Jay Leno Shattered His EcoJet’s Window at 120MPH
16 surprising facts from the production of last night’s Jay Leno’s Garage — from the man himself.
During this season of Jay Leno’s Garage, we chatted with Jay Leno’s producers after each episode. We wanted to give you a special look behind the scenes at how Leno and his crew shoot their segments, because there’s so much great stuff happening while they film and sometimes it ends up on the cutting room floor. Last night’s episode, all about astronomical speeds, cosmic designs and stellar characters, was the final one of their second season and Jay was really proud of how great their season was, so he personally wanted to share some of his favorite moments and stories. Ready?
Jay has wanted to drive a 1969 Corvette Stingray Astrovette since he was 21.
Back in the Sixties, GM had a program only for astronauts where they could lease a brand new Stingray for $1 per year. These were specially painted gold and black, with a 427 engine and a four-speed transmission, and they were called Astrovettes. “I got to drive one owned by Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon,” Jay told The Drive. “It was great to drive, since it had been restored to new, essentially. I kept thinking about how I first saw these cars on the cover of Life magazine when I had just turned 21, and I was captivated. In the Seventies, a Stingray was more impressive than they are now. Most cars were boring and, when you come from a small town in New England, a Stingray was as exotic as a Lamborghini. Lifemagazine would print their covers in color and these Astrovettes really popped. I never forgot that image so when I got the chance to drive Alan’s, it was a huge deal.”
Jay could listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson for hours.
“Obviously, Neil’s a big physics guy, so he loves anything that involves movement, anything displacing air; it’s all in his wheelhouse,” Jay said. “I don’t know if he’s a big internal combustion guy, but he likes things that move, so I invited him to join me at Edwards Air Force Base to check out some jets. It’s interesting how the world’s preeminent astrophysicist thinks. He’s still a normal guy, but then he’s got this innate ability to look at something from a completely different perspective, and his ability to analyze and rationalize from a different standpoint is incredible. He makes the same kinds of jokes that you would, and he’s very easy to relate to. But then it comes to something like how a sonic boom is formed and he’s able to explain it so simply that it blows your doors off.”
Being near that 100,000-horsepower Pratt and Whitney engine was intense.
“When the Air Force offered to let me fire up that huge jet engine, the one that’s about the equivalent of 6,321 Honda Civics, I was all for it. We moved to a literally bomb-proof building nearby, about 25 feet away, with the thickest glass you’ll ever see and I got to let ‘er rip. I remember we opened the door just a little and it was so hot, you suddenly felt like you were in a kiln.”
Jay didn’t actually pay for the fuel for the engine.
Jay made a little joke about how he was paying for the fuel for the segment, “but we couldn’t afford that,” Jay laughed. “We probably burned about 1,000 gallons of fuel, at a cost of 7 bucks a gallon, so you do the math. And that all went in seconds.”
Jay wanted to go faster in his EcoJet car, but was worried about the tires.
Jay brought his EcoJet car to the base so Neil and he could give it a high-speed run. You know, the one he built from scratch with GM that uses a Honeywell LTS-101 turbine engine from an attack helicopter? “The tires have been on there for about eight years and it’s very hard to get tires rated to 200 mile an hour,” Jay said. “These are, but because they are so old, I was worried about them blowing at speed. When you’re going that fast, problems happen quick and sometimes it can be impossible to recover.”
If something goes wrong with the EcoJet, it either incinerates itself or it’s fine.
If you think there must be a ton of setup and prep work to run a car powered by a turbine, Jay is here to tell you, “Not really. You have parts moving in that engine at 70,000 revolutions per minute and it’s all good until one little bit goes loose and then the whole engine eats itself. But running it isn’t that complicated.”
Jay did not expect the EcoJet’s window to shatter, but he’s not surprised it did.
“I have a friend who races motorcycles at the Bonneville Salt Flats at insane speeds,” Jay said. “He was once doing 240 miles an hour and he got a cramp in his hand, so he relaxed it a bit and lifted his fingers to shake it out. The wind grabbed those two fingers and flips him onto the ground within a second. Hard. He was fine but that’s what wind at tremendous speed can do. Most people haven’t experienced wind at 170 miles an hour, which is what Neil and I were doing in the EcoJet. It can move cars and busses with ease. Now, the EcoJet’s windows were custom, and they don’t open. I knew the driver’s window had a small crack in it. At speed, a little wind got in between the laminate layers and just destroyed it.”
