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Antique collection beyond car buff's wildest dreams

Robert Carr had the chance to tour Jay Leno's famous four-hangar garage in Burbank in September

A Foothills car buff had his engine revved with the opportunity of a lifetime this fall.

Robert Carr, his son Kevin and cousin Dale were invited for a private tour of Jay Leno’s garage and car collection in Burbank, California in September.

“Never in my life did I imagine this,” said Carr. “We all dream, us old guys who play with old cars and stuff like that, we always think it would be great even to get to see the show. We see the show (Jay Leno’s Garage) on TV, but…

“It’s phenomenal. It’s out of this world.”

The invitation came after Carr and his wife were introduced to new neighbours Dave and Betty at their winter home in Harvard Cove, Florida three years ago. They got onto the topic of antique cars, and Carr was sharing photos and stories of his collection back home.

On his property south of Big Rock, he has a Thunderbird (the car that carried MP John Barlow in the Okotoks parade last spring), a Mustang convertible, an El Camino, one of the first B10 Dodge trucks and a 1966 AMC Charger.

It turned out Betty’s brother is one of Leno’s top mechanics, and they asked Carr if he’d like the chance to visit the garage.

“I said, ‘Sure,’ but I thought they were kidding,” said Carr. “Then two years ago we got together and they got an invitation from Jay for us to go through his garage.”

Unfortunately, Carr ended up in the hospital at the time of the invitation and sent his two sons and a nephew in his stead, with great disappointment to be missing out himself.

“I thought I’d never get a chance to,” said Carr. “But I got a personal invitation from Jay to come see him again. Not that he was a friend of mine, don’t get me wrong - it was through my neighbours.”

This time around he was able to make the trip, and it didn’t disappoint. Flanked by his son and cousin, he coined the trip, “The Carr boys meet the Car Guy.”

They were led by a gentleman who works with Leno through the three Bob Hope Airport hangars containing his collection of cars – 172 vehicles and 117 motorcycles.

“I’ve got five cars and I think I’m happy,” Carr said.

He said what struck him most was how casual the entire day was.

Upon arrival they were let in through security gates and parked outside the hangars. A rumbling sound from behind made them turn, and they saw Leno pull up to the gate on an older bike with a sidecar.

He parked across the road from them, but they didn’t get the chance to speak to him. Their tour began, and they were taken through the collection and told stories about Leno’s cars.

“I thought, ‘Well, we’ve seen him,’” said Carr.

After walking through the car collection they were taken into the fourth hangar, which serves as Leno’s restoration bay and mechanical garage, he said. They were having coffee and chatting when the overhead door opened and an old car drove into the bay.

The driver got out and started poking around under the hood, checking fluid levels and working at the engine.

“And that was Mr. Leno himself,” said Carr. “He’s just down-to-earth – you wouldn’t know he had a cent to his name. I think that probably stood out more than anything.

“He’d come over to you, jabber away at you. It just was not what I expected from a man of that stature, which really, today, to me, means something.”

They had been shown Leno’s first car, the one he’d slept in when he was first working as a comedian and couldn’t afford a hotel. It’s still part of his collection.

“And now look what he’s got,” said Carr. “It hasn’t gone to his head. He was one of the boys.”

He said the vehicles range from heavily-used older vehicles to a mint 1994 McLaren valued at $12 million. There is one three-wheeler that was originally built by a 17-year-old boy from scratch and eventually made its way into Leno’s collection.

But no Ferraris.

The story was when Leno first made it on television, he wanted a specific Ferrari, but it wasn’t something available at dealerships. It had to be acquired directly through Ferrari.

When he went to Ferrari to ask after the $400,000 car he was told it was only sold to people of higher status, and he wasn’t of that quality.

“So when he did finally make it big, Ferrari came to him and said they’d like to give him a car and he turned them down,” said Carr. “To this day he doesn’t have one in his collection.”

The oldest car in the collection is 106 years old, and the newest one is an electric Tesla, he said.

Carr said the experience was surreal and beyond his wildest imagination.

“It’s something I thought I’d never see,” he said. “It will go with me to my grave.”