Jay Leno's cars

Jay Leno has added a McLaren P1 to his collection of cars. The exotic sports car is considered by many critics to be the best sports car ever made. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times / April 10, 2014)

My desk at The Times faces out onto Spring Street and LAPD headquarters. Normally it’s a pretty dull view, a lot of gray concrete and slim ribbons of glass.

But around 4:30 each afternoon, something quite wonderful happens: The shadow of what must be the flag on top of The Times building appears on the side of the HQ just in my line of vision. And if there’s a breeze, the shadow dances.

But what really amazes me is that it dances to the beat of whatever song I happen to be listening to. Slow, fast, changes in tempo – the flag stays with the song. I’m both delighted and a bit unnerved by it.

The shadow only lasts a few minutes -- yes, about the length of a song -- and then disappears as the sun moves toward toward the west.

Here’s to the ephemeral beauty in our lives. Like the Great Reads that end up in the recycling bin. (Sob! But they last forever online.)

Anyway, in these roundups of the week gone by, I’d like to offer the first paragraphs of each Great Read (or, as they’re known in print, Column One) -- maybe they’ll buy your eye and you can settle in for a good weekend read. And you’ll also get the songs that inspired me while editing the stories, or reading them later if my fellow editor Millie Quan ushered them through. A story soundtrack!


Monday’s Great Read:

Passion and love drive Jay Leno to fill a 130-car garage

On a sunny day in the Burbank hills, Jay Leno's canary yellow McLaren supercar shatters the silence.

Wedged into the cockpit of the 903-horsepower hybrid P1, Leno darts around a curve and leans into the throttle. With the midday roads free of traffic, the $1.2-million McLaren surges through the canyon with a controlled fury.

“I just can't stop driving it,” Leno says at a stop sign, before roaring off again. “It's just a perfect blend of science and technology.... And you get the anthropomorphic sounds of the engine breathing.”

Back in Burbank where the drive started, a nondescript hangar next to the airport houses Leno's enviable collection of 130 cars, 93 motorcycles and a menagerie of engines, spare parts and memorabilia. The world knows Leno from late-night TV and stand-up comedy, but within car circles, Leno and his collection eclipse even his contribution to the annals of television.
“The Tonight Show” was a job. Cars are an obsession.

Most blue-chip car collectors focus on a particular marque or era and curate it like artwork. Jerry Seinfeld, for instance, sticks to Porsches. Local businessman Peter Mullin prefers French art deco cars and keeps his in a museum. Leno's friend and neighbor, Bruce Meyer — board vice chairman at L.A.'s Petersen Automotive Museum — is into American hot rods.

Leno takes a more organic approach: He just buys what he likes, across a seemingly limitless spectrum of styles, eras, cost, countries of origin and methods of propulsion. He's keen on cars with an intriguing back story, or those marking an engineering milestone.

But mostly Leno just buys cars he wants to drive. He finds it silly to collect cars purely for show.
“I never thought of it as a collection,” said Leno, looking over the rows of neatly parked classics. “Probably in the mid-1980s, I just started to keep stuff.”

The simple strategy has since filled a warehouse with one of the world's most valuable and eclectic collections.

#soundtrack: “Car Song,” by Elastica. Gotta love a video that ends with the band defeating Godzilla.


Tuesday’s Great Read: