Jay Leno Drives the 1915 LaBestioni Rusty, the World’s Sexiest Hotrod Firetruck

Renowned restorer Gary Wales turned a forgotten, tree-ridden truck into steampunk glory.

bySean Evans|
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The steampunk creation rolling into Jay Leno’s Garage this week began life in 1915 as an American LaFrance fire truck. The 101-year-old truck was a triple threat, sporting a pump, hooks and ladders. With all the trimmings, the 22-foot monster tipped the scales at 12,000 pounds. About 50 years ago, it was declared unfit for duty, stripped of usable bits and shoved into the woods where it sat until 2014, when a group of firemen found the skeletal remains entwined with more than twenty trees. They extricated it and turned it over to craftsman Gary Wales.

Wales looked at the steel remnants and imagined a final vision in his head, only touching pen to paper to flesh out a vision for the cowl. The rest of the coachwork for the finned speedster was conjured up by hand, on the fly. The boattail hindquarters are comprised of three different mahoganies that were glued and strapped into that glorious shape. While the rear is custom, the nose of the beast is largely original.

An original LaFrance bonnet was reinstalled, the rust color of the panels coming from, well, rust. That’s all patina, Wales explains, noting they added a clear coat over the top to preserve the “hue.” The radiator is also factory, a dent on one side of the casing covered by a metal butterfly. The engine is the original 14-liter I-6 T-head, formed in blocks of three two cylinders, all cast iron. There are 24 spark plugs in there, four for each piston. The redundancy was required because you always want your fire engine to start right up and “gas was so bad back then you could drop a match in a plate of fuel and it still wouldn’t light,” Wales says.

The wheelbase also remains stock, too. Wales and company added disc brakes and a little power steering, to make the 3.5-ton beast drivable. Two chains drive the rear wheels on either side, with the power modulated by a three-speed gearbox.

There’s a 24-gallon gas tank, which is “not enough” but will at least give you 24 miles, the duo laugh. The lights, instruments and other doo-dads inside and on the exterior of the car were scavenged from any and everything; some taillights come from Vincent motorcycles, the copper exhaust from a Seagrave speedster, a Stewart Warner speedometer in the dash alongside many other gauges, “some of which actually work,” chuckles Wales.

During the requisite spin, Leno declares the craftsmanship sublime, praises the center throttle layout, chirps a period-correct brass siren, and says that it’s like a racing version of the LaFrance, since the curb weight sans firefighting apparatuses is now 7,000 pounds. “This is proper motoring,” Leno shouts. Indeed.

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