It all started in 2007, when Jay Leno made fun of the title of one of his books â€œDeathâ€™s Doorâ€ during his ongoing funny headline segment on the Tonight Show.
â€œDeathâ€™s Doorâ€ is a pretty grim book about the mass murder of 73 people on Christmas eve 1913 in Calumet Michigan, but when the Finnish American Reporter ran an ad proclaiming â€œMakes A Great Christmas Gift: Deathâ€™s Doorâ€ Leno couldnâ€™t resist poking fun on his show. Read more in a previous mittenlit post.
â€œI hadnâ€™t seen it, but the next day people were calling me from around the country,â€ Lehto said.
Hereâ€™s where the pluck comes in. Lehto was unfazed by Lenoâ€™s mention and immediately wrapped his own Christmas present for Leno.
He found some over the top Christmas paper and wrapped up a copy of â€œDeathâ€™s Doorâ€ to send to Leno. He also included an old manuscript he had written about the history of the Chrysler Turbine Car with a note: â€œI know you are a car guyâ€¦â€.
â€œI had originally written the book five years ago, but I had given up on finding a publisher-it was a car book.â€
A few days passed after sending off the package, when Lehtoâ€™s secretary tells him thereâ€™s someone on the phone for him who says heâ€™s Jay Leno.
â€œI knew it had to be him since I hadnâ€™t told anyone about sending the package.
I get on the phone and it was the funniest thing-he asks: you arenâ€™t mad are you?â€
Â They had a friendly conversation and then in early summer of 2009, Leno called again wanting to know how to get in touch with Bill Kerry, the head mechanic for the Chrysler Turbine project. Lehto then put on his attorney hat, piecing together some disparate facts: Leno was in town for three shows at the Palace in April 2009; the Chrysler Museum was selling off surplus cars at the same time including one of the rare 1960s Turbine Cars; Leno is friends with former Chrysler CEO Bob Lutz and the Turbine would be a great addition to Lenoâ€™s car collection.
Lehto comes to the conclusion that Leno bought one of the Turbines and asked Leno â€œYou were in town-did you buy one?â€
Leno answers, â€œI canâ€™t tell youâ€. In the proceeding cross examination, Leno fesses up to buying a Turbine, but tells Lehto he canâ€™t tell anyone.
Time passes and Lehto gets another call from Leno to thank him for putting him in touch with Bill Kerry. Leno had flown Kerry to California to make sure the car was in tip top shape. Lehto also gets an invite to visit Leno at his personal car museum if he is ever in California.
Lehto immediately makes plans to visit the first available weekend he has free. While heâ€™s on this trip of a lifetime Leno gives him a tour of his â€œgarageâ€ which houses 105 cars and 95 motorcycles. Leno even flips him the keys to the Turbine and lets him drive it on the Strip. Nobody is saying what the car costs, but since it is one of the only Turbines running a safe bet would be around five million dollars and change.
â€œEvery car is plated and insured. These are daily drivers,â€ Lehto said.
While in California the two of them talked about the turbine book and Lehto said Leno told him â€œâ€™You really got to get this book publishedâ€™â€.
â€œHe offered to write a forward for it and that was without question the last part of the puzzle.â€
What makes the book, â€œChryslerâ€™s Turbine Carâ€, so fascinatingÂ is the Turbine Car was the ultimate muscle car of an era defined by muscle cars. Propelled by a jet engine, only 55 of the cars were produced and when the time came for its demise all but nine were destroyed. Although the car could easily settle in at 100 mile an hour for a cruise it was the ultimate car for fuel efficiency even though it only got 10-15 miles per gallon. As Lehto says in the book, it would run on anything flammable including perfume. Unveiled at the 1964 Worldâ€™s Fair, the car seemed to represent the headiness of the era perfectly. It was sleek, using the highest technology possible coupled with Italian design. It was ready to blow the doors off the puny Mustang also unveiled at the 1964 Fair when the oil embargo and EPA regulations killed it.Â But back to the future.
With the forward in hand, Lehto secured an agent and a contract. The book is now in print and the jacket cover features-youâ€™d probably guess a shot of Leno and Lehto with the car-but no itâ€™s something even more compelling. Leaning against the car in full-tilt 1960s dress up-three piece suit and snap brim hat- is Bill Kerry munching on a donut.
And Lehtoâ€™s dream cruise hasnâ€™t ended yet. His agent recently secured him a contract to co-write a book about a Colorado man Tim Masters who spent 10 years in prison for a murder he didnâ€™t commit and Lehto and Leno will do a joint book signing in Burbank California this winter.
â€œIt never wouldâ€™ve happened without Leno,â€ Lehto said.