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Living Like Leno: Some of Jay’s Cars that Regular Folks Can Afford, Too

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As certifiable Car Geeks, the majority of us would LOVE to have a collection of cars like the arguable King of Collectors: Jay Leno.  Reports vary on the number of cars that Jay owns, although recent articles suggest the total is somewhere around 180. Suffice it to say – it’s a lot. THIS is as good a list as I’ve been able to find, and it paints the picture even if it’s not terribly easy to navigate. I had the pleasure of talking cars with Jay a number of years ago – circa 2006 if I recall correctly – and was chuffed to find that he was as enthusiastic shooting the shit with me about cars over the phone with me as he appears to be in his articles and videos. He regaled me with stories about ferrying Mercedes 6.3s from the port in New Jersey to the dealership in Boston where he worked (bee-line up I-95, for those in the know) and described himself as a card-carrying member of the “more money than brains club” in reference to the sizeable fleet he’d already amassed at that time. That fleet has only grown since.

I’ve pontificated before about my quest to own one of every car that I find even remotely interesting, but for normal ordinary folks like us, a $50 million, +/- 180 car collection probably isn’t in the cards. I mean, sure, it’s partly due to the money, but it’s at least as much a function of available space. At full capacity and without leasing more space (that’s a hard “NO” from the committee) I could house maybe 10 cars: 2 in the garage, 4 in the driveway, 3 on the street, and one in the spare bay at my mother’s house. I’m not 100% sure how my neighbors OR my mother would feel about that, but it’s what it is. The thing is, three of those spaces are currently occupied by our live-at-home daily drivers, one by my current “toy” – the 1972 Mercedes-Benz 280SEL 4.5 – and one is at least occasionally occupied by college-daughter’s old Volvo 240. Subtract one garage space due to our current initiative to weed through old *stuff*, two driveway spots in the interest of not spending all my available free time shuffling cars around, and one street spot so I’m not quite as obnoxious as a neighbor, and that leaves space for one additional car at most. That’s just a tad less than Jay has space for.

So what is a Totally (That) Stupid Car Geek to do? I’d argue that TTSers who want to to live like Leno one should look at what they can afford and then buy in sequence.  I’ve actually owned as many as 7 running cars at any given time (and with less space), but since I lack Jay’s budget, massive facility, and  team of qualified technicians to care for my fleet, I have found that I don’t really enjoy having too many cars at one time. First, I don’t drive them enough, which is only made worse by the current COVID situation. But second, even in the best of times it’s sometimes just easier to get in the car that either A) doesn’t have to be moved to get out, or B) has the best AC/heat/low-drama-turnkey factor/etc. and go.

I love owning interesting cars – ideally cars I can have some fun with while they appreciate in value – but I don’t want them to own me. I’m also not super interested in selling kidneys or other organs to purchase cars beyond my means – and  LOT of Jay’s cars are well beyond my means. Most of them, in fact. Still, perusing the list of Jay’s cars and watching the videos on his YouTube channel, it turns out that there are actually a handful of Jay’s cars that folks like us CAN potentially own and enjoy: cars that cost the same or less than the average new car. These are the ones I found the most appealing and the most readily available. In no particular order.

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1. 1993 Dodge Viper

Of course Jay has a Viper. In fact, he has the first black one they made. Our sample car is the same red as the original show car and seeming 3/4 of the run of 1st generation Vipers. This one wears just 19,000 miles and appears to be in practically new condition, and comes with a price tag of $39,000 or best offer. 400hp, 462 lb-ft of torque, and 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds in a car that for all intents and purposes is the modern day Cobra for the price of a mid-range Kia? Sign me up. These will appreciate, it’s just a matter of time.

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2. 1953 MG TD

I can think of a car more opposite in form and purpose than the MG TD versus the Dodge Viper. Well, that’s not entirely true: both of them are about the joy of driving, if at opposite ends of the spectrum. I’ve never owned a British car, despite having driven several and admiring still more of them. I’ve also contemplated getting a pre-war car for years – even if just a pre-war design like this car. The 1953 TD’s 1250CC inline-4 delivered a whopping 54hp and 64 lb-ft of torque, which despite feeling pretty quick given the lack of car surrounding you and the low-to-the-ground design, meant 0-60 too a tad over 20 seconds and top speed was about 80mph. Regardless, speed is not what these cars were about. For this example’s $20K “buy it now” price you get classic style, simple engineering and tonnes (!) of fun – and a pretty hard to beat old school cool factor.

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3. 1965 Lincoln Continental

Leno has  a lot of sedans in his fleet, and that doesn’t upset me even a little, because here at TTS we do love a 4-door. The 60s Continental is arguably one of the coolest ever, thanks to its suicide doors and being available in a convertible. I’ve always been a fan of the stock “low rider” look of these cars, and would not kick one out of my garage (at least not right away!). The ’65 Continental had a 7 liter V8 pushing-out 320 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque. That power meant that even at nearly 3 tons this car could spring from 0-60mph in less than 10 seconds and continue to a terminal velocity near 120mph. Not too shabby. I see this as an ideal convertible for a family of 6+ to enjoy. This example’s $40K price tag seems to be middle of the range, but in dollars per pound it’s an absolute steal!

