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 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.
But let’s get back to Jay Leno’s turbine-powered not-a-Prius wonder.
A forward-looking one-offThe 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.
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.