Tonight Show host Jay Leno’s carbon footprint is like Sasquatch – massive and legendary.
He owns one of the largest private car collections in the nation. His stable of more than 70 mechanical thoroughbreds includes Bentleys, Jaguars, Lamborghinis, vintage motorcycles … even a full-size bus.
So it’s odd to hear the comedian talk about fuel economy and the need to find options to imported oil.
Sure, he owns an antique electric car – a 1909 Baker Electric coupe that looks like a “giant phone booth.” Back in the day, major cities had charging stations for such cars, which ran on batteries Thomas Edison developed. Henry Ford’s mass-produced, internal-combustion autos with electric starters killed the market for the electric car, helping set the stage for the eco-fix we’re in today. Coming full-circuit, global warming and dependence on Mideast oil are why Leno has emerged as an unlikely ambassador for alternative energy.
Inside his massive Big Dog Garage in Burbank, Calif., Leno and team are building the EcoJet, a one-of-a-kind jet car that runs on biodiesel made from soybean oil – the same stuff fast-food joints use to cook French fries. The EcoJet is still under construction, so there’s no telling how fast this Batmobile-like car is.
But with a 650-horsepower engine – similar to those used in Coast Guard helicopters – and an ultralight body, chances are it will outpace a Prius.
The EcoJet is covered in eco-friendly, dolphin-gray paint. The exhaust smells like a MacDonald’s kitchen. How’d you like to show up at a Phish reunion in one of these?
Leno is not about to part with his exotic 1994 McLaren F1 supercar or any of his other gas-guzzling toys. But as someone with plenty of name-recognition and money, Leno can afford to make bold statements. The EcoJet is nothing if not bold.
On his Internet show, Jay Leno’s Garage, (www.jaylenosgarage.com), Leno wears blue denim and speaks with a poet’s passion about his automobiles. As a kid, he washed cars at a Mercedes dealership – he’d drive them fast off the lot to get them dry. He possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of vehicles, from their mechanical characteristics and performance aspects to their masculine and feminine aesthetics. Each of his cars has its own narrative, and Leno loves to tell their stories. He’s nuts about cars.
But there’s a method behind Leno’s EcoJet madness. In an exclusive interview with Inventors Digest, Leno talked with a blend of pragmatism, idealism and humor on why he’s building what may be the fastest “green” car on Earth. ID: You started the EcoJet in 2006. When will it be finished? JL: It’s done when it’s done. The chassis is in now. We’re doing the interior and all the electronics. The devil is in the details. You know it takes a long time to build a car like this. I’m thinking it’ll be done maybe a year from now.
ID: What’s been holding up progress?
JL: Well, we’ll work on it and then someone wants it for a show. It was at the Consumer Electronics Show (in January). It’s my hobby. It’s what I do for fun. I’m in no hurry. Initially all we had was the concept car – a body and a chassis. That’s what we showed at SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) a couple of years ago.
ID: Here’s the Mount Everest question – why are you building it?
JL: It’s fun to do. I built models when I was a kid. I raced slot cars. I guess this is a big-kid version of that. And I wanted to inspire young designers and inventors to come up with alternative ideas.
OK, mileage-wise it’s not very good, because, hey, it’s a jet! But if you show up at a car show with an 85-horsepower box sedan, no one will pay attention.
You have to think, ‘What will appeal to enthusiasts?’ Jet engines have a certain appeal. They’re so exotic. You know I have a motorcycle that has a jet engine. So why not build this jet car and see what happens. And run it on biodiesel. Yeah, I know it’s not entirely ‘green.’ But at least it’s not running on Mideast oil.
ID: What will be its top speed?
JL: It weighs about 2,400 pounds, and you have 650 horsepower or so … you do the math. Anything over a buck and half becomes theoretical, really.
ID: OK, but how will it perform to, say, your ’94 McLaren F1?
JL: The McLaren, it’s hard to beat internal combustion engines for weight and speed and all of that. I kind of know how it will handle – it will handle like a Z06 ’Vette because it’s using that frame. But I look at it like this – it’s like square dancing with a fat lady. She may not be very good at it, but the fact she does it at all, that’s pretty good, right? The only person I have to please is myself. Like on my Web site show, I don’t specifically pit cars against each another. I know they make me feel good. If you try to outperform something, you could go broke doing it.
ID: What’s the best feature of the EcoJet?
JL: I guess the styling. It has a certain concept, Batmobile look. It doesn’t look like anything else on the road. But it will be a real car that you can actually drive.
ID: Any features of the car you’d change?
JL: If I did something different, I’d maybe not do it at all (laughs). The carbon fiber body alone was half a million bucks. The whole thing is just a tremendous expense. But it’s a lot of fun.
ID: So if I wanted one, how much would it set me back?
JL: I don’t know that you could get one. Most of the work is hand-done. In no way shape or form would you produce them. It’s one of a kind.
ID: Any words of wisdom for aspiring car innovators?
JL: We live in a time when a lot of people think everything’s impossible to do. It’s not like what you could do in the ’20s. Come from nothing and start your own business. Well, sure you can! This (EcoJet project) is four guys in a garage in Burbank. It shows what’s possible. Anyone can do something like this. OK, maybe not like exactly like this. I mean I have a pretty good-paying job. But you can do something similar.