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Jay Leno's Column: The Collector

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Jay Leno on old vs new...

The Ford GT, which was made up until 2006, can’t be made anymore because new regulations forbid it. Here’s a car that was designed just a few years ago and the Government has already deemed it too dangerous to drive on the public roads ’cause the headlights are half-a-millimetre too low, or something like that. The fact that it’s a superb driving and handling machine doesn’t seem to count for anything.

When I was a young man, a kid, there were hundreds of beautiful cars. Nowadays, it’s hard to find any cars you’d call beautiful ’cause they all have a sameness to the shape, they all have to have a certain aerodynamic look, they all have to conform to certain height regulations and crash standards. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing – unless of course you’re an enthusiast.

Rarely do modern cars grab me the way a DB5 Aston Martin, Miura, Ferrari GTO or AC Cobra did. That statement is made even worse because there are probably more supercars available now than there have ever been. Now you’ve got the Porsche GT3, any number of Ferraris, not to mention Maserati, Lamborghini, McLaren. The list goes on. Yet few really get my blood pumping design-wise.

Nowadays cars, and even supercars, take on the persona of a washing machine: you either love it ’cause it works all the time or you hate it because it broke. There’s very little maintenance the owner can do, so there is little chance to bond, to get involved, with the car. And if it breaks, even one little thing, the press assumes it’s a lemon.

Take the Ford GT. I got the very first customer GT. I’d had the car a couple of months when I got a call from Ford that said ‘We’re having some problem’ – I think it was with the uprights or something – ‘could we come pick it up and repair it?’ I said ‘Sure’.

A week later I get a call from the LA Times. The reporter says to me, ‘So whaddaya think about buying a lemon?’ I said ‘What are you talking about?’ He says ‘I understand they’re having some problems, they recalled them and now they’re a lemon, you wanna get rid of it?’ I said ‘No. I didn’t have any problem with it; Ford had said “Oh, we found this and want to come check it before you do have a problem, and fix it.” How does that make it a lemon? And this guy just wouldn’t hear about it. He wrote this whole story about how people like me had bought this faulty car – and yet no-one had had a problem yet! I actually wrote a letter to Ford thanking them for being so conscientious, rather than waiting until I did have a problem.

No wonder car makers think ten times before making anything too edgy, too complicated. It’s the critics who just nit-pick with the likes of the Ford GT who scare the car makers from creating something sexy. If something good comes out, give it a chance.

It’s not all gloom and doom. Maserati’s GT is a wonderful-looking car and, even if the big car makers are wary about being too revolutionary, the smaller makers still have a sense of bravery. I think cars like the Ariel Atom are brilliant: they’ve just cut back to the handling and the driving experience. It’s really hard to get unique driving experiences anymore. To me the Ariel Atom is like the ultimate supercar. It can do just about anything a Ferrari or an F1 could do at a fraction of the price, with the added bonus of getting all the visceral effects of the wind and acceleration and that type of thing.

It was fun reading car magazines back in the ’60s because there were real lemons being made then. I remember a driver did a road test, I think it was of an Opel Kadett, and they filmed it in front of a junkyard ’cause it was such a horrible car. Nowadays any car that’s less than an A-minus when it leaves the factory – omigod, you’re out of business, you’re screwed. Nobody can afford to take any kind of chance anymore, so consequently everything goes to focus groups and committees and all this other stuff, up to the point where everything looks like a Camry!

I can’t remember the last time I walked down the street and was stunned to look at a modern car. The Alfa 8C comes closest, I guess. Everyone else, please, come out with cars that make me drool again. Remember the Countach? It looked like it had the aerodynamics of a brick. But who cares. It was sexy!

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