Jay Leno is a car addict.
If it has wheels, an engine and an interesting story, he wants to look at it, learn about it, drive it, tinker with it, maybe even own it. There are worse vices a man can have.
Leno has well over 100 cars in his personal collection, a dizzying assortment of makes and models. Most of these vehicles are classics — and thanks to his willingness to get his hands dirty working on them, they’re in pristine condition.
Now the former Tonight Show host is pouring his passion for all things automotive into a TV show called Jay Leno’s Garage.
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The eight-episode series premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday on CNBC. The entertaining debut episode celebrates muscle cars.
We chatted with Leno last week about the show. Here’s what he had to say.
Why did you turn your lifelong love of cars into a TV show?
I’ve been doing a show called Jay Leno’s Garage on YouTube for almost 10 years. It’s just a low-budget show where we pick a car from my garage and we talk about it and we take it for a ride. Or I go visit with other guys I know who have interesting cars.
I’m not a big fan of car shows where people throw tools at each other. … We wanted to make something that showed some of the passion.
It’s now got 1.4 million subscribers and it’s the third-biggest automotive website on YouTube. We never did any advertising or anything. It’s just something I did on the side for fun. Then we were approached by a few people who said, “You should take this to network TV.” It seemed like a fun idea.
I’m not a big fan of car shows where people throw tools at each other or they restore a car in a week and sell it for profit. We wanted to make something that showed some of the passion.
The show includes little-known nuggets of car history and vintage commercials. Collecting cars — or even just appreciating them — should be about more than just their monetary value, don’t you agree?
Yes, but we do have the financial aspect, too. We have Donald Osborne [of What’s My Car Worth? on the Velocity channel]. He’s the appraiser. We take three classic cars. If you’re going to spend your money on one of these cars, instead of buying stocks and bonds, which of these would be the best value?
What was your first car?
My first car was a ’34 Ford that I got when I was 14. A pickup truck. It was parked at a gas station. My dad and I went down and we dragged it home. My father figured it would take at least two years for me to get it running. So by the time I was old enough to get a license, I would have a car.
Old cars, they’re like the screen door at your mom’s house that you have to shut just a certain way to get it to latch. …
I took care of that vehicle and didn’t beat it up because of the aggravation and skinned knuckles I got getting it to run properly. I appreciated it more than if I had just been given a car.
Do you have a favorite car in your collection?
I don’t have any one favorite. But the really old stuff is great fun because it needs you. Modern cars, you can get in and just go. But old cars, they’re like the screen door at your mom’s house that you have to shut just a certain way to get it to latch and you’re the only one who knows how to do it.
That’s the fun thing about old cars. They do have a certain personality.
In the first episode, you get a crash course in drag racing from champion Erica Enders-Stevens. (Maybe “crash course” isn’t the best way to put it.) In a subsequent episode, you drive a tank. You’re having a blast doing this stuff, aren’t you?
It is a lot fun. Regarding the tank episode, I have a car that has a tank engine in it. When I was in Afghanistan doing a USO show, I met with some of the guys in the tank corps and they were giving me a hard time, saying their tank was faster.
So I called one of the generals and we took my tank up to Fort Irwin in California and we raced it against the Abrams tank. I won’t tell you who won, but it made for a fun show.
If ever there were a bucket-list adventure, that had to be one of them.
But who would even think to put that on the list? It’s so out-there. It’s something that just happened.
And I think I prefer it that way, because I’m not a big bucket-list kind of guy. I’ve got enough stuff to do already. Don’t give me more. So a list of stuff to do isn’t for me.
Jay Leno’s Garage
- 9 p.m. Wednesday