When we visited with Jay to look the car over shortly before it was shipped to Vegas for the show, he proudly hopped in, cranked the starter, and began shooting revs like a high school kid showing off his first ride. He excitedly claimed that it would put away a Porsche on a mountain road, and we wondered if the smirk on his face meant he was speaking from experience. He may not be in school anymore, but Leno's first ride is about as cool as they come.
Jay LenoBurbank, California'55 Buick Roadmaster
Drivetrain: While mid-'50s Buick nailheads are cool and were quite high performance for their day, little can compare to the gigantic beast that now resides under the hood of this full-sized street brawler. The GM Performance Parts ZZ572/620 crate engine utilizes a tall deck block with a 4.55-inch bore and a 4.375 stroker crank to displace 570 cubes, and with a mild 9.6:1 compression ratio and a hydraulic roller cam the engine produces well over 600 hp. GM Performance Parts now carries high-performance electronic overdrive transmissions to work with their gorilla crate engines, so a 4L85E four-speed automatic was a logical choice to back the beast.
Chassis: General Motors knew how to build a seriously stout frame back in the '50s, but their suspension technology was a little crusty by today's standards. With the goal of being able to drive the Buick like a sports car, Jay had Big Dog Garage foreman Bernard Juchli and his crew graft a new tubular front clip onto the car hung with C5 Corvette suspension. The stock rear rails were retained but fitted with an IRS unit from a C4 Vette, including a custom-made composite monoleaf spring. Big Corvette brakes reside on all four corners, and a custom handmade tubular exhaust system snakes its way around the stock frame and new suspension pieces to get out the back.
Wheels & Tires: Leno's desire to have the car drive like a modern sports car but look like a stocker came into conflict when choosing the wheel-and-tire package, since stock 14-inch steel wheels wouldn't yield the best handling characteristics, but modern aftermarket rims would clash with the car's classic style. The solution? Have a pair made, of course. A one-off set of billet aluminum 17-inch rollers was built for the car, and handmade 17-inch versions of the stock hubcaps were crafted and designed with a threaded center hub that screws onto an extension coming off the wheel. The tires are big 'n' sticky SUV performance tires that Leno sent to his pal Corky Coker, who had the lettering shaved off the sidewall before bonding on a wide whitewall. The finished package looks basically stock, which was the plan from the outset.
Paint & Body: Since the famous comedian/car guy relied on GM engineering for his engine, trans, suspension, and brakes, it's not a surprise that when it came time to paint the car, it was delivered to the in-house body shop at Rydell Chevrolet. Because the car has lived its entire life in sunny Southern California, rust wasn't a problem, so the old paint and body moldings were stripped off. After the body was brought back to shape, the stock paint scheme was used once again, but this time with contrasting shades of black and silver. Every chrome and stainless piece of trim on the car was refinished and put back in place, right down to the portholes in the fenders.
Interior: The interior is as flawless as the rest of the car, and once again, it appears stock but has a few secrets hidden away. Milton's Auto Upholstery finished the front and rear bench seats in stock silver cloth, and the elegant black and chrome instrument cluster has been retrofitted with modern guts behind stock gauges. A secret stereo pumps out tunes loud and clear, and a Vintage Air climate control system keeps the cockpit comfortable. Even the stock steering wheel was restored and left in place.