What do steam engines and a Dodge Polar 426 Max Wedge have in common?
What do steam engines and a Dodge Polar 426 Max Wedge have in common? Easy answer: they’re both owned and kept running by Jay Leno. You probably knew that before you even clicked on this article. That doesn’t make the story behind those two machines—and a few others—any less interesting in the latest edition of Jay Leno’s Garage on YouTube.
The video begins in the corner of Jay’s massive facility, where he keeps his two 1800s-era steam engines. Well, he has to keep them there because they are pretty much built into the building. Jay casually walks through the starting procedure on the 125-horsepower Wright steam engine, and it is honestly astounding both how easily it takes off to running and how quiet it is at speed. Jay has to spin the three-ton flywheel back about a quarter rotation and then open a valve, and the head of steam built up by the boiler out back of the shop easily puts the big flywheel in motion. Why manual labor felt threatened by this massive piece of machinery is easy to see; this beast could work 24/7 with simple upkeep. Heck, it’s so overbuilt that even 155 years after it was manufactured it happily chugs away despite having no new parts.
Other things in the shop aren’t so lucky though. The 1962 Maserati 3500 GT I is one that has benefitted from Jay’s tasteful upgrades. His shop restored it 8–10 years ago, but the transmission was never quite right, so he didn’t drive it much. Rather than keep it languishing under a lift, the decision was made to fit a modern Tremec five-speed manual to the original twin-cam inline-six engine. It required fabricating the bellhousing from scratch, as well as a new driveshaft, but it is a combination that makes for a very drivable Maserati.
One of Leno’s other wild projects is the 1913 Christi fire engine powerplant that self-destructed a long time ago. One of the massive connecting rods attempted to liberate itself from the constrains of the cast-iron engine block, but despite its best attempts, all the rod achieved was to mutilate the unobtanium engine block. Jay’s team tore the engine down and sent that block off to Lock-n-Stitch, which patched the window-sized hole, and Carillo created new, stronger, connecting rods to keep the massive 20-liter four-cylinder engine running for another 100 years.
It a reality check that no matter how crazy of a project I think I’m taking on in my garage, there’s a bigger fish out there doing wilder things than I can even imagine. Seeing Jay keep these wild machines running and enjoyable is also a reminder that collectively we are merely temporary owners of these beloved cars and projects. The more we do to document the work and the reasons behind it, the better off the next generation will be.