Jay Leno's garage isn't some Hollywood creation. First, it's in Burbank. Secondly, the cars, motorcycles and steam monsters housed there represent some of the greatest examples of their kind anywhere in the world, cared for by a staff of mechanics who know their Voisin inline sixes from their Hispano-Suizas. This 1975 Plymouth Duster doesn't have a classical provenance like much of Leno's collection, but it does carry an amazing backstory.
The Duster came to life thanks to Paul Annunziata, a Boston-area mechanic who wanted to build a drag racer that could also work as a street car. His project started with a 1975 Duster purchased with $10,000 Annunziata won from a scratch-off lottery ticket. The real challenge was squeezing a massive 426-inch Hemi V8 into the Duster -- and then supercharging it up to 1,000 hp.
Transforming the car required radical surgery on the frame, body and engine mounts, much of which Annunziata did himself with the help of friends in the Boston area, all the while maintaining enough of the interior pieces to keep it roadworthy. In the end, Annunziata spent five years and $27,000 on the Duster, but it soon swept a bevy of local awards and a cover of Hot Rod magazine, cementing Annunziata's fame as a master mechanic.
Annunziata worked at the same car dealership that Leno had growing up in Boston, and knew him from his own tuning shop. After a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer last year, Annunziata asked Leno to take Duster, on the condition that Leno never sell it. Leno agreed, and when Annunziata declined any payment for the car, Leno made a donation in Annunziata's name to McPherson College in McPherson, Kan., the only college that offers a bachelor's degree in automotive restoration.
"I wanted to pass on and not worry about the preservation of the car," Annunziata told an interviewer last July. Leno is "a terrific person and I'm very happy and content that he took the car."
Annunziata died in September, but his Duster will breathe fire for many years to come.