ZAMA, Japan – Comedian and car collector Jay Leno visited the Nissan Heritage Garage over the summer holidays, taking a spin in the legendary Fairlady 240Z.
His tour was at the invitation of Chief Creative Officer Shiro Nakamura, who had visited Leno's Classic Car Garage in California and was returning the favor in Japan.
For Leno, the garage brought back memories of one of his early roadsters, the Datsun 1600, a predecessor to the 240Z.
"The first car I bought when I got some money was a 1600," said Leno. "It was a 1964 – a couple of years old. It was so far superior to the British sports cars of the time – the MGs, the Triumphs – it had roll-up windows, the top you could put up, and it would snap and was water-tight. It was a very impressive car."
The Nissan design chief showed Leno some of the approximately 400 cars in the garage that mark the company's near 80-year history.
"It's very nice to have him here, because I have been to his garage a couple of years ago," Nakamura said. "It was a good occasion to show him the heritage of Nissan."
"We showed him [models] from the 1933 Datsun to the 1970s, like the 240Z and GT-R. I think he thought, 'Hey, there's lots of DNA of Nissan here.'"
The huge facility is home to many signature models, and after walking through parked vehicles, the stand-up star – a very-serious car aficionado – on his first visit to Japan said the Zama trip helped to put in perspective Japanese car design over the decades.
"It was fun to see the stuff from the '50s and '60s. To me the most interesting part is from a design point-of-view, to see how the Japanese start with an existing design – 'Oh, that kind of looks like an early Ford, that kind of looks like an early Aston or any of those other cars that might have been here,'" he said.
"Then, gradually they added their own touches. To me, the most fun cars are the ones from the '60s, where there's a lot of chrome and they're sort of emulating the American style, which I take as a compliment, and then eventually you find your own style."
"If you're a comedian you model yourself on George Carlin or whomever, but as you grow you develop your own style. Within the last 30 years, to see the Japanese come into their own with really unique designs that don't look like anything else… To me that's what makes it – when you put your own identity on an automobile. That's what makes it very personal."
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