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“We’ve got Joe Biden drag-racing General Collin Powell in a Corvette — it’s not every day you get the vice president to burn rubber,” Jay Leno said at the premiere for the second season of Jay Leno’s Garage, his weekly CNBC series. “Secret service? Not happy.”
Leno arrived at the Universal Studios’ backlot in a suitably obscure Morgan three-wheeler from his vast collection of cars, motorcycles and even a working 1942 American LaFrance firetruck that he stores in a 125,000-square-foot Burbank warehouse.
According to CNBC, the first season of Leno’s hourlong car-centric show, which started as an Emmy-winning web series and was added to the primetime lineup last year, was the most-watched first season show in the network’s history, averaging 598,000 total viewers on Wednesdays. The second season premieres tonight in the same time slot.
Biden and Powell aside, Leno said the show aspires to appeal to a wide demographic.
“We try to have a good cross section, so it’s not all white-haired guys talking about cars,” Leno said. “Brad Paisley, low riders, people from the entertainment world who just happen to be car people.”
Despite Leno’s devotion to hot cars and speed — he once spun out on an Alabama race track at 190 mph while driving the same model of Porsche that Paul Walker was killed in and counts among his favorite car movies John Frankenheimer’s racing classic Grand Prix and the car-chase thriller Bullitt — he insists he has no speeding tickets. “I have a completely clean record. You can’t do all those police benefits.”
Asked how he chooses his vehicles, Leno said, “A lot of times you don’t buy the car, you buy the story.” Leno bought a 1951 Hudson from a 94-year-old woman and offered to take her for a spin after he had restored the car. “She said, ‘let me call the kids’ — well, the “kids” were 70 and 71. They drove us from New Jersey to California and she’s having the time of her life. And that’s why I love that car, because it has such a great story.”
For such a devoted driver — Leno can be spotted weekends on the winding roads above Malibu putting one of his 300-odd vehicles through its paces — he takes a surprisingly sanguine view of self-driving cars, which will become increasingly unavoidable in the next decade as the underlying technology is perfected.
“People say they’re against it: wait till you drop an ice cream cone and look down and there’s a kid on a bicycle and the car stops, then you’re going to thank your lucky stars,” Leno told The Hollywood Reporter. “When anti-lock brakes came out, traction control, stability control — those are all another facet of self-driving cars. There’s always somebody who wants to stop progress. Mark Twain said, ‘Progress I like. It’s change I don’t want.'”
A new technology that Leno definitely supports is the Corvette’s “valet mode,” which locks down the glove box and covertly monitors the car’s speed and other functions.
“You get to the valet, you put in a code and it records everything the valet does,” marveled Leno, who’s surrendered the keys to some of planet’s fastest cars to strangers across Southern California. “It’s the greatest feature of all time.”
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