Jay played it pretty cool, though.
Check out his face from the moment the window blew. Calm and collected.
Jay has had the EcoJet a little over 200, but thinks it’ll go faster.
“I’d be curious to see how fast it really will go. We’d need to get a new set of tires for a run like that, so maybe we’ll do that in the future and film the whole thing.”
Tim Allen gets top honors for the “Stump a Car Nerd” segment.
Jay had Kenny Wayne Shepherd on earlier this season and he did decently, but Tim Allen absolute crushed it. “I know what we call it though the goal isn’t necessarily to stump them; more so let them show off their knowledge, and Tim’s got plenty,” Jay said. “If you’re a car guy, you know how a GM start motor sounds different from a Chrysler starter motor, and you know basics from feeling the body. No one ever grabs an American car and asks if it’s a Volkswagen. I personally pick all the cars, and Tim’s an American car guy, so I wanted to get some foreign things in the mix, which is why I went with the 1970 Mazda Cosmo and the 1972 Citroen SM. Of course he got the 1959 Olds 88 within a few minutes. That guy knows GM products like the back of his hand.”
Jay’s Light Car Company Rocket is the only one in the country.
“I believe I own the only LCC Rocket one-seater in the United States. This Gordon Murray design was all about power-to-weight ratio, and it goes like hell and sounds incredible. I bought it back in the Nineties, and it cost as much as Porsche 911.”
Jay got too close to the $2.5 billion Mars rover and a NASA engineer yelled at him.
When visiting the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, Jay was excited to see the exact replica Mars rover. They built an perfect copy, that cost as much as the current Curiosity rover crawling around Mars, to test systems and programs before they fire the orders into space, some 249 million miles from Earth. This was a difficult shoot to schedule because NASA really needed to use the rover for testing constantly, so the producers finally got some time on the books. “We’re there and ready to shoot and NASA leads us to this nondescript garage,” said Jay. “It looks like any garage I’ve ever kept a clunker car in, but inside this one is a $2.5 billion robot. They told us even the lightest static electricity charge could fry the delicate circuits. They kept saying we couldn’t get too close. We start filming and I move in a little to point at something on the rover and the engineer gets real serious, asking me to stop. Whoops.”
Jay’s a fan of speed but he was okay with how slow the rover moved.
“It tops out at 0.1 MPH and while I’m usually an advocate for more speed, it’s hard to complain about the speed of a vehicle if you’re moving it from another planet.”
Jay nearly asphyxiated in Gene Winfield’s Reactor car.
“I’ve loved Gene since I was a kid. I had pictures of his cars on my wall growing up, so when he came out with a turbocharged, front-wheel-drive, Corvair-engined car on a Citroen chassis, dubbed the Reactor car, I lost it. No one else was doing front-wheel-drive hot rods. It was groundbreaking stuff. I called him up and asked him to bring it by and that car hasn’t seen the road in fifty years. It was hot as hell in there. It was 80 degrees outside and close to 180 degrees under that bubble, plus the fumes are coming in from an exhaust leak, so it’s a little hard to breathe. It’s a cool package that was well put together, but it’s obviously got some mechanical problems, though nothing to fault him on. It was a design exercise, so the fact that it moves at all was impressive.”
There’s one story in light of astronaut John Glenn’s recent passing that Jay would’ve included in this episode.
This episode filmed nearly a year ago, but with Glenn leaving us recently, Jay wanted to share a story. “I was in fifth grade when John circled the Earth. I did a report on it for my teacher, Mr. Simon, and I got a C-. Mr. Simon said I really had half a report. Years later, when I had John on the Tonight Show, I called Mr. Simon after and said, “I’ve got the second half of the report now.” He retroactively gave me an A, the only A I ever got. I’m just sad my mother wasn’t around to see that.
The guests next season are even bigger.
Jay and his crew are filming the next season right now and we can reveal two famous faces you’ll recognize. “We went to John Lasseter’s house,” said Jay. “He’s the chief creative officer for Pixar and he’s got a live steam train in his backyard, living just like a giant kid. That was great fun. And I went down to Texas and shot with President George Bush for an episode all about the great American pickup truck. He’s a truck fan, so we drove around and talked for a long time. I think it’s the only interview he’s done since he left office.”