Jay Leno’s Garage: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Collectibles
For Two Professional Detailers, The Dream Job Is Reality…
@BL: By Ellen McKoy, Photos by Ellen McKoy
@BT: Ask the average man or woman on the street who Jay Leno is, and they’ll likely tell you he’s a great comedian or they loved watching him on “The Late Show.” But in the automotive world, Jay Leno is most renowned as a connoisseur of collectible cars, the host of “Jay Leno’s Garage” on CNBC, and the owner of one of the most prestigious private collections of two- and four-wheeled vehicles you’ll find anywhere.
So it was with great delight that Detailers Digest was recently invited to hang out at Leno’s Garage in Burbank, Calif. After all, who in their right mind would turn down an invitation to spend a couple of hours ogling, or should I say drooling, over some of the most exquisite, glistening sheet metal ever built for road or track?
Everything from early steam-powered cars to turbo-charged street and race machines to an amazing assemblage of vintage motorcycles, all arrayed in climate-controlled room after room after room adorned with gigantic hand-painted posters. More than 300 vehicles in all. Plus a separate free-standing building that houses an active workshop filled with works in progress. Toss in a guided tour with two, very dynamic young guys who have one of the best jobs ever—detailing Jay Leno’s collection.
Chris Walters is the marketing director for the Garage, and his buddy, Jeremy Porrazzo, is the operating partner for Jay Leno’s Garage Advanced Vehicle Care product line. The duo has been involved in the automotive enhancement side of the market for many years. With a background in developing specially formulated, high-end car care chemicals, and experience as professional detailers, they are well suited for doting on Leno’s collection with lots of TLC. But the road to Burbank was a bit circuitous. Call it karma, fate or serendipity that ultimately landed them what they consider to be their dream jobs.
<B>Necessity, The Mother Of Invention<P>
Walters and Porrazzo are Southern California natives, having grown up in and around Orange County, south of Los Angeles. They’ve been friends for years, and, in fact, live in the same neighborhood.
Porrazzo’s dad used to rebuild old cars as a hobby. He did the body work, painted and rebuilt engines. But, recalled Porrazzo, “Once it got down to color sanding and buffing, he was too nervous to polish a car, because the compounds on the market were very aggressive. That final touch was too scary for him to do.”
As luck would have it, they made a connection at California State Polytechnic University through a fellow who was taking chemical formulations classes and suggested they team up to develop a water-based compound, rather than one that was petroleum based. That Cal Poly connection was a turning point.
<B>May The Force Be With You<P>
They went on to launch what became known as System 51, a line of high-quality, eco-friendly water-based car care products aimed, said Porrazzo, ‘’primarily at the body shop side of the business and high-end restoration.”
So how did they end up crossing paths with Jay Leno? It began quite casually through their involvement in detailing vehicles at an annual holiday car show hosted by none other than famed funny car race driver John Force at his Yorba Linda, Calif., race shop.
“We’ve been a chemical blender for about 15 years, since the early 2000s, focusing on eco-friendly blends,” noted Walters. “We had done a number of John Force’s car shows, where we had met a few of the guys who brought Jay’s cars (to the shows), and, sometimes, Jay would show up. We got to do some product demonstrations for them—this was before YouTube became what it is today—and from those, Jay asked us to come to the Garage to film a product spotlight video.”
They went on to film additional videos and build a rapport with Leno’s in-house detailer. “Once a month or once a quarter, we’d show up to see if they had any questions, if there was anything we could help with, and if we had a new product, we’d give him samples to test,” recalled Walters. Anything to keep them top of mind.
And one day, about 10 years ago, that persistence paid off. They got a call from Leno’s shop foreman informing them the detailer was no longer part of the crew. Could they assist the Garage in finding someone to take care of the cars from an appearance standpoint?
“Jeremy and I looked at each other and thought, man, this is an excellent opportunity,” recalled Walters. “We knew a ton of detailers just from blending chemicals and being involved in detailing, but we also know how to detail. Why would we hand this off to somebody else? We thought let’s take a look at it ourselves, and that’s what we did.”
<B>Living The Dream<P>
Walters and Porrazzo began showing up at the Garage once a month or so. At the beginning, said Walters, “It was mostly dust control. The collection hadn’t been touched in a couple of months and there was a lot of work to be done.”
Leno, who regularly frequents the Garage, was impressed with their work and soon offered them a regular position. “We started with once a week,” said Walters, “taking care of everything that needed to be prepped for filming, whether for YouTube or a TV show, and we took care of the rest of the collection.”
Nowadays, more often than not, they are at the Garage three days a week. No mean feat, considering their 50-plus-mile drive from their hometown to Burbank in LA’s notorious traffic. But, said Walters, who so loves working at the Garage that he refers to it as his dream job, “There’s not a time we’re driving there together that we’re thinking, darn, we’ve got to go to Jay’s today!”
