John Roth of LeClaire was in la-la-land as he stood alongside a 1938 Bugatti Atlantic. That’s a car, for the jillions who never heard of a 1938 Bugatti. There are only three of them, and the last one sold for $34 million.
One of those $34 million babies belongs to Jay Leno; one other is owned by fashion designer Ralph Lauren, and the third by a billionaire who prefers to remain anonymous.
That Bugatti was only one of the treats Roth experienced during an unprecedented visit to the “garage” of the host of “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
Auto buffs will tell you that Leno’s collection is one of the world’s classiest, and the most private.
Roth says: “It’s may be easier to get into heaven, but you never get into Jay Leno’s garage.”
Roth’s visit to the Leno “garage” is an example of what can happen when you’re nice to strangers.
“My wife, Celeste, and I were visiting our daughter, Jean, in Burbank, California, and stopped to pick up some goodies at the Monte Carlo delicatessen,” says John. “We talked to strangers, among them a very familiar face, Jay Leno. He had just bought salami and bread for his garage employees.”
“Dad was glassy-eyed when he was chatting with Leno,” says his daughter. “Here he was, right alongside his all-time car hero.”
Roth brought up the subject of a Deere & Co. employee back home who has a collection of Model T Fords he’d like to sell. Would Leno be interested?
Leno wasn’t. He said there are 30,000 Model T’s still in existence, and he likes something more distinctive, like a vintage Alfa Romeo or a classic Aston Martin.
“He knew I was a car man and didn’t object when we went outside the deli and I took a picture of him holding my wife’s hand while he sat at the wheel — right-hand drive — of his 1955 Model 403 Bristol, an English car he just bought,” Roth says.
Roth’s entrée to Leno’s garage came by way of the LeClaire man’s daughter, a professional French horn player. She has a friend, also a professional horn player, who is married to one of Leno’s mechanics. Mention of Roth reached Leno, with whom he said he enjoyed visiting at the deli. Next day there was a call to Roth, asking if he would like to visit Leno’s garage.
“We stayed two hours in the 100,000-square-foot garage. We met Leno’s six mechanics who looked more like surgeons than grease monkeys. We had a tour guide named Bob. I think he made up the title because no tours or photos are allowed.”
Roth, who is retired, says the visit to Leno’s so-called garage “was like being in automotive heaven.”
“No one ever dares ask to see Leno’s collection of cars, including his 17 steam-operated cars. Rarely are people invited.”
Back home in LeClaire, Roth has a classic of his own that comes out of its cover on special occasions. It is a 1984 Mercedes diesel. But he doesn’t tool around to the supermarket in it.
Contact Bill Wundram at 563-383-2249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.