9 Interesting Things From Jay Leno’s Garage, Episode 8

The world’s first jet-engined car processes booze better than you.

bySean Evans|
People photo


Our Canadian-tuxedoed emcee dives into the future of automotive technology on this week’s installment, entitled “The Cars of Tomorrow.” The battle between electric versus internal combustion is dissected, Francis Ford Coppola uncorks his Tucker 48, and a clunky albeit revolutionary 3D-printed car is built and taken for a spin in record time. Here, our favorite revelations:

9 - The 1963 Chrysler Turbine was part goat. In that it would happily ingest anything combustible: liquor, vegetable oil, gasoline, even perfume. The president of Mexico famously ran one on tequila, without a hiccup. However, the first and only consumer test of a turbine-powered car was a massive flop. The engines were too expensive to manufacture, given the types of metals required to take such high heat. To produce a single car cost $50,000. Adjust for inflation and that’s a whopping $380,000. Of the 55 produced, less than ten remain and, of course, Leno owns one.

8 - Leno’s 700 horsepower 1966 Cobra is no match for a Tesla P85D. Because horsepower sells cars while torque wins races. The evidence comes when The Chambray One roars up in a ‘66 Ford AC Cobra 427. But he ditched the stock 425-hp engine and dropped in a 427 SOHC typically reserved for busses and powerboat racing. The upgraded V8 boasts about 700 horses, but the Cobra comes up short in the torque sector against a P85D and it’s 864 ft-lbs of yank. The Tesla promptly smokes him by several lengths in the quarter.

7 - Francis Ford Coppola feels bad for Edsel Ford. The five-time Oscar winner confirms the etymology of his name is an homage to Henry Ford, whom Coppola’s father worked for in Detroit, but goes on to note the sadness he harbors for Henry’s progeny, Edsel. Edsel’s name was tarnished after the eponymous 1956 Edsel Sedan was a disaster. The marque cost Ford $350 million, about $2.8 billion in today’s greenbacks, and the machine’s failure trickled down to the man though, per Coppola, it shouldn’t have.

6 - Why, yes. That is a refrigerator door on the 1958 BMW Isetta. Coppola’s a proud owner of one of these 298cc single-cylinder 4-strokes. If the front door of the Isetta 300 looks familiar, it’s because Renzo Rivolta, the Italian engineer responsible for the minuscule Bimmer, made his bones fabricating fridges. When crafting the bubble car, Rivolta used whatever was on hand, and slapped a deep freezer door on there. The Isetta was the first mass produced vehicle to achieve 90 miles to the gallon.

5 - Citroen’s hydropneumatic suspension saved Charles de Gaulle’s life. While Coppola shows off his 1971 Citroen DS, out comes the tale of how French President Charles de Gaulle survived an assassination attempt in 1962 thanks to this ride. After twelve gunman shot at de Gaulle’s Citroen, blowing out a rear wheel, the self-leveling car compensated, allowing for a three-wheeled escape.

4 - Coppola was an early proponent of electric transport. The vintner says electric rides keep his grapes free from exposure to emissions, thus ensuring his vinos are more pure and tasty. While his current vineyard fleet is all Nissan Leafs, his first foray away from combustion was a 1999 General Motors EV1, which he still owns despite GM recalling all EV1s in 2002. “When I heard they were going to destroy all of them, I hid mine,” Coppola quips.

3 - Coppola has a Tucker 48 that he never drives. Preston Tucker’s innovative car of the future was crammed with forward-thinking technology, especially back in 1948. The crash chamber, a hidden roll bar, and directional third headlight were all uncommon. Coppola was so enamored with the man behind the Torpedo, he made Tucker, the Man and his Dream in 1988. The director kept a production car, one of 51 left in the world. He lets an elated Leno behind the wheel, cautioning it’s not been driven in a year. It’s not long before the Tucker pisses radiator fluid everywhere. The horror! The horror!

2 - Shell’s concept car gets 500mpg. The fuel company’s 507-pound carbon fiber cube on wheels is powered by a 125cc Yamaha scooter engine. One gallon of fuel will get you 500 miles, meaning it’s possible to go across the country for about $12 bucks. It’ll take you a very long time, though. The top speed is a mere 30 mph. But it does have gull wings, if you’re into that sort of thing.

1 - Local Motors 3D-printed cars can be built in one hour. Owner Jay Rogers engages the Internet to design cars he produces by 3D printing everything but the electric engine and powertrain. While traditional cars can take 1,000 man hours to produce in a three million-plus square foot facility, Local Motors can whip up a ride with one man hour in a 1,500 square foot space, all for under $10,000. Printed with a 20% carbon fiber-filled ABS resin, the shell is supremely strong, though Leno correctly observes the open-topped buggy is not the prettiest to behold. It’s like the Ariel Atom’s uglier cousin. It’s much slower, topping out at 40 mph, and you’ll get a range of 120 miles and it isn’t highway legal. But how much do you really want from a printed car comprised of less than 50 parts?