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Jay Leno Garage Tour Winner, 2016, Dennis Doberneck.

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Dennis sent us this great letter about his trip:

An evening phone call in mid-May from Carol Verstuyft started me off on a mini adventure and a unique, interesting, enjoyable, and probably once-in-a-lifetime experience. Carol, the Chairperson of the Spring 2016 Warbirds, Wings and Wheels Car Show at the Estrella Warbird Museum, called to let me know that I had won the drawing for a tour for four people at Jay Leno’s Big Dog Garage. Carol provided me with a contact name and phone number to arrange for the tour. I spoke with Bernard Juchli, the general manager for Jay Leno’s Garage, to confirm the address and arrange a tour date and time.

Tours are possible on weekdays only; one in the morning or one in the afternoon. Each tour is limited to four people and lasts 1 to 1 ½ hours. Jay Leno donates these tours to a variety of museums and car and motorcycle enthusiast organizations to aid in fund raising efforts to support educational and charitable causes. Lucky winners of tours come from all over North America. The summer season tour schedule calendar fills up rapidly, and I had to juggle a bit on dates to find one that would work for all four of us. A Tuesday afternoon in late August worked for us.

Using Google Maps as our guide, we exited Interstate 5 in Burbank. Numerous left and right turns on surface streets winding through older industrial areas brought us to an area with somewhat newer buildings. The Big Dog Garage is located in a business/industrial area filled with one-story warehouses, industrial shops, and television production support businesses. All the buildings look pretty much alike. Few businesses announce themselves with business names posted on the buildings or street-side signs. Only the street address numbers posted on the side of a building let us know that we had arrived at the Big Dog Garage… there is no sign, identification or any other indication of who owns or what lies within the buildings. After identifying myself through an intercom, the gate was opened electronically, and we walked into the facility.

Accompanying me were my two sons-in-law and an old friend (a restorer of vintage European sports and touring cars and old motorcycles of all nationalities). We are all “car guys” of one stripe or another. Our interest in cars and motorcycles ranges from simple to sophisticated. We probably represent a pretty good cross section of the general public in our automotive knowledge and interests. We certainly all left the tour with greater knowledge and a new appreciation of cars and motorcycles. There are about 180 cars and 180 motorcycles housed, repaired, restored and maintained at the Big Dog Garage. We did not see all of them. I recognized many of the vehicles from having seen them on various television shows. During our tour we learned not only the basics (year and models) of many of the vehicles, but also, and I think most interestingly, the back stories of the vehicles: Manufacturing challenges and innovations…unique design and engineering features (some that were ahead of their time, some that worked and some that failed)…the ownership history of some of the vehicles…the stories of how some of the vehicles came into Jay Leno’s collection, etc..

Frankly, the collection is almost overwhelming. It’s not designed to be that way, it just is. There wasn’t time enough to see it all. Everyone starting the tour probably has their own special interests; something they would like to see when it comes to cars or motorcycles. That interest might be in 60’s muscle cars, European touring cars, race cars, sports cars, motorcycles, commercial vehicles, mini cars, etc...Or maybe it’s an interest in vehicles manufactured during a certain time period…Or perhaps vehicles that were good ideas but failed commercially, or even bad ideas that failed commercially…Or perhaps it’s cars that were owned by famous people. I suspect that everyone after taking this tour left with many of their expectations met, and also left with a new appreciation and understanding of the progression of technology in different aspects of motor vehicle history, design and engineering.

Once people find out that you’ve been to Jay Leno’s Big Dog Garage you don’t quite garner celebrity status, but you do get a lot of questions. A lot of people know about Jay Leno’s car collection, and are really curious about what vehicles were seen and what happens on a tour…A few commonly asked questions: “What is the most expensive vehicle there?” The values ranged from five thousand dollars or so for a Nash “Metropolitan” in non-running and cosmetically poor condition to over $ 1 million for some incredibly rare sports, race, and classic antique cars.

“How much is the whole collection worth? “ I don’t know, and none of us thought to ask. It’s worth a lot of money!

“Did you get any good pictures?” Unfortunately, no picture taking is allowed on the property or in the buildings.

“Does Jay Leno actually drive any of them?” Vehicles ranged in age from virtually brand new to over 110 years old. They are all repaired or restored. Some are repair or restoration works in progress. The aim is to have them all kept in good operating condition. And yes, Jay Leno has driven, and continues to drive, every one of them that’s drivable, safe and roadworthy. “What was your favorite car that you saw?” Not a simple answer for a simple question…depending who you ask. Immediately after the tour we talked among ourselves about just this question. The $1 million McLaren race car was a hot topic, as was a Duesenberg, a 1930’s Bentley, and others came up in the conversations. It was interesting to ask this same question several weeks later. When the excitement and mental dust settled a different and interesting picture emerged in our group when it came to picking a favorite. (To be honest, I don’t think you can really pick just one as a favorite – but here goes.) Our Favorites:

I found I remembered and liked most a Jaguar XK120…perhaps one of the most graceful and beautifully styled cars I’ve ever seen.

One son in law picked a McLaren…Expensive, rare, fast, and an engineering marvel. And one son in law and my car expert friend both picked a 1950’s fire truck. A bit stunned after having seen an array of some of the most desirable cars in the world, I asked my friend about this choice. His response: “It looks like it would be a really fun vehicle to drive.” We could not have had a more competent, knowledgeable and personable guide. You might expect that employees there might find the almost daily intrusion of their work place by groups of curious foursomes to be a huge pain and an overall disruptive nuisance. While there we spoke with several other employees in addition to our guide. Everyone displayed a truly friendly and welcome attitude. You feel like they really care that the experience is one that will be special for you. It’s very apparent that staff are not only competent and knowledgeable, but they truly enjoy working there.

What a surprise it was to find I had won the tour at last years’ drawing. And what a surprise it was to find the tour to be as good as it was. I’d enjoy going on the tour again. If next years’ Warbirds, Wings and Wheels event offers ticket sales for a chance to visit the Big Dog Garage, you’ll see me buying more tickets.

Dennis Doberneck