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Jay Leno: The Collector

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The death of the manual transmission and the future of performance automobiles.

I went on a sort of supercar buying spree in 2005 and bought the Porsche Carrera GT, the SLR and the Ford GT, but eight years on, the current crop of supercars is light years ahead of those in terms of performance and handling. I can remember when we were all told back in 1992 to buy the 400bhp Viper. ‘Buy it now because you’re never going to see an engine with that kind of power again with all the incoming emissions regulations!’ How wrong they were.

I’m one of those people who believes that engineers will save the world, and I think the next generation of cars will be almost maintenance-free. We’re getting there already, actually. All I’ve done with my McLaren 12C, for example, is change the oil, whereas if you go back to the ’70s or the ’80s… I’ve got a Countach and I know how much is involved in tuning that.

My guess is that the next major breakthrough will be pulling electricity out of the air – the same way you pull an FM signal to your radio. Tesla’s idea of driving down the road with some kind of antenna pulling electricity from around you – from the air or from magnetic stations – will eventually make the electric car totally buyable. One day we’ll laugh at big car plug-ins the way we now laugh at 1980s mobile phones the size of a shoe box.

I think we’ll see a complete absence of in-car audio soon, too. You’ll just have an incredible set of speakers into which you plug your iPhone or MP3 player – that will be your sound system. In my McLaren I just plug in my iPhone and it sounds better than the signal I get from the FM or satellite radio.

We’re also going to end up with boutique and increasingly specialized manufacturers supplying parts to the big carmakers, I think. New manufacturers in particular aren’t going to be making many components in-house. Just look at Pagani: he goes to AMG, he goes to Brembo, and then he designs the body. If you’re starting your own car company, you’re not going to build a better engine than AMG.

One development I think is flawed, though, is the driverless car. I don’t quite get that. If I’m in the back seat of my car with a bottle of scotch and I have an accident, am I responsible? I don’t want my car to drive me, anyway; I enjoy driving myself.

Technological advancements are great but there is a price to pay. One casualty of the last decade is the manual gearbox. The main reason I bought my Porsche Carrera GT was that Porsche was the only company still innovating with the manual gearbox.That little Kevlar clutch that they have, I thought that was amazing, but everybody has given up on the manual gearbox now. The double-clutch gearboxes are faster, and nobody knows how to drive a manual any more, anyhow.

I find that all the fun happens between 40mph and 120mph, max. Even with all these supercars, most of the fun is to be had in that 70-80mph range. This is why I don’t really understand the need for a 250mph Bugatti. Nobody’s doing that! And all we need is one idiot to have a 250mph accident and they ruin it for everybody.

Let’s finish with a car of the decade. In the last ten years, in terms of what I’ve spent money on I’d say the Carrera GT, McLaren SLR, Ford GT and the McLaren MP4-12C stand out.

But the car of decade would have to be the McLaren. That’s the car that has really impressed me from a ride standpoint and a usability standpoint. I use it almost every day and it seems to accomplish all the things I want to do with a normal car, yet at the touch of a button it offers a track ride as good as that of the F1.
With a lot of these supercars, you put them into ‘Sport’ mode and a little light goes on… but that’s it. In the McLaren you feel a dramatic difference.

Other ‘new’ manufacturers have come and gone in recent years, most of them producing too few cars to remain viable, and as you watch the likes of Fisker go down the drain, McLaren’s success becomes all the more striking. If they keep developing cars like the 12C, that success will no doubt continue, and we’ll all have much to look forward to in the next ten years of motoring.


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