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4. 1965 Volvo 122S

Staying put in 1965 for a bit, Jay also has a Volvo 122S wagon in his collection. Now the last video I saw of Jay’s showed a car in dire need of repair, unlike our sample car which is a little on the pricey side for a 122S at $20.5K, but is configured just about exactly as I’d want it: I like the colors, the interior, the engine upgrades, and even the big steel wheels. Now I’ll wager that Jay’s car has been substantially improved since 2015, but it would be hard not to be proud of this Swede. Besides: you can haul stuff in it. To be honest, with 86hp from 1.8 liters (maybe a little more as configured) you probably won’t be hauling a lot of ass, but things – yes. This car can haul lots of things. 

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5. 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1

So let’s fast forward from 1965 to the relatively recent past and the newest car on this list. It’s also the most expensive, with this 39K mile example coming in at just a little under $60 large. So yes, this car will cost you more than a Camry – but you’ll get more than a Camry, too. Assuming the power of the Viper just isn’t enough, the ZR-1 is here to put you at ease. With its supercharged 6.2 liter V8 engine, this car punches-out 638hp and 604 lb-ft of torque, thus shaving a full 1.1 seconds off the Viper’s 0-60 time a just 3.4 seconds and delivering a 205mph top speed. I don’t care what anyone says: that’s plenty fast for me. This car was a world-beater when new in all manner of performance and handling, but with a good old front-engine, rear-wheel drive configuration. They literally don’t make ’em like this any more.

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6. 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8

But say you want a new-ish car with gobs of power, but you don’t want to pay 60 grand and you need room for the kids..? Here’s your ticket from Jay’s collection. This practically brand new first year SRT8 will set you back just about half what the ZR-1 will at just $32,000. Sure, 0-60 will take a little longer (4.9 seconds) from a 6.1 with no supercharger delivering 425hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, but it’s still plenty capable of getting out of it’s own way. These Challengers, although nearly identical to the new one you can go buy at the Dodge dealer today, were a bit simpler and less refined than the new ones, yet based on Mercedes E-class engineering. The Challenger is a big car, but is also just about as close as you can get to a new Detroit muscle car that doesn’t pretend to be anything else. From the “no replacement for displacement” files, and among the best point and squirt cars on the road today. But with modern car parts, engineering, and reliability.

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7. 1972 Triumph TR6

I love that Jay has a TR6, as I’ve wanted one for a long time. I have always been an Italian sports car guy, but even the Italians owe much of the success of their affordable open sports cars to the Brits – and to cars like this. The TR6 is the final evolution of a series of Triumphs going back to the 1961 TR4 – at least in terms of exterior styling which was only mildly updated. The real upgrade was the 2.5 liter inline-6 motor which could propel the little roadster from 0-60 in about 9 seconds and on to a top speed of 125mph. And they make a great sound doing it. TR6s are in many ways the best of the affordable British sports cars of the era – new enough to be able to drive hard without fearing its fragility, but classic in its look, feel, and sound.  Prices are on the rise, and $17,500 for this example that appears to be well-sorted and in good condition looks more and more like a bargain every time I click the link.

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8. 1991 Bentley Turbo R

Yum: more big sedan love. I had a good friend who had a Turbo R, and I got to drive it. Considering that these cars about about a third bigger than most any other sedan on the road, they just have presence. When you add the turbocharger to the already huge 6.75 liter V8 engine, they are downright quick. They produced a reasonable 308hp but also a pretty huge 487 lb-ft of torque. 0-60 came in just 6.6 seconds. I once raced against a Turbo R at the Goodwood circuit in England – I thought it was a joke at first but he wasn’t joking. These are great highway cruisers, and it’s easy to find nice ones less than $20K. This “patinated” example with just 57K miles is available for just $12,500. I will own one of these some day. They literally reek of luxury with their smells of Connolly leather, Wilton wool, and just a little oil. 

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9. 1991 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Even for Jay Leno, the answer is – if not always – sometimes Miata. I maintain that every car enthusiast should enjoy a Miata – 1st generation of course – at some point. They’re not super powerful, they’re not super luxurious, but they do what they were designed to do perfectly: to be small, light, fun sports cars that you can drive at 10/10ths through the rolling back roads all day long without the worries of the problematic electrics and mechanics of the sports cars of yore. I’ve had several, and even still own one that is waiting for an engine replacement. I prefer a 1994 or later 1.8 not so much for the slightly larger engine but rather the additional body bracing. Jay’s is a 1996, but our sample car is a very clean 1991 1.6 liter with 61K miles for sale for just $6,900. Frankly I can’t believe it’s not gone yet, but it may be by the time I publish this. I’ve always appreciated that Jay appreciates cars all across the spectrum and yes, his Miata is, like, perfect, you can have the same basic car for all kinds of cheap.

