The EcoJet Was Jay Leno's 650-HP Homemade Sustainable Dream That Came True

Jay Leno’s passion for the automotive world can hardly be reciprocated by anyone else on Earth. The EcoJet is proof that he wanted to be more than just an enjoyer of someone else’s creations. And, after only eight months, the comedian succeeded in seeing one of his most beloved projects come to fruition.
The EcoJet 9 photos
Photo: Jay Leno's Garage on YouTube
The EcoJetThe EcoJetThe EcoJetThe EcoJet's BiodieselThe EcoJet's BiodieselJay Leno and Neil DeGrasse TysonJay Leno and Neil DeGrasse TysonThe EcoJet's Honeywell Jet Engine
There aren’t that many people out there with the means to buy almost every vehicle they like. The lucky enthusiasts who dispose of such financial reserves may or may not be able to take real care of a properly sized car collection. We have maybe a couple of hundreds of well-off aficionados out there who allocate enough resources towards safeguarding their most precious buys.

But only a few of them have decided to share this passion with the entire world. As a comedian and a TV legend, Jay Leno understood before others that the Internet has the potential to become a global archive accessible from anywhere. So, he acted on his beliefs and decided to create what is today known as Jay Leno’s Garage – a YouTube channel with almost 3.5 million subscribers and enough content to help you understand the complicated universe that’s been built around cars. It’s a goldmine!

Sure, Leno wrote a lot, spent time at NBC, and appeared in some sitcoms. But none of those things matter in today’s world as much as the footage that’s always available to us via YouTube. It’s a great way of going back in time without spending too much effort on exhausting searches or asking a third party for archives. And this leads us to one of his greatest projects – the EcoJet.

Thanks to his sheer passion for vehicles, the comedian talked about anything that moves and has wheels without interruption. Sometimes he bought them. Other times, guests were invited to show their beloved motoring possessions. That’s how many Americans and other fans worldwide discovered a plethora of great stories.

The EcoJet
Photo: Jay Leno's Garage on YouTube
But now it is time to admire something else about James Douglas Muir Leno, and that is his decision to never abandon his dreams, even the wildest ones. This is why we can now allow ourselves to be immersed in something that’s undoubtedly interesting, if not even provocatively outrageous.

The environmentally friendly jet-powered diesel car built in a… Garage!

Now’s a good time to remember the EcoJet. It was Jay Leno’s dream that led to an interesting collaboration between multiple industry giants. The project started like any other great initiative that requires imagination and a fair bit of science – it was first poorly drawn on a napkin.

After only eight months of working together with General Motors (GM), Honeywell, Alcoa, and BASF, the impressive concept car was shown to the world at the 2006 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) in Las Vegas. And it made quite an impact.

Only three years have passed since Tesla appeared with its battery-electric solution at that point in time. So, things were already starting to encompass a zero-tailpipe emission philosophy. That was also when the automotive industry was raving about what was needed for less road transport pollution and was frantically trying to figure out ways in which the internal combustion engine won’t fade away rapidly. Right now, it’s quite a thing to ponder that biodiesel was perceived as being sustainable. That’s because we know biofuels come with some controversial disadvantages.

The EcoJet's Biodiesel
Photo: Jay Leno's Garage on YouTube
Concepts are known to not have a very long life, but they are very important for the continuous development of the automotive world. Thinking ahead may result in nothing, or it can revolutionize an entire industry. That's also why things like Formula 1 or Formula E exist, for example. Pushing boundaries and testing new things may reveal something that can apply industry-wide.

But let’s get back to Jay Leno’s turbine-powered not-a-Prius wonder.

A forward-looking one-off

The EcoJet used a 650-hp (659-ps) Honeywell LT-101 turbine engine. To put it into something interesting, a Corvette Z06 was sacrificed. The defunct sports car’s body was completely overhauled. A hydroformed aluminum frame, magnesium and aluminum structural and chassis components, and a shell made from carbon fiber, kevlar, and other lightweight materials resulted in a vehicle that was poised to (shortly) race private planes.

The C6 Z06’s front suspension, brakes, and automatic transmission survived the transition. However, the designers had to change an excruciating number of details. The cabin had to be moved forward so the jet engine could be accommodated. Two fuel tanks were added because space was not plentiful, and the engine had to start on kerosene, then it switched to biodiesel made from soybean oil.

Jay Leno and Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Photo: Jay Leno's Garage on YouTube
Still, Jay Leno didn’t want his car to be a burden on the environment. So, 17 years ago the parties involved in the project had to use cleaner paint and it had to run on renewable fuel. That’s why the choice was biodiesel! The cabin was also subjected to this requirement, so the materials were also chosen with care and did not originate from animals.

Most of the work was done at the TV star’s garage, but GM made sure to supervise the design and engineering phases. But while the two-seat concept was ready to be shown around, it did not work as the comedian wanted it to.

Calling himself the “President of the ‘more money than brains’ club,” Leno insisted on perfecting the vehicle. After many parts were burnt or broken during testing, a working version was achieved. However, three more years were needed on top of the first three that were initially considered enough to have the prototype ready to clock impressive half-mile times. In 2012, a little over a decade ago, the EcoJet was ready to go over the 150 mph (241 kph) mark.

Even Neil DeGrasse Tyson was impressed with it. Although he became a bit worried back in 2016 when Jay Leno took him on an airport run, and the driver-side window broke into tiny pieces at 120 mph (193 kph). The comedian’s unbothered reaction momentarily confused the astrophysicist. “Lost a window,” said Leno. Still, they continued pushing on until the speed of 165 mph (266 kph) was reached.

Finally, the EcoJet proves that virtually anything can be achieved when you put your mind to it and have the right partners. It lives on even today as a testament to what humans can achieve when they work together.

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About the author: Florin Amariei
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Car shows on TV and his father's Fiat Tempra may have been Florin's early influences, but nowadays he favors different things, like the power of an F-150 Raptor. He'll never be able to ignore the shape of a Ferrari though, especially a yellow one.
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