It probably comes as no surprise that most of the staff at Backyard Buddy loves cars—especially rare, unusual, and collectable ones—so we wanted to take an opportunity to talk about one of the best-known collections out there.
Jay Leno, most famous for hosting The Tonight Show, is almost as famous for his love of cars. At last count, he has put together a collection of roughly 150 cars and more than 90 motorcycles, although like most dedicated collectors, he is always buying and selling, so the numbers change on a regular basis.
Jay isn’t happy to simply amass a collection of cars, and has become one of the most recognized faces of the hobby. His NBC show Jay’s Garage showcases some of his more unusual cars, and his regular Popular Mechanics column (http://www.popularmechanics.com/jay-lenos-garage/) provides a glimpse into some of the challenges he faces maintaining and restoring some of the most unique vehicles ever made.
Jay has an affinity for unusual vehicles, and unlike many collectors, refuses to focus on one type or era of car or motorcycle. Some of our favorite vehicles in his collection include:
• 1926-27 Duesenberg Model X: Jay worked for nearly 20 years to find this rare piece of early American muscle, one of just 13 produced. Like so many collectors do, he heard rumors that a local car guy had “something interesting” in his garage, and after a 20 year friendship, he finally found the Duesenberg when the man’s family invited him to look in the garage after the collector moved to a retirement home.
• 1916 Owen Magnetic: One of the more unusual cars in Jay’s collection is this century-old hybrid. Early automakers experimented with using gasoline engines as generators to power electric motors to actually spin the wheels to get around the complexities of getting rotational power from the engine to the wheels. The Owen exemplified this concept, using an electromagnetic transmission to remove the complex geared transmission from the drivetrain and keeping no mechanical linkage between the engine and the wheels. The design failed in its time, but the hybrid concept is alive and well a century later.
• 1909 Baker Electric: This is another car that shows just how many different ideas were tried before we settled on the gas engine for nearly a century. At the time, electric cars like the Baker were considered cleaner and easier to drive and maintain, and were recommended for the ladies of high society to drive to do their social appointments and shopping, since they involved no smoke, gasoline, or gears full of grease. This one is even dearer to us, since it was made just up the road in Cleveland.
• 1963 Chrysler Turbine Concept Car: Continuing his collection’s theme of alternative power plants, Jay’s got one of the last remaining Chrysler turbine cars. As you may have gathered from the name, this car uses a turbine engine instead of a traditional piston engine, a perfect idea for a country moving into the jet and atomic age in the early 60s. So why did a jet powered car never take off? Mostly because it could run on just about any fuel except the leaded gas that was available at every service station in America.
• 1936 Harley-Davidson Knucklehead: We’ve got to admit that as much as we love cars, there’s nothing quite like a classic Harley. This bike is another great collector story. When Jay got the bike, it was in great shape, but hadn’t been ridden since 1952. Figuring it would need some restoration work, he set it aside to work on other projects. When he finally got around to evaluating it for restoration, he was surprised when he added some gas, kicked the starter, and it started right up! He changed the tires, did some basic maintenance, and rides it entirely unrestored today.
We’re happy that Jay Leno is providing a good home to all of these unique pieces of America’s transportation history, but we’re even happier that he is a great ambassador for auto and motorcycle collectors everywhere, and shares his knowledge and enthusiasm with anyone who watches his show, reads his articles, or is lucky enough to talk to him in person. If you’re working on starting your own collection and want a way to make maintenance, restoration, and storage easier, give us a call at (800) 837-9353 to learn more about our lifts!