It’s hard to sum up Jay Leno’s car collection in a short article, so let’s take a look at a handful of the awesome, wild, and downright gonzo cars he has.
Writing an article about Jay Leno’s car collection is both awesome and challenging. His legendary array of cars and motorcycles numbers around 300 and lives in a network of aircraft hangars. Each car is uniquely interesting with its own fascinating story. Jay Leno is to car nuts what Michael Jordan is to basketball fans. You could fill an Encyclopedia Britannica with nothing but photos and stories about his collection. However, I am willing to do the hard work of highlighting a few of the most interesting, rare, and just plain cool cars in his possession.
Only seven of these were made so it’s unlikely Mr. Leno ever comes across another in the streets of Los Angeles. Back in the late ‘80s, a couple of car guys took a lowly Ford Festiva and strapped a V6 into the back. Specifically, a 220 horse Yamaha motor from a Taurus SHO of the era. That motor, by the way, sounds AMAZING when you’re running through the gears. The Festiva was converted to rear-wheel drive, wild rear-fender air intakes were fitted, and the Shogun was born. Leno did what he does and dropped in a 90-horse nitrous tank quipping, “Ken Block would have a great time in this car.”
Well, it’s a ’34 Rolls chassis anyway. The swoopy aluminum body was custom designed and built in-house at Jay’s Big Dog Garage. Also not factory is the 27-liter Merlin aircraft engine under the hood making a wee 1000 horsepower and 1750 lb-ft of torque. That engine powered the famous P-51 Mustang fighter plane and requires hand cranking of a magneto to fire it up. “It’s like the hand of God is pushing you”, as Mr. Leno puts it.
This Lambo is one of the many Jay Leno cars that is insanely iconic. It’s also extra noteworthy because of the 70,000-mile odometer reading. Jay used it as a daily driver for years. Which beats the pants off storing this Italian stallion in a bubble for 40 years, as an investment. Normally known for modifying the power and performance of his vehicles, in this case Mr. Leno removed the rear wing because he thought it was stupid. You have to love the funny, no-nonsense car guy style of Jay Leno.
Jaguar enthusiasts end up with a furrowed brow looking over this red E-type. The front end comes from a V-12 generation XKE with the rear end off a Series I. The wheelbase was shortened 9”, the front was modified to resemble a Series I and the rear was massaged to look like a Series III. If your head isn’t spinning yet, Mr. Leno punched up the Jaguar V-12 to 5.7 liters, gave it Wilwood disc brakes and fitted custom stainless steel headers. He calls it the “Jaguar Daytona” and managed to build what Jaguar always should have.
Before the bonkers Corvette C6 ZR1 hit the streets, Pratt & Miller cooked up the idea of building road-legal versions of the C6R racecar. As the engineering firm behind Corvette’s racing team, they would certainly know where to start. Working with engine firm Katech, they created an 8.2-liter V8, running on E85, putting down 600 horses and pound-feet of twist. A 6-speed manual, center lock BBS, and carbon fiber body parts make it a mean machine. Jay Leno bought the first of only seven made, after laying eyes on it at the 2007 SEMA show.
This 100-year-old Mercedes and Benz racecar foretold a marriage between the two companies in 1926. Developed to race at Brooklands in England, the Rabbit 1 is a 1910 Mercedes chassis mated to a 1914 Benz aeroplane engine (Jay Leno cars clearly enjoy running off aircraft engines). With a whopping 18.8-liter displacement, this chain-driven beast hit 113 mph back in the day. The exposed valvetrain with oil drip cups meant the driver was fairly slathered in the stuff post-race. Other than replacing the drum brakes with discs and adding a cooling fan, Mr. Leno has kept this time capsule intact.
Aircraft engines are nice, but how about the motor from an M-47 Patton tank? It’s nearly 1800 cubic inches of air-cooled fun running through 12 cylinders to make around 800 horsepower, in its original form. Riding on shaved garbage truck tires, the Blastolene weighs in at an apropos 10,000 pounds and stretches to 20 feet in length. Conceived by Oregon craftsman Randy Grubb, Jay Leno purchased it and applied some upgrades. Like a pair of Gale Banks turbos and improved fuel injection to the tune of 1600 horsepower and three THOUSAND lb-ft of torque. According to Mr. Leno, and to the surprise of no one, Arnold Schwarzenegger loves this brute.
One of many McLarens in the Leno collection, this one deserves special attention not only for its all-time specifications. An early adopter of a carbon fiber monocoque chassis, the F1 was McLarens crowning achievement at the time; some would say ever. The driver’s seat is centered in the cockpit to get as close as possible to the driving position of an F1 racecar. A 6-speed manual mates with a naturally aspirated, BMW V12 producing 627 horses. It’ll do 60 in 3.2 seconds and hit a top speed of 240 mph. The engine bay uses real gold foil to reflect heat, not for bling-y looks, but because it was the best material for the job. Only 106 were ever made and these days they trade hands in the $10 to $15 million dollar range. That didn’t stop Jay Leno from driving it on a regular basis, as intended. In fact, he used to take it to the McDonald’s drive thru! As of three years ago, his F1 had around 12,000 miles on the odometer.
Corvairs took a pounding after Ralph Nader demonized them in his Unsafe at any Speed book. Thankfully, former racer Don Yenko got his hands on 100 of them before they fell out of favor. Known as the “Carroll Shelby of Chevrolet”, Yenko applied his signature style to create a series of high performance “Stingers”. Jay Leno’s Stinger is a Stage II model, there were four stages available, sporting an air-cooled, 190 hp flat-six mounted in the rear. Suspension modifications, upgraded brakes and fiberglass sail panels were some of the other changes. Thought of as American’s answer to the Porsche 911, Leno considers it “one of the ten best General Motors’ cars of all time”.
This one-off custom vehicle was produced by Jay Leno in collaboration with General Motors, Alcoa, BASF and Honeywell. His goal was to create an American car with a limited environmental impact. To that end, it runs on biodiesel feeding a turbine engine. Normally powering a helicopter, this Honeywell LTS101 setup makes about 700 horsepower coupled to a 2400-pound vehicle. It’s fast. So fast in fact, the driver’s side window was ripped right off during a high-speed run. The aluminum chassis and carbon fiber body come together in a radical, cab-forward design that’s simultaneously retro and futuristic. As intended, it looks like a concept car. But as a Jay Leno car, it’s 100% road ready.
Normally I would say that about sums it up, but this really just scratches the surface of Jay Leno’s car collection. The breadth of his collection combined with his approachable, humble demeanor is incredible. And thanks to his long running show, “Jay Leno’s Garage”, car enthusiasts everywhere get to see what car he’s driving today.