Leno: Hypercars or Just Hype?

Jay Leno Garage 1913 Mercer Runabout full
Courtesy Jay Leno's Garage/Walker Dalton

True story: I once got sued for driving “a mobile distraction.” I was driving my 1913 Mercer Raceabout on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, and it was the usual bumper-to-bumper traffic. I noticed that this one guy was looking at me, and not at the car in front of him, and I said “Hey, watch out!” Oh yeah, he said,no problem, and he asked me what kind of car I was driving and what year it was and so forth and … boom! He hit the guy in front of him. Not hard,just a small bang, maybe a broken taillight or something.

A couple of weeks later, I got a notice in the mail that I was being sued for driving “a mobile distraction.” I went to court and told the judge that this is exactly what the Mercer looked like when it was new, that there was nothing on it in particular to distract a driver, no flashing lights or neon billboards, nothing like that. Well, I won, but it was crazy—the whole premise was that I was driving something like a clown car, trying to get people’s attention.

I sometimes wonder if people buying the latest hypercars will have the same problem. After all,isn’t that what they are buying,attention? I guess another attraction is that they are bespoke and handmade. Each one is individually handcrafted to the owner’s exact specifications, the seat molded to the exact contours of their butt,etc. Hey, I get it;in the 1920s and ’30s, bespoke coachwork was all the rage, and my garage is full of cars from that era—what I like to call my “collection of noble failures” because firms like Duesenberg offered the finest craftsmanship at the highest prices and ultimately flopped because it was too expensive, even back then.

The idea that anything handmade is better than anything designed by a computer and built by a robot really went out years ago. The English beat it to death, and have you checked the prices of 1980s Jaguars? I remember when a company out of Australia called Carbon Revolution brought a set of handmade carbon-fiber wheels here to try out. The wheels were about $20,000 apiece, and I drove a Porsche 911 fitted with them. It did feel a little lighter and everything, but the wheels cost as much as the car! A few years later, Ford came in, helped the company automate their manufacturing, and offered the wheels on the Shelby Mustang GT350 for about $2500 per wheel. The same wheels! Which says everything you need to know about the efficiency of hand manufacturing.

Carbon Revolution Mustang GT500 wheel
Carbon Revolution

And don’t tell me people buy hypercars for the performance. If you buy a $3 million car are you a 30-times-better driver than a guy who buys a Porsche? Personally, I don’t think I’m good enough for any of them. Last time I drove a Porsche 718 Cayman, which starts around $70,000 today, I thought, “Well, this is a fabulous car. You have plenty of power, it’s relatively light, it handles as good as anything I’ve ever driven, and if I went out and bought a $3 million car, a proper driver would beat me in a Cayman, no question.”

I remember a number of years ago, this one guy rode to the Rock Store up on Mulholland Highway on a Harley 883 Sportster. Nothing fancy, the cheapest Harley in the catalog then. A bunch of guys in racing leathers were going up the mountain on the hottest new sport bikes and he went with them. And he was practically banging the handlebars on the groundgunning it out of the corners beating these guys on bikes with 180 horsepower. And I said to myself, “OK, I’m never going to be that good, either on two wheels or four.” If I had to pick, I would definitely rather drive a Cayman and try to beat someone than lose to a Cayman while trying to look good in my McLaren F1, because I’m totally not worthy.

One million dollars is ridiculous for a car, but that’s about what the McLaren F1 was when I got it. The car was designed by Gordon Murray, a genius, really. And now Murray is building a new line of cars that are supposed to be analog, like my old F1, with naturally aspirated engines and manual transmissions. In the interior, you get not much more than in a Miata; there’s a little steering wheel, a stick shifter, and a radio, but the price is $3 million! Sure, it’s beautiful, and if you buy one,you might get hit with a silly lawsuit. More important, you better know how to drive it, because there’s somebody out there in a Cayman who would love to eat your lunch.




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    Like golf. I play with an old set of clubs. They were my dads amd while they were a good set they are old. I will play with guys with Callaway and other big name custom clubs.

    Well while I am far from a pro I can generally handle many of these guys. I played golf as a kid around the yard chipping and putting for hours. Even now with long gaps between playing I still do ok.

    Just for fun I will often pull out my grand fathers putter from the 20’s. Yes it is an old wood handle. I made some good shots and my buddy asked to use it thinking I had some secret wagon.

    I get what Jay is getting at here. These high end cars are fund to see and look at but few will ever be used to the limit due to their value or just the cost of the tires.

    Most get pulled out and putt up to the Grammys or Academy Awards. They are put back into storage for the next big event.

    The truth is there are many satisfying cars out there we can afford and play with. You do not need a million to just sit at cars and coffee to play look at me.

    I get a kick out of my Fiero as with the way I have it many have no idea what it is. I get get the thing on the highway where people pull up and about run you off the road trying to take a picture. One guy in Indy made a complete circle around me on the freeway.

    To me that is fun as I can still get a crazy reaction at minimal cost.

    I just saw Sammy Hagar was selling his Million Dollar Ferrari. He said it is just too much car for his age. He still has some others including his 512 but I thought it was cool that he was ok with selling it for the right reasons.

    I feel like seeing Jay is more of a distraction than whatever he’s driving for most people. 🙂

    Hypercars are all showmanship and numbers. You can use about 1/20th of their performance potential on the street.

    These days buying something handmade is far more about artistry, craftsmanship and the item being unique than being of better quality. That said, I’m fairly certain some handmade things, like clothing or leather goods or jewelry might well be much better than mass produced versions.

    I think cars, like anything, venture in the realm of diminishing returns as you go up in quality. I want twice as good, I pay twice as much. I want 10% better than that, I pay twice as much. I want 1% better than that…

    If you have 3 million in discretionary cash to chase that 1%, why wouldn’t you?

    As far as hand-building things though, I think when you automate, you get a cheaper, more consistent product. Sure. But what you lose is the thought process and the knowledge of making the thing. We used to make things. Now we make things that make things. Do we really still know how to make all the things that the things are making?

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