Jay Leno is best known for owning lots of cars, but folks often overlook that his collection is also carefully curated. Not everything he owns is crazy out-there or exorbitantly expensive, and really when you get down to the nitty gritty of his tase, his fleet includes plenty of cars that seem pretty insignificant as far as year/make/model. The 1939 Chrysler Royal that Leno dives into in the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage is a prime example.
The green four-door Royal isn’t a top-tier model from Chrysler. It sports the humble inline-six engine is backed by a three-speed column shifted manual. Basic cloth interior with standard for the day options. This car isn’t special, however, because of how, when, or where it was built. No, this one is all about provenance, and although the owner was famously funny, the importance of this person to Leno is no joke.
It’s a Chrysler of comedic history. Johnny Carson was the man when it came to late night television. He shaped the genre Leno would eventually come to own in his own way. Carson was born and raised in the humble parts of Nebraska, and as he was growing up his father owned this exact Royal. His family sold it in the late 1970s, but producers at NBC unexpectedly reunited Carson with the car when he returned home to film a TV special.
The team was looking for a similar car, but in the search they were introduced to how small towns really work. Asking around for a car they could buy, this car came up and the current owner was the man who purchased the car from Carson’s father. At the end of the special, NBC gifted Carson the car. He kept it in his garage for some time but it wasn’t really his thing. So he sought out a new home for it; and who do you call when you need to sell a car? A friend who is into cars, and in Carson’s case he knew someone crazy about vehicles of all stripes.
Leno helped him find a museum that was happy to take the car for an exhibit. Carson gave special instructions to the museum upon delivery, though. Unbeknownst to Leno, Carson instructed that the car be sent to Leno when the exhibit was complete. Carson passed away while the car was still at the museum, so when when Leno got the phone call he was more than surprised.
The car has had some light restoration, and it displays perfectly for a machine that can and should be enjoyed on the road. The straight-six thrums as Leno shifts through the gears, motoring down the road in humble fashion. Just a heartwarming tale of automotive love, and friendship. No punchline.