My Classic Car: Dad and Jay Leno compare their Morgans

Jay Leno and the Lafford family | Peter Lafford family archives
Jay Leno and the Lafford family | Peter Lafford family archives

(Editor’s note: Lindsay Lafford’s life with cars was profiled in a three-part, My Classic Cars series in 2014.)

In January 2013, my father, Lindsay Lafford, then 100 years old, was 15 months into his residency at Friendship Village Healthcare Center  in Tempe, Arizona, following a catastrophic fall in Dayton, Ohio.  My sister, Julia, was visiting and as she and I drove up Loop 101 we noticed that Jay Leno’s February appearance was advertised on the Talking Stick Resort/Casino marquee.  She commented that she had always thought my father, an auto-enthusiast with a lifetime of interesting stories, would have been an interesting guest on his show.

I shared that I had been thinking it would be cool to try to get Jay Leno down to say hello to my father, since they both had had Morgan 3-wheelers, just about 80 years apart.

As a car collector, Jay (or his people) would be expected to be at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction that was coming up that January weekend in Scottsdale, and I thought I might be able to get word to him that a centenarian whose first car was a Morgan 3-wheeler would be just 10 minutes down the road from the Casino and his show in February, and would he like to come say hello?

So I created a flyer to spread around to the TV crew I might encounter at the auction.

Well, it worked… sort of.  One of the SpeedTV reporters, Justin Bell, passed along one of the flyers and I was contacted by email by Jay’s assistant, Helga, who said Jay was flying out immediately after the show but offered to put the flyer on Jay’s iPad.

I thought that was probably the end of it.

But then that Sunday evening, the night of the show, my cell phone rang about with an “UNKNOWN CALLER” message.  Expecting a solicitation phone call, I answered brusquely:

The caller: Hello, PETER?
Me: Yeah, this is Peter. Who’s this?
The caller: Hey, Peter, this is Jay Leno. I just got into town for the show. I’m sorry I won’t be able to see your father this trip.  Does he ever get over to LA?  He could come see the garage, and come to a taping of The Tonight Show.
Me: Well, he doesn’t really travel much, but maybe we can work it out.
The caller: OK, well see if you can… We’ll set him up with Betty White!  You’ve got the number at the studio, right.  Give us a call, and they’ll put it through, OK? Well, I have to go, now. Bye!

So, better than a green room handshake, we had an invitation to tour Jay Leno’s garage and to attend a taping of The Tonight Show.

The Big Day arrives! Everything was planned in minute-by-minute detail. Despite all the planning, however, you can always count on a curve ball or two. Both were provided by the TSA, which balked at the special equipment we needed to take with us so my father could fly.

The Tonight Show towel hung in Dad's room
The Tonight Show towel hung in Dad’s room

Nonetheless, we finally flew to Burbank, where we were met by Bob Sales, one of Jay’s long-time mechanics at the garage, who knows loads about all the cars, and was prepared to drive us around the two buildings in his golf cart for an hour-long tour.  Dad was so engaged and adding plenty of first-person history to the automotive discussion, by the time we finished, Bob had given us a two-hour private tour of one of the most amazing collections of automobiles from around the world, each one road-ready and pristine.

We did see Jay’s Morgan, and Dad pointed out how his was similar in “this” way, and different in “that” way.

At the studio, we were ushered up past the long lines and were settled in the front row.  Dad was offered a Tonight Show golf towel to help keep him warm in the chilly studio. After the show, we were led back stage to the Green Room, where, we enjoyed a 10-minute chat with Jay.

“Grandpa,” Jay shouted... “So you had a Morgan 3-wheeler!”

And they compared notes.

My dad cherished the memory of the momentous day until he died in April 2014, about a year later. It is a family experience that we cherish to this day.

— Peter Lafford, Tempe, Arizona

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2 thoughts on “My Classic Car: Dad and Jay Leno compare their Morgans”

  1. It was such a joy to be on this adventure with my father, Lindsay Lafford, and my two brothers, Llewellyn and Peter. It turned out to be our final time “on the road” together, a very precious family memory. Thanks, Jay, for making it possible!

  2. I once rode in a Morgan three-wheeler. At the time anyone who showed up at this little Morgan museum being run out of the back of the family antique shop in a rural English village could buy the ride I took. Out of the melee, the owner plucked the car that was closest to the door and off we went. It was one of the best motoring experiences of my life. Everyone should have one.

    Jay Leno lives the life all who think of themselves as ‘car guys’ (or gals) would – if we had the money. Good luck to him I say – but I wonder if there’s anywhere he can go where nobody knows who he is. Fame is a double edged sword.

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