergo, he drives them around just like we mere mortals. While his cars seem to be garage queens, every car not currently being worked on is a runner.

My takeaway is that if you have a car but you don’t or can’t drive it, you forgo a certain pleasure of vehicle ownership. There are a lot of rich guys who don’t drive their exotics because of a fear of degrading their value. Not Jay. But if you have more than a hundred cars, it’s pretty hard to keep them on daily rotation. That’s a question even Jeremy Clarkson asked Jay in a Top Gear interview.

If you can’t feasibly get your dusty hulk in your garage driveable but love it to bits, I think the prudent thing is to pass it on to an enthusiast who could. Some of Jay’s cars were donated to him as their owners wanted to see it go to a better place, like this big-block Plymouth Duster.

Can’t find parts? Make your own. Don’t give up.

The tenacity I needed when finding parts for our current project cars was directly inspired by Jay. But when you are in his level, giving up is just a lazy option. He has cars you have never heard of, like a 1914 Premier, whatever that is. It needed a new water pump. Where was Jay going to going to get one for a 1914 Premier?

He had one made, that’s where. Thanks to latest advances like 3D scanning and printing, any car part can be made, remade, and improved. With these techniques, any car can be brought back to running condition and be exactly or better than how it came out of the factory.

Thankfully we didn’t have to resort to making our own parts (yet) for our own restoration projects. At least we can be assuaged that push comes to shove, we can get our cars running.

There are lots more we have learned about Jay, perhaps I will write about them in a future post. But still, if you aren’t yet watching Jay Leno’s Garage on Youtube, you should take a gander soon.


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