The Chrysler brand may be a very small part of a massive international conglomerate today, but when this 1939 Royal was built, it was a major player in new-car sales. This car is now owned by Jay Leno, who featured it on a recent episode of Jay Leno’s Garage.
Before it ended up in Leno’s collection, this car was owned by his predecessor as host of “The Tonight Show,” Johnny Carson. It was originally owned by Carson’s father, and Carson drove it when he was a teenager. Years later, Carson was reunited with the car in a television special that documented his return to his Nebraska hometown. Producers bought it from the second owner as a surprise for Carson.
Not much of a car enthusiast, Carson lent the Chrysler out for display at the Imperial Palace in Las Vegas at Leno’s suggestion rather than driving it. Per the Carson’s wishes, the car was given to Leno after he died.
Johnny Carson’s 1939 Chrysler Royal on Jay Leno’s Garage
Described by Leno as the “workhorse of the Chrysler fleet,” the Royal is powered by a 242-cubic-inch inline-6. Jay says it makes about 114 horsepower, but our research shows the standard engine made 100 hp and an optional version upped the output all the way to 107 hp. The engine is set pretty far down between the fenders, which makes maintenance challenging, Leno notes. However, the simplicity of the engine makes it pretty bulletproof, he says.
In 1939 the Chrysler brand was positioned near the top of the hierarchy of its namesake corporation. It sat above DeSoto, Dodge, and Plymouth, but below Imperial. Today, Chrysler is largely lost in the mix of brands under Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which is set to complete a merger with Groupe PSA under the Stellantis banner.
Its not often that a car has not one, but two, celebrity owners.
As the end of the video, Jay takes the car for the customary spin. No loud engine noises or flashy design here. Just an old car driving down the street in a stately manner. Check out the video above for more on the car owned by two of the most successful late-night TV hosts of all time.