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Jay Leno und der Maybach

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How the Late-Night King Lets Off Steam

By KEITH MARTIN

Burbank, Calif. -- DRIVING a $300,000 car around Southern California can make anybody feel like an Oscar winner, but if you really want to grab an audience on the celebrity-saturated streets of Los Angeles, you need a sidekick with star power. On a recent Saturday, in possession of the keys to a Maybach 57, I booked Jay Leno.

I have known Mr. Leno casually for some time, because of our common interest in classic cars. While most Americans identify him with his night job, as the wise-cracking host of "The Tonight Show," those in the old-car fraternity consider him a genuine enthusiast with a deep, hands-on love for the hobby - in contrast to the wealthy collectors who hire experts to buy, restore and maintain a fleet of valuable, rarely driven automobiles.

When I called him and asked if he'd like to take a spin in the Maybach, he was enthusiastic. "Saturday's my day to work on my cars," he said. "Meet me then."

At the appointed time, I arrived at the nondescript industrial park where, in three warehouses, he keeps his collection of 80 cars and 80 motorcycles. All of them run; most are licensed. (He drives a different car to the studio every day.)

He was wearing jeans and a blue work shirt. His hands were dirty; he had been tinkering with his newest toy, a custom-built open-wheel hot rod powered by what he described as an 1,800-cubic-inch air-cooled V-12, producing nearly 1,000 horsepower, from an M47 Patton tank.

Mr. Leno has been involved with cars longer than with comedy, starting in 1967 as a lowly lot boy detailing cars at a Ford dealership in Wilmington, Mass.

"I've always had two jobs," he said. "After I started doing comedy, I saved what I made at the dealership, and lived on the money I made as a comedian."

Mr. Leno's tastes are eclectic. There is the 1955 Buick Roadmaster coupe that he bought when he arrived in California in the early 1970's (for just $350), and the 1995 McLaren F1 sports car worth more than $1 million. He is fascinated by custom-built cars with outlandish engines. For instance, he has a 27-liter Merlin V-12 from a World War II fighter plane installed in a 1934 Rolls-Royce chassis.

I wasn't looking for objective assessments of the Maybach from Mr. Leno, who has made promotional appearances for Mercedes and helped to unveil the car at the Detroit auto show. Yet his enthusiasm for the Maybach seemed genuine.

With the hired driver at the wheel, we started in the back seat, but Mr. Leno quickly began to fidget. "I really don't like this chauffeur stuff," he said. "When can I drive?" Once he took over, he headed for McDonald's. "A $300,000 car and a Big Mac - that's hilarious," he said. The woman at the drive-through window did several takes before giggling and asking: "You're Jay Leno, right? Do you want extra ketchup?"

Driving through the hills on the way to Johnny Carson Park, he compared the huge sedan with some cars in his collection. "The Maybach is big, luxurious and very fast, just like the cars in the 20's and 30's," he said.

The subdued styling also appeals to him. "With a Rolls-Royce, you feel like you're saying, 'Let's get in our fancy car and collect the rent from the poor folks.' The Maybach is almost stealthy. You don't get those 'There go the rich jerks' looks."

With such a big engine at his disposal, he couldn't resist a full-throttle burst of speed onto a freeway ramp. But his interest in power isn't restricted to internal-combustion engines. He is fascinated by steam-powered cars, and has six in his collection.

Back at the industrial park, he fired up a 1909 Model R Stanley Steamer. Fired up is the appropriate term, as it took him about 15 minutes to light the boiler and build up enough steam for a drive. "Shows you why these cars never made it," he said. He clearly understands the car's idiosyncrasies, fussing with each of the many adjustments.

With no doors, seat belts, roof or windshield, we rolled onto the streets of Burbank in a drizzling rain. The Steamer gathered speed slowly, like a locomotive, with a distinctive chugging sound. It even has a steam whistle for a horn; sounding it in traffic caused some surprise.

After half an hour we returned soaking wet to the warehouses, where he bled the steam from the boiler and put the car away. The day had started in the lap of modern luxury and ended in a 94-year-old roadster consisting of little more than a boiler, chassis, tires and steering wheel. But to a committed gearhead, both cars are interesting and original, making them worth his time.

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Quelle: The New York Times

Der Mensch wird mir immer sympathischer.... :wink:

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