Jay Leno's EcoJet
What would keep a bunch of car designers up all night? Well, American TV comedian, the star of the Tonight Show, Jay Leno, for one.
But it wasn’t the car collector and self-confessed car nut’s monologue or parade of Hollywood guests that did the job. No, it was because the late-night talk show host invited the General Motors Advanced Design Studio to help design a mid-engine, turbine-powered supercar called EcoJet.
The project is one of a series of spectacular cars, many of them of General Motor’s origin, that Leno has crafted. It harks back to the days when turbine power was flirted with by the motor racing world. Rover and BRM combined on two sports racing turbine prototypes for the Le Mans 24-Hours race in the 1960s, and STP boss Andy Granatelli funded turbine-powered cars to race at Indianapolis. One was like a front-engined Indy Roadster with the engine alongside the driver, and the second used a rear-mounted turbine in a Lotus-developed chassis. American outfit Howmett also built a turbine powered sports racing coupe.
Leno’s mid-mounted turbine supercar is in tune with the times, and runs on bio-diesel.
The EcoJet’s genesis came from a discussion between Leno and Bernard Juchli, the chief mechanic and caretaker of Leno’s collection. Leno then turned to GM’s Global Design boss, Ed Welburn, for design direction. “A couple of paper napkins later, Ed had begun to capture the essence of the car,” says Leno. “I’ve admired the work of GM’s Design Studio in North Hollywood, California, and asked Ed if the studio’s director, Frank Saucedo, and his guys could continue the design study.”
Welburn agreed, and a two-week sketching frenzy began as GM’s designers worked after-hours with Leno’s team on the project. “EcoJet’s aesthetics were driven by aeronautical and jet-age influences,” says Welburn. “It’s a purpose-driven design that conveys power, capability and even danger, with a hint of Cadillac’s sophisticated design vocabulary.”
Borrowing design cues from jet aircraft and Formula 1 racing cars, the supercar began to take shape. A concurrent engineering programme defined the vehicle’s proportions and mechanics.
Leno relied on Juchli and the entire Big Dog team at his garage to turn the EcoJet vision into a reality.
“We thought we pushed the creative envelope with the 1966 twin turbo (Oldsmobile) Toronado project with GM, but this turbine-powered monster is a whole new level of complexity,” says Juchli.
The 650-horsepower Leno original is powered by a Honeywell LT-101 turbine engine that runs on bio-diesel fuel. The engine sits in a modified Corvette Z06 hydroformed aluminium frame with aluminium and magnesium structural and chassis components. The vehicle’s shell is an advanced construction of carbon fibre over Kevlar.