Returning from the CCI Dealer Show and 40th Anniversary Celebrations in San Jose, CA, made a stop in Los Angeles. Had to switch from a Cisco Burger lunch with Jesse James to one with dear friend Brenda Fox (after a 2-year absence, she is back full time in our biz). Took me on a very short notice to visit Legendary George Barris from Barris Kustom City in North Hollywood (story in a next post) and then to Jay Leno’s Garage in Burbank (Jay not present because at show taping.) Although bitching at the slow pace of the LA freeways and at the “direction little lies” given by the car GPS lady voice, finally arrived on time at the gate protecting the 4 buildings where is housed one of the most beautiful and valuable collection of vintage cars and motorcycles. Warning, don’t even think rushing there. Leno’s Garage is not open to the public, and you must have some credentials to be admitted for a personal tour with Big Dog Garage General Manager Bernard Juchli. (Qtip, Brenda’s movie star Maltese dog, as you can see, got all the credentials…)
So, what did I learn? That struggling comedian Jay Leno moved to Los Angeles in 1972. That he immediately bought the silver 1957 Buick featured above, deciding at the time that it was big and comfortable enough to be his hotel room at night, with the car parked in Comedy Theaters alleys. He got quite a few tickets for vagrancy, I guess now collectible items… It’s with this car that Jay Leno really started his collection as soon as his income increased.
Jay doesn’t have much interest for today’s one-off custom motorcycles built from the ground up, although I saw in his garage the 50th Anniversary Custom Bike offered to him by S&S Cycle. His interests reside in rare pieces of automotive history, whatever the number of wheels, their brands, their nationality, and propulsion: steam, fuel and now electric. Everything goes. At this date about 200 vintage cars, 100 motorcycles and a very complete machine shop with 7 full time employees fill up all the space. Jay just bought 2 new adjacent buildings along the Burbank airport to house all the new rare pieces found or proposed to him on a weekly basis.
Everything has to be authentic or restored with original pieces or in extreme cases be re-fabricated from scratch following the original drawings or sketches. Bernard Juchli told me that there is nothing that they cannot machine inside the Big Dog shop. There are so many cars and motorcycles coming in that even if Jay would stop buying anything (of course, it’s not going to happen) all work to be done could not be completed during Bernard’s lifetime…or Jay’s. Asking if the intention was to turn this exceptional collection in a public museum, the answer is no. Jay likes it this way, very private…The visit was quite overwhelming. Too much to see and to learn in a couple of hours. I want to come back, several times. And of course I could not leave without posing next to one of his Bugattis. Jay Leno’s Garage.