Their job varies from day to day. This year,” added Walters, “a big focus for us is shooting more (YouTube) videos. We’re taking a more active role in the restoration of the vehicles as well. Once they’re done being painted, if they’re doing a full paint job or maybe a panel—something that was rusted out—we’ll come in and help with the color sanding and buffing.
“But mostly, it’s about maintaining the collection. Normally, we don’t do a deep dive, but if they’re doing beauty shots or shooting specific engine parts, we make sure the interior is nice and clean, and if it needs any leather treatment so it has a nice glimmer. Some of Jay’s cars have precious metals in the engine compartment—copper, brass, German silver—that get tarnished just from not being used. So we get in there with a good metal polish and everything comes to life and looks brand new.”
<B>Chasing The Ball<P>
Given their background in the chemical business, it’s not surprising that Porrazzo and Walters began setting their sights not long ago on a more ambitious goal—a way to leverage that experience. “Private labeling was always part of our original business model in the chemical business,” noted Walters. “So Jeremy and I looked at the bigger picture. Detailing here is great, but Jay Leno’s Garage was standing on its own two feet. The network had just picked up the TV show, YouTube has a million followers, so we thought let’s pitch Jay on the idea of making a car care line under the Jay Leno’s Garage brand name. So we pitched the idea to him—that was a nerve-wracking day—and he thought it was a great idea.”
“Our chemist is from Cal Poly,” added Porrazzo, “and we’ve spent a lot of time and money testing our products. We really got down to the science of it. Having Cal Poly in our hip pocket, we’re able to utilize them for courses (where) they would have students break down our products and compare them using electron microscopes to see what the polishes do and how to make them better.”
For instance, to eliminate imperfections in a finish, they looked for an alternative to a diminishing abrasive that has a tendency to break down as it’s being worked. So they took a page out of a technique used by Lens Crafters to polish eyeglass lenses. “If there are any imperfections,” said Porrazzo, “your eyes will be affected. So we brought that concept into the business. Our cutter is an engineered abrasive that doesn’t break down. So you’re removing the least amount of clear off the paint, but you’re getting a better, optically clearer finish when it’s done.
“If you asked me in high school what I thought I’d be doing, I don’t think I would’ve said getting into the science of compounds, polishes and detail products,” continued Porrazzo. “But, let me tell you, it’s awesome. I’ve always loved cars, but I never thought I’d get this deep into it and team up with Jay. What Jay gave Chris and me is a pretty awesome opportunity. They say you’ve got to love what you do. I wake up every morning, especially when I coming to Jay’s, and there’s a smile on my face.”
SIDEBAR NOTE: PHOTOS FOR THIS WILL BE LABELED SIDEBAR AND SHOULD ACCOMPANY THE TEXT.
@DK: Chris Walter’s Tech Tip
@BT: “The biggest thing for me when I’m detailing is getting to the inside of the windshield, that little crevice where it meets the dashboard. Especially if you have a really long windshield, it can be a pain to get down in there,” said Walters. So here’s what he recommends.
- Grab a towel.
- Flip your hand over almost upside down. Elbow should be pointing up toward the top of the windshield.
- With palm facing up, come in a little backwards. This allows the mobility and pressure to get the towel into the furthest recess of the windshield.
@CL: Jay Leno’s passion for cool cars extends to keeping them spit-shined. Photo courtesy of Kahn Media.
@CL: This needle-nosed Ariel Atom was built by Ariel Motor Company, a British firm that introduced the first patented spoke wheel in 1870.
@CL: The 1930s blue Bugatti is one of many French beauties in Leno’s collection. Many of the posters hanging throughout the Garage were painted by a designer who worked on the set of “The Late Show.”
@CL: Corvettes of various vintage are a focal point in one of the many rooms of the Garage. Look closely at the poster. You’ll see a caricature of Leno exiting the car.
@CL: In a room chockful of steam-powered vehicles, the 1906 Advance Thresher steam engine is a standout.
@CL: The Stanley Steamer was built by the Stanley Motor Carriage Company in 1909
PHOTOS #7- 8 GANG TOGETHER
@CL: Leno’s collection of vintage Brough motorcycles is one of the largest of its kind and was recently featured in the Los Angeles Times.
@CL: (left to right) Chris Walters and Jeremy Porrazzo relaxing at the workshop’s lunch counter.
@CL: Walters putting the finishing touch on a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren hood.
@CL: Porrazzo and Walters detailing the Mercedes SLR McLaren.
@CL: Leno and his team collaborated in developing superior car care products to suit their needs as well as those of professional detailers and discerning DIYers. The result of working with chemists and product engineers is Jay Leno’s Garage Advanced Vehicle Care line, formulated and bottled in the U.S. Photo courtesy of Kahn Media. www.lenosgarage.com.
SIDEBAR PHOTOS NO CUTLINES REQUIRED. NUMBERED IN ORDER 1-3.