JNC at the Big Dog Garage


So a couple of weeks ago the JCCS went down. To give you an idea of how big the show has gotten and how much it has brought together the old school Japanese car community, here’s a story about a well-known celebrity and an attendee who came from 3000 miles away.

Brian Baker is proprietor of Formula H Motorworks and the top Honda S-car expert in the US, who came all the way from Middletown, NY. The reason? Because car collector and talk show host Jay Leno needed him to prepare his 1965 Honda SM600 for the event. That’s the back of his head in the photo above, riding shotgun (it’s JDM, yo!) to the JCCS.

As one of only a handful of, if not the only, SM600s (a notch above the standard S600) in the US, this car’s history is somewhat curious. Back in 2006, we profiled the car before it found its way into Mr. Leno’s hands. Leno acquired it in 2007 and enlisted the help of Brian Baker to get it ready for that year’s JCCS.

If there was an Olympic gold medal for S-car engine rebuilds, Brian would have walked away with it, but there still wasn’t enough time to finish it before the show, and Leno attended with his Mazda Cosmo Sports instead. In the intervening year, Brian flew out to Burbank a couple of more times to work on the car, and those who attended JCCS 2008 got to see a fully restored SM600 and the ensuing mob scene that occurred around the most famous car collector in America.

But the best part about the whole thing is that Brian totally hooked us up. We’ve known Brian since about 2000, long before JNC had even been conceived, based on a shared love for classic Hondas. He is seriously one of the nicest, most enthusiastic and generous people in the vintage car world, who somehow convinced Leno that it would be a good idea to invite us to the Big Dog Garage. So on the day before the JCCS, we received an unexpected call from Brian saying, “How would you like to see Jay Leno’s cars?” Good thing we got that wheel bearing fixed!

We’re sure you’ve heard of Leno’s collection, but it’s even more awe-inspiring in person. With well over 100 cars and probably just as many bikes, the place is enormous. There’s a room devoted entirely to insanely rare multi-million-dollar Bugattis and Duesenberg. He has everything, from odd steam- and electric-powered cars built at the turn of the century, to the very first Corvette ZR-1, Dodge Challenger and Ford GT to roll off the assembly lines, gifts from the manufacturers. There are radical, custom-built one-offs made from engines used to power vintage aircraft, and things like a twin-turbo Olds Toronado converted to RWD. Each car is surrounded by memorabilia and giant murals on the wall and all of them, even the oldest ones, can be driven. The place was packed with so many priceless treasures that the whole time we felt like we didn’t belong on such hallowed ground.

Jay Leno himself couldn’t have been kinder. He was scheduled to fly out to Vegas for a show that very night, and yet here he was, giving us a tour that he’s probably given a million times before. He even let Dan, who is 6-foot-4, sit in his 1937 Fiat Topolino to demonstrate the tiny car’s massive cabin. You can tell by the way he speaks about his collection that the man truly loves machinery. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and he knows how each and every single one of them works.


Here’s a video of Leno talking about his Honda.

Even the workspace of the Big Dog Garage is more than what most of us could dream of. There are three hydraulic lifts, giant machines to cut any shape of gasket or small metal part you can conjure, enough space to completely dismantle several cars in an organized manner, and a fully functional kitchen nicer than any our dear mother has ever cooked in. The place was truly unbelievable.

On one lift there was a streamlined Bentley that raced at Brooklands in the 30s. On another, the GM Ecojet, a carbon-fibered concept built around a jet engine. During our visit, Brian threw the Honda on the third one to check the chain casings in preparation for JCCS. Thanks to him, we can even say we got to work on Jay Leno’s car at his garage!* So, thank you, Brian and Jay, for giving us the opportunity to check out an incredible collection that would rival any auto museum’s. Most of all, though, we are thrilled that the sudden interest in nostalgics has given guys like Brian, who has been working on these cars since he got his license, the recognition he deserves.

And while there are “No Photos” signs posted all over the garage, Leno was nice enough to pose with us for a quick snap before heading out. From right to left, that’s Honda collector Ken Weidner from Pennsylvania, us two pinheads, Jay Leno, Brian Baker, and the Honda SM600.

*Even if it is just holding the oil pan.

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This post is filed under: honda, jnc.

10 Responses to JNC at the Big Dog Garage

  1. Derrick S said:

    You lucky dogs!

    Mr. Leno sure seems like a nice guy. Of course, most people with our disease seem to be pretty nice. I wonder if that’s a side effect?

  2. J.Ramirez (zetozeto99) said:

    Wow! That’s awesome!

  3. Sr-FairladyZ said:

    Hey look at you guys!! Big Ballers! :)

  4. Jeff Brown said:

    That was a great video. That SM600 sounds incredible. I guess it’s safe to say that Jay Leno is a subscriber.

  5. Brian Baker said:

    Hey Guys!

    It was a GREAT trip, wasn’t it? I’m looking forward to my next visit, but I am also waiting for your next east coast trip. (hint, hint) ;-)

  6. Ben said:

    Derrick S – it sure seems so. all the owners we meet are incredibly nice and generous. I’m not exaggerating when I say I haven’t met a single rude one yet!

    Brian – Yes, it certainly was. Thanks again for everything!

  7. leongsoon said:

    Shame about no the no-photos part, but it must have been a blast! Must be a very great time for you guys :)

  8. Koich said:

    Great write up and picture. Is it me, or does it seem that all of you guys are leaning towards the right like the tower of Pisa? lol

  9. Ben said:

    I think it’s an optical illusion, lol

  10. doug hudson said:

    Jay you are my HERO but you should have named your shop the home of the road warrior far as im conserned you battle with you have the same attatude with the hiway and machines. I know you have more mechanics wanting to work for you need. but please add me to your list 40 years of cars trucks airplanes tracters if it roles crawls flys or just sits still and looks great, also 15 years +- with bmw i am a master tech andon and on you are the owner of my dream its amasing just how much you can do with all the money in the world people probably stand in line to give you parts free just to see what you use them for.did you know gm i think buick or oldsmobel had a turbine powered car in 1950s they were experamental and people who got there hands on them loved them the major problem was asking for desel the pump jockey thaught you were crazy cars run on gas not desal but they loved them unfortunatly they were experamental and they had to go back at the end of the study.But a cupple were put in barns and hidden so finding one,hell you have your own show and i amagen all you have to do is ask and let the jeney out of the bottle and some one in bib overalls will be a callen.we have the same way of thinkin when it comes to anything with an ignition switch.i even did years of vintage racing and never lost any paint.Please Jay give me a chance to work with you! or before you delete this email me by the way nice bike.answer me a question why was i borne dirt poor and you with so much?you know there is no gravity life sucks have a grate day thanks for your time DougHudson