Peter Gleeson on Leno’s Garage
(This article first appeared in The Foundation Forum, the newsletter of the BMW CCA Foundation. Peter is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation. It is reproduced here with the permission of the Foundation.)
Where to start this story about my visit to Jay Leno’s Garage with my M1? Maybe a phone call I got on September 12th, 2012 would be a good spot.
I was on a car tour in the PNW, driving a 1934 Hispano Suiza, and a call from a friend in Europe necessitated pulling over (definitely no driving and talking in a big old beast like a HS.) The friend said, “Pete, there's a car you are going to want - it's expensive, but it's a perfect fit for a target M1 for your collection." Boy, was he right. It was expensive, but the provenance was off the charts.
Johnny Cecotto got the car new in May 1981 (and if I have to tell you who Johnny Cecotto is, you are way too young - I suggest putting his name in one of those search engines thingies youngsters spend so much time on these days.)
JC (great initials) purchased the car new and kept it as his baby for 31 years; if you know about factory works drivers, these things are merely commodity items and a works driver keeping such a car for 31 years is extremely unusual. So, the M1 is blue, is coming directly from Cecotto, is totally original besides normal service items, has only ever been driven 12k kilometers (7.5K miles), has every single piece of paper from brand new, every key, every everything. When I heard the price... thank the Lord I had pulled over to take the call and was sitting down. It was 50% more than any M1 had ever sold for publicly at that time and I had five minutes to make the decision. I had never seen the car, not even a picture, and it was priced waaaaaaay above market. Obviously, no fool would buy under these circumstances, would they? Oh yes, this fool did. Thankfully, when the car was shipped to Seattle, everything was as described, and Johnny's baby became Pete's baby.
At the start of the pandemic, the Petersen Museum in LA called and asked if I could do a walk around tour of my collection with my iPhone, as they wanted to give their members some content while the museum was closed. (If you are bored, they called it “BMW Heaven” - an embarrassing name, but what can you do? It's their YouTube channel.) (It’s great—Editor) After the powers that be at the museum saw the video, I received a call saying they were going to do a Supercar exhibit and they would love to include my Blue M1. I agreed and soon after, I got a call from Jay Leno’s production team (I know, this is where I should have started!) saying, “Jay has always wanted to feature an M1 on his show, would you be willing to loan them one?” I guess somebody saw that really bad quality iPhone video. I told them they were in luck, I had an M1 going down to LA for the Petersen exhibition and if we could coordinate, that should work.
The car took up residence at the Petersen and we waited for the Supercar exhibition to open. as 2020 became 2021, when the exhibition eventually opened. Jay Leno’s team also waited patiently.... didn’t we all in 2021? During the exhibition, the M1 held its rightful place amongst Lamborghini Miuras, F40 Ferraris, Jaguar XJ220, etc. In March 2022, as the exhibition was about to close, I told Leno's team the M1 would be leaving LA and, it could either come to them for filming or it would return directly home. The team worked miracles and pulled everything together quickly - the M1 was picked up and delivered to Jay's personal collection, and Jennifer and I got on a flight down to LA.
On the day of filming, we arrived at Jay's collection at 9:30 am, where we met a few people from the team, took a look at Jay's motorcycle collection, and had five minutes of chatting with Jay, who then then walked us to the M1. My first thought was .... damn. The M1 was already in position, surrounded by impressive camera equipment and looking good to the naked eye. BUT I had not seen the car for 18 months and I had not had a chance to give it a once over and a little pep talk - it helps, trust me. I was doing the whole swan thing, looking calm and cool on top, while my feet were paddling frantically underneath and thinking, crap, but what if...? Old cars and all that, sure you understand.
Filming started and they did a general preamble, (thankfully without any, "And a word from our sponsors, Kellogg's Cornflakes and Wrigley's gum”) and then I walked on to stand on my spot as I was shown, "That's where you stand, fella - got it?" I was feeling good and thinking this Hollywood stuff is a piece of cake - just stand where you are told! But then the conversation and questions started. Back to the swan imitation, I was trying to appear relaxed, while inwardly thinking, "Stand up straight, no blasphemy, don’t use your hands to talk, speak slowly so Americans can understand, stay on my spot, etc. etc." There really was a lot of don'ts and not many do’s, but the main do was “Just relax, and enjoy yourself.”
We began chatting on camera and Jay got into how European cars have tiny engines and yet were two to three times the price of an American car that has two to three times the HP. I waited for him to take a breath, and added, “But Jay, Europeans like going around corners” which brought a chuckle from the team and acknowledgment from Jay.
Next, Donald did his appraisal.... imagine trying to appraise an M1 when Gleeson is the audience?! That said, Donald did well, he really did enjoy talking about the provenance and how important that is and considering the information he had in front of him, he did an excellent job.
It was then time for them to take the car for a drive; just Donald and Jay, sadly no room for little old me. Of course, I was still thinking “Is anything not right with the car, is there something that could go wrong on camera?" They said it would be a 30–40-minute drive, and Jennifer and I were basically left alone with Jay's whole collection, which was a surreal feeling. We wandered around and admired the cars, but I have to point out, not a BMW in sight. There were a few motorcycles and the McLaren F1 but not a single car from our favorite marque.
Thirty minutes gone .... forty minutes gone....an hour...an hour and fifteen minutes... not a word. Of course, I am starting to panic, wondering what has gone wrong. Eventually, Jay and Donald returned with big smiles, and shook my hand, saying what a great drive it was, and it seems they had a bit more fun than intended. Jay had heard my son works for Stephen Colbert, so he gave me some great advice to pass on, and also invited him to come when he is next in LA, which was extremely kind. Finally, we sat down with the team for a box lunch, and we spent most of the time talking with Donald Osborne, laughing about the people we both know and general car stuff.
There is obviously a lot more to this story, including how Donald appraised the car and the inordinate amount of talking I did (which will no doubt end up in its rightful place on the cutting room floor - expect about 45 seconds of me to actually make the screen.) The show will air in the summer, but they don't know the exact dates yet, as they sell a series of shows to CNBC and then CNBC basically own the show and air it when they want. Overall, it was a terrific experience, and Jay and the team were great.
Hmmm, this is longer than I wanted or intended. Who said, “I wrote a long letter because I didn’t have time to write a short one”? Well, I’m English and like Americans always attribute everything to Twain, we revert to Churchill, so Churchill it is. (Edit: my favorite wife/research librarian says it was Blaise Pascal, but this Englishman is sticking with old Winston.)