Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. THAT Jay Leno? Yup. That one.
It happened some time ago. I’m not going to pretend here. I was thrilled at the opportunity to talk “cars” with one of the most significant car collectors I know of in North America, if not the world. And I, like you and everyone else, watch him on TV routinely.
Here’s how it happened.
I had met Christian Koenigsegg during the early days of his car company in the late nineties. It was back before his company had fully developed and launched as a car manufacturer. I must say, I knew from the beginning that Christian was different from other car entrepreneurs. His ambition and his vision truly stood out and I was impressed by him from our first meeting. Those first meetings with Christian were followed by many more, some at the “original” factory in Sweden (it burned down) as we tried to help Christian establish his car company amid the myriad of challenges that you might expect. I got to ride in the prototype Koenigsegg with Christian driving and I was there when production car number One first fired its newly installed engine. So as time went by, and Christian was able to start building more Koenigsegg CCs against incredible odds, I kept in touch and maintained contact. After several years, Christian was able to get his car legal for the U.S. market, a remarkable achievement in and of itself. At that point, things got really interesting.
Christian had allowed a Koenigsegg CCX to be used in a movie. As a result, a Koenigsegg CCX was in California. I thought it would be a great idea, not to mention a positive PR move, if we could get the Koenigsegg to Jay Leno and see what he thought about it. Christian Koenigsegg agreed. I was particularly interested because I hoped to develop a documentary television program (a story for a another time) about the Koenigsegg and its improbable history. I wanted to seek Jay’s opinion on the car and compare it to his personal McLaren F1 which would make an interesting and relevant comparison. Christian had told me from the very beginning that the McLaren F1 was his target car to surpass in terms of speed and overall specifications. At the time, few took Koenigsegg seriously, but by the time the car landed on U.S. shores, it was indeed a worthy competitor to the McLaren F1 reputation as the world’s most super “supercar.” Of course in the meantime, there were new entries to the field, including the Bugatti Veyron which had far higher visibility and brand awareness than the upstart Koenigsegg. Few had even heard of the Koenigsegg CCX. Very few. Only a few auto fanatics knew about this car.
As it turned out, Mr. Leno was one of them.
I obtained Jay’s business address and went about contacting his office. I eventually landed at Mr. Leno’s personal assistant’s extension. I told her that I wanted to inquire whether we might be able to bring a Koenigsegg to Jay’s car garage, more closely akin to an auto museum, to give him a chance to see one. Obviously, it’s an incredibly “rare” car, particularly here in the USA. I told the assistant that the time window was very short from the moment that the movie production team would be finished with the car and when the car would have to be shipped back to Europe. My hope was to have the car delivered to Jay’s garage during this short window of time between the two. Jay’s assistant was very nice and helpful and informed me that “yes, I think this might be something that Jay would be interested in seeing.” She told me that she would take up the subject with him and that she suspected that Jay would get in touch with me if he was interested.
I had no idea that that meant that Jay Leno would call me, not his assistant. So, while I had stepped out to lunch several days later, Jay Leno called me TWICE and left a message before I could get back with him.
When I called back, his staff answered and I was then put directly and immediately through to his office! Jay picked up the phone, quickly made me feel at ease and we talked cars for over twenty minutes! He was very personable, deeply knowledgeable about cars and quite plainly an enthusiast. The conversation was lively, humorous as you might expect and thoroughly enjoyable. He told me that yes, he was quite aware of the Koenigsegg, admired Christian for the difficult, if not nearly impossible task of building a world-class supercar. Having never seen a Koenigsegg CCX in person, he was hopeful the Koenigsegg would rise to the level necessary to be considered a true supercar, that it possessed the overall high quality needed to be a world-class contender. He told me that the McLaren F1 was a car built with no compromises, and that was a difficult level to achieve, particularly for a small auto manufacturer. I tried to assure him that the Koenigsegg was a serious contender, not a “kit” car or one that lacked the build quality necessary. He seemed quite interested to take a look for himself. My conversation was him was remarkably “normal”, just two car guys talking cars. That says a lot about Jay Leno to me. I enjoyed the conversation and naturally, it’s one I won’t forget. I hung up the phone with the idea that we would move ahead and try to arrange to get the Koenigsegg CCX to Jay’s garage. It was all set at his end.
Long story short, it turned out the film production crew extended the time they needed the car and the window closed between the time the car left the film production crew and the time it would be needed to be delivered to the airport transport facility. There would be no chance to take it over the Jay’s garage. I phoned Jay’s “people” and informed them plenty early that the car would be unable to get to Jay’s garage. It was a huge disappointment to me, but I suspect to Jay, it was a modest disappointment in his busy life. There would be other opportunities to see the Koenigsegg.
As it turned out, there was. About a year or so later, Christian had a newer model, the awesome Koenigsegg Trevita CCX, that needed to be delivered to a U.S. customer and had the opportunity to take it to Jay’s garage. Christian was able to meet Jay Leno and personally introduce the car’s features and specifications face to face. It was a far superior opportunity than the original I had arranged. Jay’s “take” on the Koenigsegg CCX is the subject of one of his videos at Jay’s garage website. You can see whether the car lives up to the standards expected of a supercar and Jay’s initial impression of the car. His video review of the car is here. For me, it was a great experience. I can say I’ve talked to Jay Leno and we talked “cars” like old friends. He was gracious, personable, and in the end, he seemed just like one of us. A car guy who really knows the subject matter. I am pleased to say I know that for a fact. Directly. Right from the source. He knows cars. Because he and I talked at length about them!