By Chris Woodyard
When it comes to honoring the sacrifices of servicemen in recent wars, few celebrities are more devoted to the cause than Jay Leno. Now the Tonight Show host is proving it again, putting up one of the cars from his extensive stable for auction next month to raise money for a service-related charity.
Leno is going to let go of his 2012 Fiat 500 Prima Edizione at Gooding and Co.’s Pebble Beach Auction on Aug. 18. The car is only the second 500 brought to America since Fiat started selling cars here a couple of years ago — the first went to an auto executive — so it has some cachet.
All proceeds will go to benefit the Fisher House Foundation, a charity which has established residences of eight to 21 suites near VA hospitals around the country where families of wounded vets can move in while their wounded warrior is in treatment. “The whole family can move into these houses for as long as they need,” Leno tells Drive On in an interview. For many families, “this is the nicest place they’ve ever stayed in and they seem so happy. The financial burden is taken off of them.”
Of course, a new Fiat 500 only tops out new at about $22,000. But Leno says he thinks the auction is the best way to raise a lot of money for Fisher House. No one was more impressed than him when a tractor from his collection sold for $550,000 a year ago with all the money going to charity.
With Leno on stage egging on the bidding, he’s hoping for the same effect this time. “It’s a great little car. It just seemed like a good thing to do,” he says. “We can raise a lot more money.”
He says he’s enjoyed the Fiat and praised it as fun. He put about 800 miles on it, and his wife still drives one. He wanted to make sure he parted with a newer car out of his collection — something that’s dependable, with air bags and other safety improvements — unlike some of his vintage models that sometimes leave him stranded besides Los Angeles freeways.
He says as one who never served in the military, he feels he owes a debt to those who have, especially those who were seriously injured. Fisher House sure appreciates the support.
“We’re grateful to Jay Leno for his exemplary and unwavering support of our military families, to help them when they need it the most,” said Ken Fisher, CEO of Fisher House Foundation in a statement. “Knowing Jay’s passion for cars, and what this one represents to him, we recognize that he is sacrificing something special for what he believes is a greater good.”