Entertainment and sports superstars have long been known for owning fast and flashy cars. In the days of Clark Gable and Gary Cooper, Duesenbergs were the cars of the stars. Generations pass, manufacturers and models of cars come and go, and tastes change. Some contemporary celebrities are hardcore car guys: comedian Tim Allen builds street rods and co-owns a race team. Retired home run king Reggie Jackson has amassed an impressive collection of mostly Chevrolet musclecars. Then there's Tonight Show host Jay Leno, probably the most fanatical car guy of the bunch.
There are several factors that set Jay and his collection of toys apart. His taste is, to put it mildly, eclectic, with roughly 60 vintage motorcycles and 60 cars, including a half-dozen Duesenbergs, several Bugattis, a bevy of antique steam-powered automobiles, a few '50s- and '60s-era muscle machines, a real 427 Cobra, three Lamborghinis, and more. Unlike most celebrities, Leno takes great delight in working on his cars alongside any of his four full-time employees at his LA area shop, doing anything from pulling and rebuilding a '30s-vintage Bentley straight-eight to overhauling a Stanley Steamer. And he believes that cars, no matter how old, rare, or valuable, are meant to be driven-regularly-and drive 'em he does.
Thus it comes as something of a shock that an admitted lifelong nut for any sort of motorized vehicle has never-until recently-owned a single example of America's Sports Car. Not long ago, however, Jay made up for the omission when he acquired a Navy Blue Metallic '99 Corvette coupe with a Light Gray interior and six-speed transmission. And not much time passed before Leno got the itch to add a little extra spice to his coupe. Nothing drastic, mind you, but some subtle touches to "Leno-ize" his blue beauty, the sorts of things many other C5 owners do. A drawback of being a well-known celebrity is the lack of privacy, and for someone with as recognizable a mug as Jay's, it meant he needed to deal with a company that's accustomed to working with and respecting the confidentiality of famous persons. This need led him to make arrangements with Corvette Mike's California store for the tweaks to be performed. And with Jay's blessing, Corvette Mike invited VETTE Magazine to be involved from start to finish-and then some.
Leno didn't have any desire to go over-the-top on his C5. Like we said, the changes are designed to enhance what's already a great car. Corvette Mike Parts Department Manager Mike Patterson coordinated the project, and the work was performed by technicians Carl Pugh and Robert Henke. All of the bits and pieces were normal components that Corvette Mike offers for all C5s. These include chrome-plated C5 wheels, a B&B Tri-Flow stainless steel cat-back exhaust system, a RM Racing Twin Flow air intake, a Hypertech Power Programmer, Lloyd Mats C5-logo floor and cargo area carpet mats, and American Big Bike chromed billet doorsill plates, rear license plate frame, and C5-logo exhaust plate.
The Tonight Show host keeps his collection of cars, bikes, and a couple of wildly unique antique trucks (like a two-cylinder, 1916 Autocar open-cab/open-bed coal-hauler) in a pair of adjoining industrial buildings near a large airport, just a few miles from the NBC studios where his show is taped. We got to spend some time talking cars with Jay when his C5 was returned, definitely an entertaining way to spend part of a Saturday. It was like a one-hour, impromptu monologue and, fortunately, we had a tape recorder going so we could retrieve some of what he had to say about his new Corvette, and cars in general: