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Building a bridge to Jay Leno's garage

Posted by Bill Griffith  March 2, 2012 11:54 AM

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Jay-Leno-Garage-Dunlop-Sign.jpg

(Jay Leno). Click photo for larger version.

Jay Leno at his garage with the Dunlop Bridge replica, an Austin Healey, and (left to right) Dominic Falconeiri of Middleboro, Peter Sturtevant of Mansfield, and David Altman of Beverly.

A group of local Austin Healey aficionados have built a bridge that has spanned the country, starting in Middleboro and ending at Jay Leno’s Garage in Burbank, Calif.

The display is a replica of the landmark Dunlop Bridge that spans the LeMans race circuit in France.

Leno’s “garage,” of course, is one of this country’s most extensive and eclectic high-quality collections of automobiles, automobilia, and motorcycles. And its owner has a special place for his new archway.

“I just acquired a new building and needed something for the transition area that connects the garages,” says Leno. “The bridge is a perfect connection. It’s the gateway to the new area.”

This latest addition is the creation of Dominic Falconeiri, a cabinetmaker, builder, long-time member of the Austin Healey Club of America, and great storyteller.

When the New England chapter of the Austin Healey club was making its plans to host an international gathering of Austin Healey aficionados in 2007, he wanted to do his part to make the event a memorable one.

“I always remembered that Dunlop tire bridge over the LeMans race track,” says Falconeiri. “Growing up, I saw those historic photos. It was a bridge and pedestrian walkway.”

So he decided to make a replica of the bridge as a giant tire with a 16-foot diameter, complete with tread patterns on the sides and outside. The project became a group effort with club members putting more than 200 man-hours into the effort.

“It really came out well,” says Falconeiri. “I built it in two sections so it could be transported. We took it to Burlington in a big truck, and people loved it.”

That might be an understatement. It was a centerpiece of the gathering and many an Austin Healey was photographed under the tire. The British contingent at the event was so enamored of the creation that they paid Falconeiri & friends for the materials for crating and shipping it—literally by sea—to England for the next year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. Auto fans know about Goodwood but suffice it to say it’s far bigger than any automotive-related event in New England.

When the display was shipped home, Falconeiri stored it at friend and club member David Altman’s North Shore warehouse. However, last winter’s heavy snows caused the roof to collapse. A number of Altman’s 42 collector cars were damaged, some beyond repair. Because of space limitations, however, an inflatable boat had been stored atop the Dunlop display’s crate.

Falconeiri felt crushed, too. “We were between a rock and hard place. I brought it back to Middleboro and our group went to work on it,” he says. “The group put another 200 man-hours into restoring the tire.”

It was about that time that the Austin Healey club decided they should donate the sign to a non-profit auto museum. Letters were prepared, and, “at the end of that meeting one of the fellows suggested that we should see if Jay Leno would want it as part of his collection. He’s got Massachusetts roots and international interests,” says Falconeiri. So a letter went out to Jay Leno’s Garage.

A few weeks later, Leno called him.After Leno convinced Falconeiri that it wasn’t a hoax, he also told him he’d love to have the sign for his garage and would be doing a website promotion—www.jaylenosgarage.com—for it.

Falconeiri, Altman, and Peter Sturtevant, president of the New England chapter of the Austin Healey Club, went to Burbank in January to get a tour of the garage and do a promotion.

“Jay and his staff were incredible hosts,” says Falconeiri. “He had us at his show and brought us backstage afterwards. The next morning he personally cooked breakfast at the garage, met with us, and took hundreds of photos. He couldn’t have been nicer.”

The group got to view Leno’s collection, including new acquisitions that have yet to be publically announced.

Falconeiri and Leno chatted on the phone several times in finalizing plans for the event. At the end of one conversation Falconeiri mentioned, “By the way, my grandmother was a Garofalo from Flumeri, Italy.”

Leno didn't miss a beat, responding immediately, “My grandmother was a Garofalo from Flumeri, Italy.”

It turns out their grandmothers were cousins, making them distant relatives … perhaps a sign that this was all meant to be.

Bill Griffith can be reached at WGriffith@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MrAutoWriter.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
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Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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