What finally inspired him to get a Vette? "Chevy asked me to drive the Pace Car, a Monte Carlo, at Indianapolis. I got to drive a lot of their cars, and tour the Corvette factory. I was real impressed by all the engineers. I said to myself, 'I gotta get one.' A lot of my friends have had 'em, I've borrowed a few. When I was working in the car business I always wanted one, never could afford one. This is my very first, brand-new Corvette."
Working in the car biz? "When I was a kid in Andover (Massachusetts), I worked at a Ford dealership and was in charge of odometer recalibrations." What is that? "Exactly what it sounds like." What do think of the Corvette? "I'm real impressed with the build quality. I've driven a lot of European stuff; actually the build quality of this is better. It's like the Harley Davidson story, if you make it as good or better, Americans will buy it-they wanna buy American. A few years ago, everyone bought Japanese bikes, nobody bought Harleys; now the Harleys are built great, they have plenty of power. The Corvette has the name, the reputation, nowadays it's just a terrific car, a very impressive car. The old days of the cowl shake and that kind of stuff are gone. And I do my show in America, they build the car in America, it works out real good."
Most of the cars here in your two building are pre-WWII. What about older Corvettes? Are there any specific ones you like best? "Actually, to me, anything post-war is new. I like the '62s, I like the '57 Fuelie, and I like the '65s. The '57 is an all-time favorite of mine. I remember when I was in high school a buddy of mine bought a '56 for 600 bucks and we thought, "Man, it's a little bit high isn't it? Whew, he got screwed, didn't he?'"
How often do you drive the Corvette? "Once or twice a week. With 68 cars, I've gotta exercise all of 'em. I have fun with the stuff and have a good time.
Our meeting with new Corvette owner Jay Leno was entertaining and enlightening. He's down to earth (and earthy, at times), casual, and a hardcore car guy. We found that he writes a column for Popular Mechanics and donates his contributor's fee to help fund an automotive restoration scholarship at McPherson College in Kansas, not because it's a write-off, but because he wants in some small way to change the attitudes some people have about anyone who works with his or her hands and to encourage "kids" to learn some of the skills and craftsmanship that are dying arts. This is something he's passionate about. Out of the thousands of letters that are sent in weekly to The Tonight Show, he has all of the car-related ones separated, and tries, one way or another, to respond to each and every one.
Like we said, Jay's a car guy. He met us wearing jeans and an oil-stained shirt (he'd been tearing down the straight-eight engine in his mid-'30s Bentley), and changed clothes strictly for the photo session. He may be one of the most famous and most recognizable Corvette owners in the world, but first and foremost, Jay Leno is one of us.