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My Favorite Room: Jay Leno’s 122,000-square-foot toy box

Car culture
Leno with a 1925 Doble steam car.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Jay Leno rose to fame as the longtime host of “The Tonight Show,” but his love of cars has become as much of a passion as his comedy. 

So it’s no surprise that his favorite room is his Burbank garage. Away from the spotlight, Leno, 66, can often be found working in the sprawling hangar, which houses about 150 cars and 117 motorcycles (yes, he drives them all).

See the most-read in Life & Style this hour »

And he’s still a TV staple: The former late-night host kicked off the second season of his CNBC automotive show “Jay Leno’s Garage” on Wednesday. 

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Can you describe the garage?

It was 17,000 feet when I got it in 1991, and it’s about 122,000 feet now. We tend to park cars according to what they are. The steam cars go in one area; cars from the 1950s go somewhere else.

Why Burbank?

A vast collection of car and career-related memorabilia is housed in Leno’s Burbank garage.
A vast collection of car and career-related memorabilia is housed in Leno’s Burbank garage.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times )

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Originally, I was going to build an extra garage in Beverly Hills, but I went around and asked some of the neighbors, and they didn’t think it was a good idea. I thought I would get something in an industrial area where I could make noise and use equipment.

What makes the room special?

When you’re in a subjective business like show business, some people like you, and some people think you’re terrible, and they are both correct. But when you have something that’s broken and you fix it, no one can say that it’s not right. No one can say you didn’t fix it.

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That’s the fun part about having the garage. It makes you appreciate working with your hands. You get this spoiled view of the world in show business. When you do actual labor, you go, “Oh, this is what real people do.” So the garage puts things in perspective.

Find anything interesting in one of your classic cars?

When I bought a 1950 Nash in 2013, I opened the seats up to clean it and found a pair of handcuffs and an LAPD badge from about 35 years ago.

Various classic vehicles are part of the collection.
Various classic vehicles are part of the collection.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times )
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What is the one car you own that you never thought you would have?

My 1963 Chrysler Turbine. They never sold any of them. So it wasn’t a car that you thought a private citizen could attain.

Can you tell me about “Jay Leno’s Garage”?

We just sort of investigate the love affair people have with their cars — for some people, it’s the car they got married in or the car their grandpa drove — and you find out why people are drawn to a particular vehicle. Then we drive the vehicle and talk about it. It’s the highest-rated show on CNBC. 

How’s life after late night?

I don’t have to write 14 minutes of jokes every day. I don’t have to see every movie and read every book like I used to. If you had an actor on, no matter how bad the movie was, you had to try to find something good to say: “Well you were good. Your part was excellent.”

I was always on the road three days a week when I was doing the “Tonight Show.” And I do about 210 personal appearances a year. So it’s exactly the same, and in some ways it’s probably better, because the attendance for personal appearances is higher when you’re not on TV every night. 

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