Jay Leno on the stray cat in the garage

by Jay Leno
12 October 2023 3 min read
Jay Leno on the stray cat in the garage
Photos courtesy Jay Leno

This column originally appeared in the latest issue of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine in the US, which this month focused on the perfect imperfections of patina.  – ED

I’m still stunned when I see Jaguar E-Types go for over $200,000. Not because the Jag isn’t one of the most beautiful cars ever made—it absolutely is—but because I will always think of them as cheap cars. I remember my friend Greg had one in high school. I think he paid $800 for it, and it was nothing but problems. He got so fed up with it that one day he drove out to a state park near Andover, Massachusetts, thinking he would set it on fire, say it was stolen, and collect the insurance money. And literally right as he threw the match on it, a police car came down the road. Because everyone knew everyone in my town, the cop said, “Greg, what’s going on here?” Of course, the officer could see what was going on, so Greg had to tell the truth. He was out the car, the money, everything.

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Anyway, one day last year, a couple of local police officers came by, and they said, “Hey Jay, a guy up the street was a hoarder and recently passed away. He’s got some kind of car in his garage, and the family wants to know if you’re interested.” I asked them what it was, and one of them said, “Dunno, but it’s something English, and it’s been in there since probably the late ’60s.”

Intrigued, I went over there with some of the guys from the shop. It was less than a mile away, a house I go by every day. The owner had no heirs, so he left the house and all the contents to people in the neighborhood who had befriended him and taken care of him in his later years. The garage was so filled with junk, you couldn’t see the car because the guy had piled old televisions and water heaters on top of it, among other things, and we had to dig it out. Finally, it started to take the shape of a Jaguar, and after investigating some more, we learned that it’s not only an XKE, but a ’63 Series I roadster with all of 17,500 miles on it.

It was still in its original paint, called Opalescent Golden Sand, and it still had the original top and original interior. All the factory bits that get lost over the years, like the little clips and grommets that hold the wiring in place, were all there, along with the original hoses and clamps. It even had the original exhaust system on it. When we opened the hood, we saw that it still had the blue chalk marks from the factory. The jack, tool kit, and even the old-fashioned Dunlop bleeder valve were in the trunk, along with all the books and delivery papers.

Well, I had to have it. They don’t come along like this—ever. And it really is one of the most beautiful cars ever made; even Enzo Ferrari thought so. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t respect the E-Type, even non-car people. As a 20th century kinetic art form, it’s gorgeous, with both a masculine and a feminine element that appeals to everyone.

The sellers could see that they had a live one on the hook, and I paid what I think is the going rate for an E-Type in this condition. All we’ve done is clean it up, replace the tires and wire wheels with half-inch-wider rims, and rebuild the rear end. We put some ATF and acetone in the cylinders because, while the engine turned, it didn’t make any compression. Then we let it sit for a couple of weeks, and the cylinders all came back and now it starts on the button, runs beautifully, and doesn’t smoke. All the gauges work, even the clock!

It has a couple of dings from the television sets thrown on it, which I’m going to get the Dent Master guy to roll out, but otherwise we’re not going to touch it. It’s just too original, and the patina is beautiful. You start restoring a car like this and where do you stop? It’s like trimming sideburns; pretty soon, you have no hair.

One of the great things about living in Los Angeles is that you had all these aviation companies building airplanes here. And where airplane people go, generally you find interesting cars, too. I bought my 1927 Duesenberg Model X out of a garage not far from here, and it was also an original car that we didn’t restore because the patina was too good. I know more are out there, because when I drive around Burbank, I pass these small houses, and about every seventh or eighth house has an enormous garage, so somebody is up to something back there. Let’s hope the good ones, like this E-Type, find their way to people who will preserve them.

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