As far as car enthusiasts and collectors go, there is perhaps no greater authority on the subject than Jay Leno, who has been able to successfully leverage his fame and late-night talk show celebrity into creating a popular Web series featuring not just cars, but vehicles in general, from motorcycles to a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
Most collectors play favorites (and Leno is likely no exception) but part of what makes Jay Leno’s Garage series special is that he can find something he likes in every car that passes through his space — and there have been hundreds. Several hundreds, even. Best of all, many of the videos are on his website or YouTube for the public to enjoy, free of charge.
We spent some time perusing these videos to find some of the unique and more offbeat vehicles that Leno has had on his show, and let’s just say that it’s among the more daunting of tasks. The sheer volume of rare vehicles makes the choice nearly impossible, but we highlighted a few that we thought were worthy. If you know of others, leave a comment with a link below.
Mini Coopers aren’t always thought of as performance cars, but perhaps that’s because they need a second engine. That’s what Jaques Andres thought, and to remedy the problem, he shoe-horned a second Mini Cooper engine into the rear of a 2002 Mini, effectively making it a twin-engined track monster. Andres says that he essentially just mirrored the setup from the front, fabricating the mounting points, a cooling system, and putting front suspension in the rear, as well.
Interestingly, the engines are started individually — that is, they don’t start at the same time. The Mini apparently pulls 500 horsepower combined, 250 horsepower each, but Andres is still working on the fuel management aspects (at least when the video was made), which is a challenge given that it has two gas tanks, two of … well, everything, almost. Check out the video above to hear the mental noise coming from this crazy machine, if nothing else.
It took a long time to get street-legal certification, but the three-wheeled Campagna T-Rex finally received its U.S. approval. It appears to be what would happen if you mated a Formula 1 car with a motorcycle: it seats two, is chain-driven (to the gratuitously wide rear wheel), features a reverse gear (which most motorcycles don’t have), and spits out 160 horsepower, pulling 1,150 pounds. It retails at a pricey $62,000 or so, but no other motorcycle-esque vehicle will offer the kind of performance that the T-Rex can offer, in part thanks to its low center of gravity. Buyers can choose from a Kawasaki 1400cc engine or 6-cylinder BMW unit (which revs to 8,500 RPM).
The Ariel Atom is similar in principle to the Campagna, but it has four wheels and possibly even less body work. While the original model came equipped with a Honda engine, the first American-built Atom featured a 2.0 liter EcoTec from General Motors, which Leno discusses in detail. The Atom essentially eschews everything it doesn’t need, including windshield wipers, body panels, doors, and windows. All that’s left is what you need to go fast — and it does, since it produces 300 horsepower to move just 1,350 pounds. “Viscerally, it’s the most exciting car I’ve ever driven,” Leno says.
Randy Grubb is an old-school metal fabricator who draws inspiration from vintage deco-culture, heavily influenced by classic aviation and the like. The Decopods are small, 70 mile-per-hour sheet metal bullets that come in three- or two-wheeled arrangements (though Grubb is only making six of them). Despite the extra metal, the things only add about 30 pounds of weight onto the bike from which they’re based. Everything is hand-fabricated and hand-cast, with no help from computer models or 3-D printing. Fun they may be, but the Decopods look just as good standing still, perhaps as an art installation. They even include their own matching helmets.
Beastly rally and off-road vehicles have been done before — think of the Bowler Wildcat or the Mercedes G-Wagen 6X6. What makes the Rally Fighter unique, however, is the business model that was used to build it: Local Motors essentially crowd sources the ideas for vehicles and then builds the resulting car in its workshop. Once the prototype is made, all the customers who have placed orders for the crowd-sourced autos come into the factory to help build the cars with the Local Motors team. The Rally Fighter is a sort of Frankenstein vehicle, featuring components from GM, Volkswagen, Honda, Ford, and others.
As long as there have been cars, there has been racing. This one, the Stanley Steamer, is from Leno’s personal collection (he restored much of it), which is quite a feat considering it is, in fact, steam-powered. The host put in a 30-inch boiler, larger than the original, to make the Steamer more powerful than before. It’s a deceptively complicated vehicle, and among the most special, since steam power has long been outdated. That doesn’t make it any less cool, though — these reportedly reached speeds of 127 miles per hour in 1906.