Lots of ultra-wealthy car collectors take an easy path, spending huge figures on limited-edition cars in exchange for a slot in their favorite carmaker's one-off program so that they can spend even more. The Jay Leno method is a touch more complicated, as on top of the cash, his vast collection demands patience and a skillful team of experts.
It's hard to keep a track on the evolution of Leno's garage, but his detailed restoration blogs on his YouTube channel help. The latest update begins with a 1965 Jensen C-V8. This rare fiberglass-bodied British car hides a 383ci Chrysler V-8 under what seems to be the period's most complicated hood-locking mechanism. For safety, it also has four-wheel disc brakes.
Then, there's the nut-and-bolt restoration of Jay's 1922 Wills Sainte Claire. The car's creator, C.H. Hills was a Ford employee who came up with both the Blue Oval emblem and the Model T transmission. He later used his millions to create the Chiron of his time, the Wills Sainte Claire, which had a cutting-edge overhead-valve V-8. Being seven-times more powerful and at least ten-times as expensive as a Ford, it led straight to bankruptcy. Leno's example spent decades in a storage container in the desert, being exposed not just to heat, but vast amounts of rodent urine, too. No matter though, because with 3D-printed molds for new castings and a touch of metallurgy magic, most of its original parts will be retained.
On September 28, 1957, Chrysler announced electronic fuel injection for the 1958 model year. It intended to use the system to push its Rambler Rebels, the Chrysler 300Ds, Dodge D500s, DeSoto Adventurers and Plymouth Furys into the future, but the technology never worked right, and was quickly cancelled. Rumor has it that 23 fuel-injected 1958 300Ds left the factory, most of which got recalled immediately so the Electrojector system could be replaced with four-barrel carburetor, and some shameful de-badging could take place.
Talking of rare Chryslers: when was the last time you saw a 1957 Imperial with 45,000 miles and original paint?
Jay Leno is also a Brough Superior enthusiast, so we shouldn't be surprised that he tracked down an ex-police captain's 1150cc bike, complete with the "petrol tube sidecar" option, which gave riders some sweet extra cruising range.
Of course no recalled Chrysler or police-spec Brough can come close to the rarity of an eight-cylinder Kleiber, the only car made in San Fransisco, for San Fransisco. Basically a truck chassis with a body on top, it had four-wheel drum brakes when most cars had two, and a business plan about as solid as C.H. Wills's. Of the only two survivors, Jay has the nicer one, full of CNC machined parts ready for the next hundred years.
Then, there's the Rabbit 1, the hero car of Brooklands 1921. Created by C.H. Crow & Co. of London, it's a 1908 Benz chassis mated to an 18.5-liter Benz aero six-cylinder from 1915, which produces some 230 horsepower. Leno's team upgraded this race car with a twin-plate clutch and hidden disc brakes, because 113 miles per hour, baby!
When it comes to surprising speeds, Leno's 1914 Detroit Electric shouldn't disappoint either. It is powered by Tesla batteries and a liquid-cooled motor. Talk about the fastest wooden box on wheels.
Finally, there's Leno's 1968 Pontiac Firebird convertible. What makes this pony special is that it's the speedy Sprint version, with John DeLorean's overhead-cam straight-six engine and an optional four-speed stick. It has a four-barrel carburetor for 215 horsepower and light weight a contemporary V-8 couldn't offer. No wonder it's superb to drive.