Jay Leno Honored with SAH’s Friend of Automotive History Award
The SAH Friend of Automotive History Award is our most prestigious award presented to an individual who has made a profound contribution in the advancement of automotive history.
Jay Leno may be best known as a comedian, but it is most appropriate to also consider him an automotive historian in the best sense of the term. When it comes to his car collection, he is a serious guy. He is a major collector—he owns about 200 vehicles which he houses in a beautiful facility in Los Angeles. Magnificent auto art adorns the walls of his “Big Dog Garage.” His interests are wide-ranging. He owns early steam cars, electric cars, classic cars, and muscle cars, and unusual vehicles like a solar-powered hybrid. Explaining his fondness for steam cars (he owns at least five steam cars), Leno calls himself a “fan of lost technology.” He likes to understand the stories behind his cars—why did a seemingly good idea never catch on or why did a certain well-designed car fail in the market. An avid reader and observer, in talking with Jay, one quickly discovers that Jay is a well-versed historian when it comes to the cultural, social, and technological history of the automobile.
More importantly and a major reason for nominating Jay, Leno’s influence in terms of his website and his monthly articles in Popular Mechanics have done much to generate considerable enthusiasm for the pursuit of automotive history worldwide. His website, www.JayLenosGarage.com, includes photos of his car collection, facilities at his Big Dog Garage, his restoration projects, and a great deal of useful information. Consequently, material from this site can and is used in undergraduate classes that center on automotive history. After the taping of his show, he also met with undergraduate students studying history and answered student questions in an informal setting.
Further, all of his cars in his collection are drivable. Until recently, he drove an old car to the studio at The Tonight Show every day. Just the sight of Jay driving one of his cars on the streets of Burbank illicit enthusiasm from those lucky enough to witness such a sight! TV audiences will soon be entertained by Jay Leno’s Garage currently found on YouTube.
Jay Leno has used his celebrity status to support and promote automotive history and restoration. He has provided financial aid and publicity, though his Tonight Show platform, for the automotive restoration program at McPherson College. McPherson College in McPherson, Kansas is the only college in America to offer a four-year degree in automotive restoration. At McPherson Leno established the Frederick J. Duesenberg Scholarship for automotive technology students. He also established a scholarship program with Popular Mechanics and donates the pay for his monthly Popular Mechanics column to the college.
Unfortunately Jay Leno was not able to receive his award at our annual Hershey dinner as he was entertaining the troops in the Middle East. A presentation will be made at his Big Dog Garage in the near future.
In sum, and for all of his contributions to popularizing the area of automotive history and to the field of automotive restoration, we cannot think of any one more deserving of the Friend of Automotive History Award than Mr. Jay Leno.