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Video | I Just Had the Best Week Ever at the Amelia Island Concours — and Jay Leno’s Garage

It has been 72 agonizing days since I made a really stupid New Year’s resolution to not buy any cars in 2019. This was obviously an impossible task for me, so I gave myself a loophole that required getting one of the car gods, like Jay Leno or Jeremy Clarkson, to give me permission to buy cars again. This scenario seemed highly unlikely, but I created this loophole knowing that I would flying to California to film at Jay Leno’s garage soon, and that I would the legendary man himself.

I can’t go into details of what I exactly filmed with Jay, which will air on his CNBC show sometime this fall, but I did get to spend hours inside his garage, doing my best not to make squealing noises while viewing his collection. Obviously, his McLaren F1 was one of the coolest cars in the Big Dog Garage, and I chose it as a backdrop to film my clip of Jay giving me permission to buy cars again. I didn’t know he was going to pretend to sell me the McLaren, which he described as an excellent used car. Even if he wasn’t joking, I sadly couldn’t have come up with the $20 million to buy it anyway.

Instead of getting on a payment plan into infinity with the F1, I immediately went out and bought another car after I was finished filming with Jay, but to be totally honest, I had broken my resolution twice in the weeks before I left for California. If my trip had ended there, it would have been one of the coolest moments of my life, but another surreal experience awaited me on the opposite coast, at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida.

A lot of people don’t know that I tried to make a YouTube channel seven years ago with a friend of mine named Miguel, which fizzled fairly quickly when he left the country. It involved buying cars and taking them on adventures — and the only episode that made it on YouTube was a trip to the 2012 Ameila Island Concours. During the show, we stopped to random judges for interviews, and landed illustrious names like McKeel Hagerty of Hagerty insurance, and Ed Welburn, chief of design at General Motors at the time. During that trip, we also drooled over the cars being auctioned off at the collector car auctions — including a freshly restored 1948 Tucker Torpedo.

After giving up on that series, it took a while for my friend Miguel and I to find our footing again, For me, it ended being a second run at making silly videos on the internet — while Miguel became the curator of a massive collection of collector cars in Dubai. We were reunited this year at the Amelia Island Concours, as Miguel was sent as a buyer’s representative to acquire more vehicles at the various auctions — and I was invited by the concours, along with Doug DeMuro and Freddy “Tavarish Hernandez” to judge at the main event.

Before the Concours, another one of this Midwesterner’s dreams was fulfilled, as I was invited to experience one of the 47 surviving Tucker automobiles. Seven years ago, I witnessed one of these sell for almost $3 million dollars, and now I was sitting in the driver’s seat of this irreplaceable masterpiece on four wheels. The car did feel like it was well ahead of its time, with the unibody construction giving it a lower stance than other cars of the 1940s — along with numerous other technological innovations. Once again, this experience alone could have made me die a very happy man, but the weekend wasn’t over yet.

The officials at the Amelia Island Concours tasked myself, along with my other YouTuber contemporaries, with awarding a car from the show field that we believed would generate the most views on YouTube. Surprisingly, the three of us were able to agree between two cars: the first was a 1998 Cadillac Deville modified to carry around the Pope, and the second was a beautiful Lamborghini Miura. It was a tough decision, but in the end, the cars decided for us, as the rules for the Concours state that a car must be able to drive up to awards ceremony to receive its trophy. The Popemobile had apparently broken down shortly before the event started — so it was the Miura that was chosen to receive the award. Unfortunately, it had a few problems making it to the podium, as well.

To cars, I’m starting to feel like I’m the monster in the movie Bird Box that causes people to harm themselves, as I’ve started to notice that cars tend to break when they meet me. The Miura was able to drive itself to the awards area, but stalled out just as it was to receive its award. It was very amusing to see Doug DeMuro standing there with his ornate trophy with no car to award it to, but eventually, they skipped our segment and moved on to others.

I decided to make my way over to the poor broken Miura, and was joined by none other than Valentino Balboni, the famous Lamborghini mechanic and test driver. The man had driven nearly every new Lamborghini from the 1960s until his retirement in 2008 — and now I was witnessing a legend begin to diagnose and repair this million-dollar Lamborghini. A few minutes later, Doug joined me to hand out the award, since it did still qualify as it technically arrived under its own power. Even though the ceremony was ending, Balboni was still determined to get the car running, instructing the owner’s representative to try and start the Miura again. This attempt nearly ended in disaster.

It appeared the Miura’s engine had flooded, with some fuel spilling out of the complex compound carburetor system into the intake. With the introduction of spark from the ignition, some of the spilled fuel reached the spark — and it ignited a fire. This small flame, seen through the rear window directly behind the driver’s head, was greeted with screams from the crowd, but Balboni began calmly blowing on small fire like the Miura was a giant birthday cake. This minimal effort quickly extinguished the flames.

After all of that drama, which I caught on film, Doug finally was able to present the award to the understandably embarrassed owner. Thankfully, no damage was done — and obviously, we did an excellent job of judging, which car would generate the most view on YouTube. Speaking from personal experience, an engine fire in an Italian exotic isn’t the ideal way to get views on YouTube, but it tends to get a lot of attention.

My fantastic week ended with a long drive in the McLaren from Florida to Atlanta, Georgia, where I filmed another series of the critically unacclaimed “Hoovie and Doug Talk About Cars.” Never for a moment did my McLaren give me any reason to worry throughout the trip, but there are a few minor issues I wanted to have taken care of, so I left it behind at the McLaren dealership in Atlanta to catch a flight home.

I miss the car already — and what a week!

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  1. That was an excellent week! That Tucker was cool, just awesomely cool, loved the sound. Staying away from the Land Cruiser Submarine Races in Florida seemed a very wise move, too.

  2. Jay is a hell of an ambassador for our collective car interest, bringing an incredibly diverse collection of motorized vehicles ranging from classic early cars including steam and battery powered vehicles, modern hypercars, reaching out to the bizarre, such as one-off art cars, the sometimes absurd tuner scene, and even low-riders. It’s great to have a “big tent” guy who’s accepting of anything motorized as long as it’s well executed. 

    I’d love to meet the man someday, but I wager that’s unlikely. It will be a sad day when he’s no longer with us, and considering all the odd and frankly unsafe vehicles he operates(it’s not like a turn of the century vehicle without seatbelts can be considered safe by anyone’s standard), I’m always worried it will be sooner rather than later. Better to die ‘living’ I suppose…

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