Car Talk with Jay Leno, Chairman of Newport's Audrain's Concours

David Zivan | October 2, 2019 | Lifestyle

The inaugural Audrain’s Newport Concours & Motor Week, Oct. 3-6 in Rhode Island, promises to be one of the great automotive enthusiast events of the year (audrainconcours.com). As it will be held on and around Rough Point, the spectacular estate of the late tobacco heiress Doris Duke, it’s fitting that three of her vehicles will be on display, alongside a Koenigsegg Jesko, the Bugatti Chiron and a customized Porsche 356 Outlaw. Fitting, too, that comedian and car aficionado Jay Leno will serve as chairman for the bash. We caught up with him as he was heading east.

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Your show, Jay Leno’s Garage, just turned five years old. It still seems like it’s your new show.
JL: Yeah, that’s better than being the old worn out show I guess. So I'll take it.

Tell us about the Newport event.
JL: This will be a big one. It’s fun—it’s a concours. And Newport is the perfect place because you've got all of these luxury brands and you've got all of these giant mansions to lease for events. It’s just fun.

And you’re keeping the next generation excited.
JL: Whenever I go to car shows I always let kids sit in the cars and get behind the wheel and do all that kind of stuff. The idea of, “Hey, you kids get out of here,” you know I don’t like that. And, something new, we have a class called 30 under 30 which is people 30 years of age or under who restored or fixed up a car for under $30,000. It is rather expensive to restore cars, so if kids can do it themselves with a certain amount of elbow grease and self starter knowledge, that makes it a little more fun.

You have about 188 cars and 163 motorcycles yourself. I have to ask: Do you have a favorite?
JL: No, no. If I had a favorite I wouldn't have all of those cars. There are some of course that are very valuable and there are cars that I just like because they are technically interesting. I've got steam cars, I've got gas turbines, I've got electric. I guess for lack of a better phrase it’s sort of the history of transportation, you know?

Is there still a holy grail out there for you?
JL: No—because I buy the story as much as I buy the car. You know, a car that has had one owner for 50 years and things like that. A lot of times I buy cars I am not particularly interested in but the story is so good.

It’s funny how that works.
JL: I had Paul Allen the Microsoft guy at the garage. He just passed away. He was worth like $58 billion dollars or some crazy thing but his dream car was a ‘73 Buick Electra. His dad had one and he and his dad would drive around in that thing so he was always looking for one of those to buy. It’s a bit like Rosebud in Citizen Kane, you know? The car brings back some nostalgic feeling or some part of your life.

It’s that way for a lot of people.
JL: For most people. When I was a kid they said the Mustang would never be a collectible car because they built over a million of them in the first year. Well that’s why it’s collectible: People have memories they want to relive. We Americans are funny that way. When something comes out we all can't wait to go buy it, then we tire of it, then we throw it away and then 20 years later we pay a fortune to get it back again.

Jerry Seinfeld has a car show as well. Is there some kind of affinity with comedians and cars?
JL: Actually it’s just me and Jerry, when you think about it. It just happens to be two comedians who like cars. Most comedians I know don't know anything about cars. It’s just a coincidence. Seinfeld and I are best friends. He's a Porsche guy.

Anything you're on the lookout for right now?
JL: No, its sort of whatever sort of catches your eye. That’s the beauty of it. For example I had this old lady call me. She had a ‘53 Hudson Hornet, 4 door, and she wanted to sell it and I said “Oh, I’ve already got a Hudson Hornet, I’ve got a 51.” She goes, “Oh. Well, we bought this new and my husband and I drove my kids around and it was the only car we had. He died in ‘96. Can you just come look at it? “ And I said, “Ok, you're the original owner? Can I ask how old you are?” And she said, “96.” So I went out to see her. No hearing aid, no glasses. The car is in the garage, four flat tires. She goes, “Would you buy it? Would you give me $5,000?” I said ok. So I dragged it back to my garage and start to restore it and it takes about two years. I thought, let me call that lady and see if she is still around.

So she’d be 98. Good grief.
JL: I call, she says “Hello?” And I said, “Do you want to go for a ride in the car?” and she says, “Oh yeah—but I got to get my hair done,” and I said ok. And then she says to me, “Can I bring the kids?” And I went, “Yeah. Sure. How old are the kids?” Well the kids are 72 and 74. OK. So I get out there and the two kids have got her blindfolded standing in the driveway. I pull in and she's touching the car and it feels so smooth. And she takes the blindfold off and sees it’s all finished—you know, the chrome’s all done and the upholstery all done and all that. And she starts crying.

And so you go for a ride?
JL: She puts the two kids in the back. The 72- and 74-year-olds. We're driving along and she's telling stories and the two kids in the back start poking each other, and she just turns around and starts whacking the crap out of them. "I told you kids!" and she's punching them in the head and the three of them are having the time of their lives laughing.The kids told me that when they were teenagers they were so ashamed that their dad had a 15-year-old car that they would make their dad drop them off on the corner and then they would walk the rest of the way to school so the other kids wouldn't see them.

That’s just a beautiful story.
JL: It’s the only car the family ever had. She finally lived to be 104. And I still see the kids, you know. They come around every now and then.



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Photography by: Jay Leno's Garage