4 Odd Cars (and a Motorcycle) From Jay Leno's Collection
Jay Leno’s on-again, off-again romance with NBC sounds like it’s back off, and it’s reignited some feelings about his history as a late night host. But car people know better. There’s no more enthusiastic booster of the old car hobby. He may be the world’s most recognized collector of cars, but it’s not just about the most expensive or the rarest cars. “I’m like Father Flanagan in Boy’s Town,” he said in an interview with Vanity Fair. “There are no bad cars. There are just cars that need to be loved and taken care of.” Here are a handful of the lesser known vehicles in Leno’s collection: John Player Norton
The John Player Norton Commando was a motorcycle both ahead of its time, and about to be surpassed by every Japanese former bicycle builder in existence. The aerodynamic fairing and full bodywork suggested that this was a streamlined roadburner, and the bike Peter Williams rode in the 1973 Isle of Man TT was exactly that. But what you got under the futuristic fiberglass of the John Player Norton was a bone-stock 1974 Mark 2A Norton Commando.
In 1974, the John Player Norton Commando was expensive, with a price tag perilously close to $3,000. That may not sound like much today, but in 1974, $3,000 got you pretty close to coming home in a Trans Am. Today, John Player Norton Commandos bring north of $15,000.
2012 DeMacross Epique
BoldRide featured the DeMacross Epique GT1, which you can read about at length here. The de Macross Epique GT1 was built at the behest of Jahong Hur, a collector of legendary and vintage sports cars, and founder of H-Plus Eco, Ltd., a South Korean environmental consulting company. The DeMacross Epique GT1 was envisioned as a modern tribute to the race cars of the classic Le Mans era.
The supercar is powered by a 5.4-liter supercharged aluminum V-8 that develops 845hp and 740-lb.ft. of torque.
1961 Volga GAZ-21
Many car collectors fixate on one brand, or one era of cars. Adam Carolla, for example, has an interest in vintage Datsuns and the cars that Paul Newman raced in the 1970s and 1980s. Leno, on the other hand, is passionate about everything, whether they were good cars or not. Case in point, his 1961 Volga GAZ-21.
When he was interviewed in Vanity Fair in August last year, he specifically mentioned this car when asked about some of the “really bad” cars he’s owned, but you can still sense his enthusiasm for it, regardless of how well it was constructed. “It depends on how you define bad,” he responded. “I have a Russian car called a Volga, a GAZ Volga—it’s an old K.G.B. staff car. This was built in the early 60s, at the height of the Communist era, and it is so incredibly poorly put together. It’s fascinating because you compare a mid-60s Cadillac—with a V8, and air conditioning, and power seats and all the silly things that they had—and then you look at this thing—with its 4-cylinder, essentially tractor-like engine—and it’s just amazing.”
1958 Saab 93B
The transaction that resulted in Jay Leno owning this Saab 93 was chronicled by Jeff Koch when I was the editor at Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car. In vintage car circles, I’ve heard stories like this so many times that you begin to think they’re apocryphal, but out of the blue, Leno’s “people” contacted Tom Donney of this 1958 Saab 93B: “I had a 1958 93B that I imported out of Sweden in 2002 as part of a trade for a Dodge truck and a Buick Electra,” the seller noted in the article, which appeared in June of 2006. “There was some interest, then it went soft for a couple of weeks.So I called, and he said that 'his party' was still interested. Fifteen minutes later, I got a call from Jay. Our first conversation was businesslike--lots of questions about originality and rust. He asked if it smoked. I told him it was a two-stroke Saab--of course it smoked! I insisted on sending a video of the car, but he bought it sight unseen.”
The entire story is great, and well worth reading because it results in Tom Donney driving a rather clapped out 1961 Saab 96 2,000 miles from Iowa to Jay Leno’s garage for a visit.
1937 Fiat Topolino
For Leno, it’s not about impressing people. “I’m not the type of person who buys a car to impress people—most women are not really impressed by a guy in a 1909 White Steamcar.” It’s about Leno being impressed by some facet of a car’s history or its engineering. "Dante Giacosa was one of the great engineers," said Jay Leno in a Jeff Koch interview in Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car. "You know, you mention engineering and we always think of Ferraris and exotic engines; it's actually much harder to build a people's car that everyone will buy than it is to build a supercar.”
Photos: Jay Leno's Garage, Pebble Beach Concours D'Elegance