I’m not a television watcher, so I’ve never seen Jay Leno on the Tonight Show or any other program. But I’ve read on the Web about his car collection and that makes him the coolest person in the world.
Mr. Leno is a couple of years older than I am, and better preserved (damn his eyes), but I’m willing to bet we shared one obsession as we grew up: CARS!
In my teens, I read every Motor Trend, Hot Rod, Road & Track, or other car-related magazine I could get my hands on. Sitting on the side of my bed in the bedroom I shared with my brother, I’d read and re-read all I could about what was coming out from Detroit or what the kustom karmakers were up to. I sent off for the J.C. Whitney catalogs and read and re-read ‘em.
My blue-fabric school binder had a Garlits sticker, an STP sticker, a Hooker Headers sticker, Moon eyeballs, Cherry Bomb, and Thrush muffler stickers on it. Of course, I had no car, but once I did, I used STP in it (for whatever it was supposed to do) and one afternoon installed a Cherry Bomb muffler. The cop who pulled me over on the first ride I took with that muffler explained that it wasn’t against the law for me to buy it or own it, but the town of Wonderful Naples on the Gulf wouldn’t allow me to use it on my Corvair!!!
Back in my youth, cars were amazing. And a bit of the coolness of your car rubbed off on its owner. It’s just the way things were. I remember riding the schoolbus in Port Arthur, Texas, past the Ford dealer and seeing Kraft paper covering all the windows so we couldn’t get a peek at the NEW FORD MUSTANG! God knows, we tried to sneak a peek! I remember walking out of a movie theater in Houma, Louisiana, after seeing A Hard Day’s Night with my gang and seeing my first Studebaker Avanti, gleaming metalflake gold, roll by like a chariot of the gods. Holy crap; what a car!
My favorite Christmas of my kid days was 1966, when we lived in Marathon, Florida. My favorite gift wasn’t the Man from U.N.C.L.E. plastic briefcase with that snazzy multi-part pistol/rifle, or the green bottle of Hai Karate aftershave. It was the stack of car magazines Santa brought! And what cars there were that year. I read and studied those magazines till they fell to pieces.
The two most astonishing cars, to my eye, were the new Camaro—utter elegance—and the Olds Toronado. That car was just an absolute mind-blower. Looking like an updated coffin-nosed Cord, this was perhaps the most unabashedly masculine car GM ever made. That hood went on forever, those wheelwells were aggressively bold, the rakish rear roofline just screamed speed and arrogance. And it had hide-away headlights and front-wheel drive! Oh, my. I swiped some of my dad’s onionskin typing paper and traced those Toronado magazine photos over and over; trying to discover what made it look so amazingly cool.
The next year, in spite of my pleading, my mom bought a ’67 Riviera GS. It was a beaut; battleship gray with redlined Kelly Springfield tires. The rolling speedometer went to 160. But I wanted us to have a Toronado! At least my dad didn’t get his way; he wanted us to buy an AMC Ambassador, of all things.
I knew a guy in his late ‘20s who owned a then-new ’65 Buick Skylark convertible. It was metallic gold or bronze, depending on whether it was in the sun or the shade. He washed and waxed that car every week, and it just gleamed. This fellow was handsome; ripped from working every day on a commercial fishing boat, and if a girl wanted to hang around him, she had to help with his weekly car ritual. That’s just the way it was. And this was no cursory wash and wax; he used that Blue Coral car wax in the tin and he even waxed the inside of the gas-cap door.
No shortcuts allowed on HIS car.
Did I think that guy was cool? You KNOW he was cool. His ride was cool, and that made him just that much cooler.
And when I saw a little segment on the Web that showed Jay Leno with his metalflaked-gold customized ’66 Toronado, I was stunned. The segment went on to show a large garage Mr. Leno has, filled with beautiful and well-cared-for cars, and I knew that, to my way of thinking, Mr. Jay Leno is the coolest guy in the world. He earned his money and spent it wisely and all the coolness of all those cars transfers coolness to him. That’s just the way it is.