10-24-2008 12:58 AM

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 traveled 3000 miles to attend.

Brian Baker is proprietor of Formula H Motorworks and the top Honda S-car expert in the US, and he 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 that still wasn’t enough time to finish it before to 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 his Big Dog Garage. So on the day before the JCCS, we got an unexpected call from Brian saying, “How would you like to visit Jay Leno’s garage?” 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 Dusenbergs. 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 stuff 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 whole 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 Toplino 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 would be more than what most of us could even 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. One 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, and 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.

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.