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Jay Leno's Column: The Collector

  • Jay Leno June 2010 - 0
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Jay Leno on the Porsche Carrera

The nice thing about having a talk show is that people know you like cars. A guy called me up and said, ‘My dad has a car you might like. It’s a Porsche. I’ll send you pictures of it.’
 
For whatever reason I was never much into the early 356. I liked them well enough but they always had the 75 and the 90 horsepower engines, and they just didn’t excite me in the way some of the other cars of the period did. Anyway, this guy sends me pictures of the car and I see the Carrera 2 script across the back and I realise this is a very rare four-cam model.

This is one of the great engines of all time. It’s the two-litre, the biggest version, and the most desirable for me, because it’s got the plain-bearing rather than the roller-bearing crank.
 
The roller-bearing crank engines were fantastic but I remember the cranks were 10,000 dollars a piece back in the day, so I have no idea how much they’d be now. And of course those hundreds of little needle bearings take forever to set up and they don’t last that long, and you can’t drive the roller-bearing crank cars in the streets; they just don’t last.
 
So I go out to look at this car, and I say, ‘What’s the story?’
 
‘Well my father bought it in ’77 and just put it in storage.’
 
I thought, that sounds a little leery. I know there are only a few four-cam guys around. So I get out my directory of automotive people and I see who’s the nearest specialist.

I call this guy, and I go, ‘I want to ask you about the four-cam…’ He says: ‘Oh, wonderful cars, I had one of them.’
 
And I say, ‘Maybe you know this car…’ And I give him the licence number and the VIN number, and he goes, ‘Yeah, that was my car. I restored it and sold it to a guy back in ’77.’

That guy turns out to be the guy that’s selling it! I asked what he remembered about the car and he said he restored it to concours condition and sold it to this guy and never saw it again.
 
I said, ‘You wanna come with me and look at it?’ We go out to look at the car and it’s exactly as he sold it. The guy bought the car, put it in storage and never drove it. But he stored it properly. Once a month somebody came in and detailed it. So I bought it. And we brought it back to my shop and we changed brake hoses and fuel lines and a few other things, but other than that the car is fantastic.

The guy who had this car for 33 years was a guy who owned a lot of cars, who had houses all over the place. And it just never moved. It was on a lift behind a bunch of other cars. You know how these things are. The car sits, the battery goes dead. And not being in a shop, and not having a mechanic, it just sat.
 
Now I have had it a few weeks it’s amazing to me how much more I enjoy driving this 356 Carrera than the Carrera GT. The GT is a wonderful car but it’s so big, so wide and so low to the ground that you can’t use it as a normal car. I look at the supercars of the 1950s and the ’60s, and they had normal ground clearance. They weren’t enormous. You could put them into a reasonably sized parking space.

When I go out in the Carrera GT, I leave my garage, go fast in a big circle for maybe a hundred miles and I come back to where I started. I don’t dare leave it anywhere because it’s so valuable, and and you have to be careful when you pull into a petrol station; if there’s any sort of bump you can rip off the front.
But with the Carrera 2, I can see all four corners; it’s not much longer, really, than I am. It’s really not that much bigger than a Volkswagen in terms of wheelbase. With 150bhp on tap, it’s amazing, it’s light, it handles. And it’s fun.

When you put your foot down in a Carrera GT you either look at the tach or the road. If you look at both you’re off the rev limiter. Everything happens so quickly.

There are a couple of long uphill straights near me and when I put my foot down in the Carrera 2 I enjoy looking at the road, looking back at the tach, see it go past four thousand revs, look back at the road, see it go past five, look back at the road, see it go past six, and just as it touches seven I hit the gearlever and I move on to the next gear. There’s a great sense of satisfaction that everything’s happening at a speed where I can take it all in. Maybe that makes me sound like an old duffer but I have to admit there’s a real enjoyment in driving a vehicle that’s got no mechanical aids to it. It’s a pure driving experience.

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