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Jay Leno's Column: The Collector

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Jay Leno on changing times...

A friend of mine raced cars in the ’60s; owned two Lotus Elans and a number of other sports cars. He told his son, who was born late in my friend’s life, that when he turned 21 and graduated he would buy him any car he wanted.My friend told me this over and over again. ‘In three years I’m going to get him something cool,’ and so the countdown went on.

After not seeing him for a while I asked him if his son had graduated. ‘YUP!’ he said sharply. ‘Did you get him a car?’ ‘YUP!’ ‘Oh, what did you get?’

‘HE WANTED A PRIUS…’ My friend made it sound like his son had been seconded into an extreme cult and all hope was now lost. He tried to get him into a Corvette and all sorts of other things. But the son was not having it. ‘He wanted a Prius so he could listen to his iPod in the car… and girls like the Prius!’

I grew up with a dad who was mechanically minded.

He’d change the points or the distributor and I would help him. Even my mum knew if the car didn’t start to take the air cleaner off and stick the screwdriver down the big round thing. She didn’t know it was the choke but at least there was some mechanical-ness to it.

Now there’s a whole generation of kids who’ve grown up with dads who have no mechanical ability at all. They regard a car in the way they view a refrigerator. Their offspring have been the same until this whole alternative fuel thing came along. Now the kids are fascinated with the technology.

To this generation, ecology is the new hot-rodding. They look at miles per gallon the way we looked at horsepower or cubic inches. We have an awful lot of interns at my TV show. Whenever I have a hydrogen fuel cell car or some hyper-mileage electric or even my 1909 Baker Electric, these young people seem very excited about it. Anything that’s not petroleum-based, they think is the most exciting thing in the world.

It’s not just kids. At NBC, my parking space is right where you come into the building. Rarely does a female guest on the show comment on what I drive. Even on a day when there could be a Lamborghini Miura parked there! But every single time I have driven the GM hydrogen fuel cell car, every single female guest says, ‘Is that one of those hydrogen cars… does that not use gasoline?’ They want to know how it works. I contend, in this day and age, that if you have a fuel cell car and a cat sitting in the passenger seat, women will jump in the car! It’s the new Ferrari. You are rich and you are saving the environment, and that makes you Mr Right. When Leonardo DiCaprio comes on our show, he arrives in a Prius limo. There is a hybrid limo service in LA!

Like all generations, kids from this new hybrid and alternative fuel generation are not happy with leaving cars standard. All the talk now is about hypermiling (getting the car to go as far as possible) and battery packs with which you can go twice as far on a charge, and home charging stations.

So we’ve got kids hot-rodding electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles, but instead of going for horsepower they are going for 100 miles per gallon. The kind of nerdy, computer kids seem to be into it. There’s a magazine here called Green Car Journal, and in Santa Monica there is regularly an alternative fuel car gathering. It’s growing, fast.

I haven’t seen much in the way of aftermarket stuff for alternative fuel cars yet, but I think that is the next step.

The whole thing about the Prius is the way it looks. It’s unmistakable. Honda came out with a hybrid that was just as good as a Prius, but it looked like the standard car so no-one knew you were driving a hybrid. Honda got things right with the Insight, way before the Prius, but it was maybe a bit too premature. Now I see a lot of people scouring adverts for used Honda Insights, the original two-seater one. It wasn’t a big seller at the time but it gave 70mpg. People are hot-rodding them. It was a terrific car.

I loved rock and roll, but I never got rap. I know it’s still music, but not the kind of music I like. It’s the same with the alternative car scene. The good thing about guys and cars is they will find their own way to stamp their own mark on the car they like.

Right now it is cool to be green. It is not nerdy anymore.

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