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10. 2002 Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG

I saved the Mercedes E55 AMG for last on purpose, because apart from a non-functioning Miata it’s the only car and I believe the first that I actually have in common with Jay, as I currently daily drive a 2001 E55 that looks almost identical to featured example. This clean example has 123K miles and is on the market for $10,500 – incidentally the exact amount I paid for my 105K example earlier this year. Let me tell you: it’s worth every penny.  The 5.4 liter V8 produces 350hp and 391 lb-ft of torque, and can hit 0-60 in the same 4.9 seconds as the Challenger SRT8 – which interestingly copped some underbits from this generation E-class Mercedes. I’ve mentioned before that I am a Mercedes guy, but beyond that the 1999-2002 E55 is one of the best performance bargains out there today. While Jay doesn’t really need the bargain dollar-wise, he does recognize value – which this car offers in spades. The question is how long I will keep it, and what I should replace it with…?

Maybe I need to add just one more car to the collection… Surely just one more wouldn’t hurt. It’s an investment, right? So many cars, so little time (and money, and space..)!!  

Which of Jay’s more affordable cars – on or off this list – can you see parking in YOUR Leno’s Garage? 


6 thoughts on “Living Like Leno: Some of Jay’s Cars that Regular Folks Can Afford, Too Leave a comment

  1. What I’d really like to have is one of Jay’s Series E Dobles. Or a Duesenberg. Or both. LOL
    Jim Rosenthal

  2. Would a 1965 Lincoln fit in your garage? I think it would stick out a bit of our soon (I hope) to be replaced one car unit. And as someone with 8 cars currently, 7 of which run, and 3 that are summer only, I am in the mindset that it is time to thin the herd. Fortunately all 8 cars are rarely in the same location at the same time because visually it is a bit overwhelming.

    • One of the strange things about my 1960s Levitt tract home is that one of the two garage bays is about 5 feet longer than the other. I like to think it’s for EXACTLY this purpose! Only challenge right now is the “stuff” taking up space I mentioned in the article….

  3. I know you are a Mercedes guy and thus, I have a question: I really am Benz curious and have been eyeing Mercedes wagons for over a decade. I’m just afraid of the repair costs. Owing a few VW products have been bad enough. My Subarus and Toyotas have been pleasant to own. We would be keeping the car for about 10 years, so it would have to be reliable. Since we’d be buying used, it would most likely be a older model with mileage. Worth it? Should I find a good independent mechanic in Maine first? Any input would be helpful and would perhaps keep us from settling for a boring Toyota SUV.

    • Mercedes are not as reliable as Toyotas I have a low opinion of Subarus, myself, but others are fans of them. Best deal and likelihood of happy ownership of a Mercedes wagon would be an older 300TD, anything from a 123 series on up. If they made the diesel CDI cars in a wagon, and you could find a well-maintained one, that would be a good choice.

    • Mike – Jim is not wrong that the old school diesel wagons are amazing cars, and I would drive either a 123 or 124 diesel wagon as a daily driven even 30-40 years on, assuming it had been taken care of. That said, I get the impression that you may be looking for something a little more modern – no? I can tell you that over the past 15 years we have had a 2001 E320 4Matic (S210), a 2005 E320 4Matic (S211), and a 2011 E350 4Matic – all wagons, and all black. Because once you go black…. Never mind. ANYWAY…..

      The 2001 was probably the best in terms of overall load carrying capacity. Apart from regular oil changes, the only real issue we had with that car was rust. 210s have a propensity to rust. We chased it for a while, but ultimately gave up. The V6 had plenty of power, the heated seats were comfortable, and the car handled very nicely. The 2005 is arguably the best looking of the three, depending on your taste. That car had a few more little niggly issues from time to time – rear suspension, broken seat heater, stuff like that. The really annoying thing about that car was that, over time, the paint on the horizontal surfaces faded beyond what I have come to expect from a Mercedes. Had it repainted, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Again, same basic motor as the earlier car, and never left us stranded and was easy to DIY a lot of ordinary stuff. The 2011 is the car we’ve held onto the longest, having bought it in 2014. It is the most modern, and although a little divisive we like the looks. We’ve had our share of issues – again rear suspension, the pump for the multicontour seat (a pretty unusual option), and we had to basically remove the whole interior due to a sunroof drain issue. That said, my wife has specifically forbade me from selling this one, because she loves the way it drives. All that to say: it’s not going to be a Toyota Camry in terms of gas and go and change the oil every 10K but otherwise forget about it. I’d wager it would be a little easier on the wallet than a VW out of warranty (based on my prior experience), and comparable to a Subaru Outback or Volvo V70/V90. It’s down to condition mostly, but as these cars age there is that luck of the draw factor. Things get old and break on these cars. As of now, our still costs us FAR less than the payment on something new, so it stays.

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