Jay Leno On Undercover Cops Mia Farrow And Why He Hates DeLorean Forbes

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Jay Leno On Undercover Cops, Mia Farrow And Why He Hates DeLorean

see photos Antoine Verglas

This story appears in the April issue of ForbesLife magazine, dated April 9, as a feature entitled “Temple of Zoom.”

Here’s what you can’t see on TV: Jay Leno’s aqua eyes are so densely pigmented they look like postcard shots of the tidal pools on Capri.

He uses them discriminately, giving you an open gaze at first handshake but choosing thereafter to make eye contact only on the most important of points. He’s seen you, taken stock, and filed it away. It’s cordial but efficient—a well-honed survival skill, considering the controlled chaos that orbits the 61-year-old talk show host.

This particular Saturday we’re in Burbank, California, but it feels more like Leno’s personal Never-Never Land: Five warehouses strung together display 200 of the most sought-after cars in the world, a collection easily worth $20 million. An NBC film crew is here to record multiple episodes of Jay Leno’s Garage, his online car show, while two handlers keep watch over the million-dollar Voisin C-25 Aerodyne currently on camera.

A handful of mechanics mill around while jockeys and wives from a sidecar-motorcycle racing team await their turn to meet Leno. Several men in ball caps and jeans, seemingly unattached, nudge each other, mouths agape, in front of a Shelby GT. Today’s throng includes an additional video crew and ForbesLife reporter, the last in a long line of Lost Boys awaiting an audience with their leader.

Is it always like this?

“Yeah, it’s kind of a band of ne’er-do-wells,” Leno says with a grin, half-apologizing. He’s wearing his trademark denim-on-denim combo, shirtsleeves pushed up past a ’90s-era Seiko, his silver hair wildly askew. Shoes: matte black sneakers bought in bulk at Payless. The man is taller and thinner than he looks on camera and considerably toned down in exuberance.

He’s serious and direct. The trademark chin doesn’t dominate quite as much as the cartoonists would have you believe.

He drives like he talks: quickly, deliberately, precisely. Both hands on the wheel. Eyes straight ahead. But also with a puckish sense of delight.

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An afternoon jaunt in a 1906 Stanley Steamer race car saw him blowing the horn dozens of times, and bragging about how fast the car will go. (“She’ll do 100, easy.”) Please note: The massive machine affords neither doors nor windshield. And don’t even think about fishing around for a seat belt.

Cruising later on his olive 1927 Harley-Davidson motorcycle, Leno gleefully stands on the pedals, leaning over to bounce the sidecar—and the reporter inside—up and down. It’s a military-bike maneuver–cum–carnival ride.

Back at the garage, Leno’s priorities are just as straightforward: Film first. But he halts production midway through to … the steaming boxes of pizza stacked on the counter. He shouts to everyone within earshot to help themselves; the pack lolls around a tabletop crammed with soda bottles and plastic utensils. Conversation covers the intricacies of engine variants; Leno balances on a stool, eating plain-cheese-only, paper napkin in hand.

Bernard Juchli, head mechanic, stands arms crossed on the group’s edge, chatting casually with a couple of greasy-handed mechanics he coaxed from the back corners of the shop.

Long alleys polished to a sheen divide rows of immaculate Corvettes, Delahayes, and a Lancia, plus dozens of vintage motorbikes. Grand-scale car murals and automotive ephemera line the walls. It’s more museum than garage, until you go next door to the shop, where Leno keeps the rare stuff—steam cars, vintage fire engines—next to a full repair center.

The kitchen is here, too, where a German who manages to be both genial and dour serves espresso. A golden trophy sits perched on the cupboard. (“Ask him about the Emmy,” one assistant suggests. “He’s really proud of it.”)

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MIA ELECTRIC Mia Electric Cars
MIA ELECTRIC Mia Electric Cars
MIA ELECTRIC Mia Electric Cars
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