Turns out the most expensive seat for Cars and Conversation with Jay Leno on Saturday night was on the stage at Kingsbury Hall. It was the seat the host of "The Tonight Show" was sitting in.
"I would like to donate $10,000 to the museum," said Leno, who hauled out a check he'd written to the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) and said it was a way for him to get "cheap applause."
Well, $10,000 isn't cheap. And noted car enthusiast Leno, making a benefit appearance in conjunction with the UMFA's exhibit "Speed: The Art of the Performance Automobile," gave the near-capacity crowd its money's worth. In a completely low-key way.
Leno walked on stage and took a seat next to his pal Ken Gross, the exhibit's guest curator, and talked about cars for an hour. He charmed the audience with his humor, his self-deprecation and his obvious passion for cars.
Leno talked Fords, Duesenbergs, Buicks, Saabs, Lamborghinis, McLarens, Porsches, Jaguars and Stanley Steamers.
"I have the distinction of owning the oldest car ever stopped for speeding," he said. "It's made of wood, and it's on fire."
Then there's the jet-engine-powered car that sort of melted the front of the car that pulled up too close behind.
Leno talked about cars he's acquired and how he got them. How he restored them.
The stories were personal. Some more personal than others. Like when he talked about one particular old Buick.
"My wife and I 'courted' in that car," Leno said with a wink. And 25 years later, he had the car restored so "we could try 'dating' in the car again" on their anniversary.
But the spot where they "courted" had become a housing development, "and I'm kind of in a guy's driveway." And Leno and his wife, Mavis, somehow managed to lean on the horn, bringing the homeowner running.
"That date did not go as well as the first one."
But Mrs. Leno doesn't object to her husband's hobby or his collection of more than a hundred cars and about the same number of motorcycles.
"When you come home reeking of transmission fluid, your wife knows where you've been," Leno said. "If Charlie Sheen had been interested in cars instead of cocaine, he might still have his TV show."
The late-night talk-show host took a few questions from audience members, although he wasn't interested in the two Mustangs he was asked to buy a '66 and a '73.
"I've already got a '65 he said, "And '73 is a little new for me."
Leno also talked up Utah as the home of speed.
"When you go to Germany and France and places that are not here, Utah is a place of awe," Leno said. "The Bonneville Salt Flats you take them for granted. Other people don't."