Riding Shotgun In Jay Leno's 1928 Bugatti Type 37A

Before going out on the road, we were given the proprietor's tour of the fabulous collection of a hundred-plus cars, each with its own fascinating story, lovingly collected over many years. My two favorites were cars that are not quite real. That is, part of them was original, part was realized fantasy. One was the mid-'50s Buick that Leno bought when he first came to California seeking the big time in entertainment, a car in which he slept from time to time when he couldn't afford more conventional lodging. The car is not a re-creation, it's the actual "matching numbers" car Leno has owned for decades, and thus the first element in the collection. But it now has a full-on racing chassis, a zillion-horsepower V-8, huge disc brakes . . . all the things any of us might fantasize about doing if we had the means. And like all the other cars in the garage, it gets driven from time to time.

The other, not even mentioned on the tour, is a Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic coupe. Bear in mind that only three of these everted-flange riveted-aluminum masterpieces were built by the factory, and all are more than thoroughly accounted for, researched to the nth degree, and restored beyond originality by the best shops in the business. Yet here sits another, neither known nor recognized by the world and never presented in public. It is the opposite of the Buick, which retains its original carapace but none of its inner workings. This Atlantic replica has a new, created-from-whole-cloth body set upon an original Type 57 Bugatti chassis, which is finally all that the three original Atlantics were in their time.

To me, the two carefully modified cars prove beyond all possible doubt the authenticity of Leno's love of cars. The purity of that love is ultimately proven -- again, to me -- by the fact that there is not a single Ferrari in Leno's vast collection of exceptional cars. That's not a put-down of Ferrari cars, which I admire unstintingly, but of the poseurs who buy them only to signify and own them for reasons having nothing to do with their intrinsic mechanical value.

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