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Jay Leno: The Collector

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Work on your own car: you'll love it more.

My McLaren F1 went back to the McLaren service centre near LA recently. I find it depressing that I can’t do the service in my own shop, in my own garage. I love my McLaren F1, it’s a wonderful car to drive. But when I want to learn more about it, I can’t because there’s no workshop manual. It just goes off to the McLaren centre anytime anything needs doing. They do an excellent job but I just don’t feel that I’m involved with the car as much as I should be. It hasn’t tarnished my passion for the McLaren but it hasn’t caused it to grow any more.

I find myself saying ‘Why do I enjoy taking an older car, like a Lotus Elan or my XK120, more than I enjoy driving some of the modern exotics that I have?’ It’s because I’ve actually been involved with their inner workings. It’s like making love with your clothes on:everything gets done the same way, but you just seem to be missing out on a piece of the action. Right now I’m building a Lotus Elan. It’s a 26R replica. We had an aluminium block made and instead of 1600cc it’s a 2.0-litre, puts out about 225 horsepower. Even though this car is a fraction of the cost of some exotics, I find it much more exciting because I’m so intimately involved with it.

I have a Porsche Carrera GT and, for whatever reason, the battery went dead and I literally had to take the fender off to get to the battery. I’m one of those people that, once a car leaves the dealership it never goes back there. It took all day to pull the fender off and put the new battery in, then reassemble the whole thing, and I drove the hell out of the car after that. I drove for two or three days straight because I felt really involved. It made me want to use the car more.

I wonder if today’s enthusiasts will be able to bond with automobiles the way people of my generation could. People who work on cars, and understand how they work, probably have fewer accidents than people who don’t. They get to really understand how the car drives and how it feels and how everything works.

There’s a website called Wrecked Exotics. It’s about people who have crashed exotic cars, most within a few weeks of owning them. It’s always a brand new GTR, a brand new Corvette, lots of Lamborghinis, lots of Porsches. It’s rarely a classic that someone has waxed, polished, changed the oil and filters. They’re vehicles that people have bought for every reason other than driving.

I’m always amazed at people who want to own exotic cars and couldn’t care less what’s under the hood. I just don’t understand what their passion is, what their reason is for wanting them.  I spoke to someone I know in showbusiness, who had wrecked a brand new Porsche and they were going to get another one. I know that’s what people normally do, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of remorse. To me, wrecking a car is like breaking up with a girlfriend – I put a lot of work into trying to make a car work properly, as opposed to buying one, wrecking it and buying another one. I just wonder if this next generation of enthusiasts feels that way… or if they feel that cars are throwaway.

One reason I don’t have a Ferrari is that no private person can work on one themself. Just the Ferrari tools and the diagnostics that plug in, I was told, cost something like ,000. Ferrari doesn’t want people fooling with its cars, and I suppose for good reason, but that just puts me off. I want to be involved and I want to know how they work.

There’s a famous case here in America involving a Ferrari.  A guy had an Enzo with something like 960 miles on it and took it to a reputable Ferrari showroom to have the service done. As part of the service, the guy did a 50-mile road test. By that I mean a real road test, not the lot boy taking it out for a spin. So he returned it to the guy with over 1000 miles on it. The guy is now suing the dealer because its value has gone down as it now has more than 1000 miles on it. It’s the most ridiculous lawsuit I’ve ever heard of.

I have the McLaren because I love it, even if McLaren insists on servicing it. I certainly see McLaren’s point of view as to why. You have a vehicle that’s capable of nearly 250mph and should be maintained to a certain standard and it should also use McLaren parts. I understand that. I’m just the type of person that loves to work on a car for two hours, then drive it for ten minutes to see if it’s OK.


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