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What I'd Do Differently: Matt LeBlanc

JOHN PEARLEY HUFFMAN

From the March 2018 issue

C/D: What was your first car?

ML: It was in 1985 and it was a 1984 Nissan pickup truck. It was brand new and my dad gave it to me. I was, on the one hand, excited but, on the other, disappointed because I wanted something that needed some work done. I wanted that hands-on experience. So I sold that and I got a ’78 Blazer that had a four-inch lift kit and big 36-inch mudders on it. And Hooker headers and glasspacks and a big air cleaner. I changed the cam in it—a little higher lift and a little longer duration, but not too crazy because I wanted it to idle. It was a great car. I did everything myself. Did the body work and painted it in school. I went to a tech school and was a carpentry major.

C/D: How did you go from carpentry to acting?

ML: Have you ever pounded framing nails in the winter in New England?

1973 De Tomaso Pantera

C/D: Do you still wrench?

ML: I love to work on dirt bikes. A dirt bike has the absolute essential shit to run. It’s as stripped down and bare basic as there is. Taking them apart and putting them back together, it’s like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It evacuates my mind of things that I love to not spend time thinking about.

C/D: When the Friends money hit, what did you spend it on?

ML: I bought a Pantera. It was a labor of love eventually. I ended up spending a lot of money on that thing. My third motor was a 420 Windsor block that made about 600 horsepower. The first motor had 30,000 miles on it and was clean as a whistle. Completely stock, and the guy said, “I’ve never even had the valve covers off.” And I was like, “So you never adjusted the valves?” He goes, “What?” So sitting at a red light—rump, rump—one of the valve hats broke off, the piston hit the valve, split the piston, split the block, and she died at the light. Just at idle. So I built a Boss 351 Cleveland; basically the same motor with a roller valvetrain. I spent five grand on it. I didn’t want to go crazy. I put it in the car, and I was disappointed in the power. I was like, “You cheapskate!” But there was nothing wrong with it, so I couldn’t justify taking it out. So I did a track day in Vegas in the summer when it was, like, 120 out. I was like, “I’ll just go to this track day and I’ll keep pounding laps until this motor pops.” Round and round and round . . . then I hear this pop! But it keeps running. And one side [of the engine] is just pissing black smoke. “Okay,” I thought, “she’s burning a little oil.” So I drove it from Vegas all the way back to L.A. I stopped at a gas station and bought a case of oil and I used every bit of that oil to get home. Pulled the motor. A piece of a piston right on the dome on the corner had come off, slightly smaller than a Hershey’s Kiss, made it past the valve and out the tailpipe. I could not find it.

C/D: You set the low time with the Kia Cee’d on Top Gear as a guest. Why are you so fast?

ML: I’ve been to a couple of racing schools. I do a lot of track days on my bike—road-race days. On a motorcycle, your line choice is crucial. You can’t put the power down until the bike is upright. So that and the driving schools and, to be totally honest, the talent pool in the “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” is not very deep. Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s not like I was battling with the F1 guys. Chris Harris can drive circles around me. That guy is quick. I love Chris Harris. They can be racing wheelbarrows in Sweden and he’ll tell you who’s leading the points.

C/D: Are you becoming more British?

ML: Oh, I don’t know, mate.

C/D: Are you working constantly?

ML: I had yesterday and today off. I took my GT2 RS out and beat the shit out of it along Malibu Canyon.

C/D: What do you drive every day?

ML: I don’t have a car in the U.K. I sit in the back of an S-class because I’d never find my way around London. At work, I drive on the racetrack so I don’t feel the need to get anything out of my system. Here, I drive myself everywhere. My daily driver is between a 2012 ML63 and a 2014 911 Turbo S, or I have a 2012 Carrera 4 GTS that’s great, stick shift, silver over black.

C/D: You have any air-cooled 911s?

ML: I had a 964. An RS America. Without spending a lot of money on a 964, I don’t like the way they turn in. That’s what Singer starts with—a 964. It’s a good car if you spend a lot of money, but I wanted to keep it bone stock. That RS America was a marketing scam: There’s nothing RS about that car. But I have an ’88 Carrera and an ’87 930 that’s mint. Only 10,000 miles and black over cashmere.

C/D: Is there anything you’d do differently?

ML: Yeah, probably. I think back on all the times I’ve gotten hurt on a motorcycle. I would have gone left instead of right and maybe not gone into that tall grass and hit the log and broke my back. Stuff like that. But for the most part? The big stuff? I’d have done it all the same. It’s your memories that make you who you are, right?