At one point Jay Leno was a normal gearhead, just like the rest of us. He was working at a car dealership in Massachusetts when he met and befriended a master mechanic and drag racer Paul Annunziata. Jay went on to become a huge TV star and Paul continued on his racing dream.
In the 1970s Annunziata decided he wanted to build a Pro Stock dragster that was also 100 percent street legal. Annunziata succeeded in building his 1,000-horsepower Duster and it went on to win numerous awards.
Sadly, Annunziata was stricken with lung cancer, so he decided it was time to let his Duster go. Instead of selling it to some random collector, Annunziata chose to donate the car to his old-time friend, Jay Leno, under the gentleman’s agreement that Leno would not sell the car.
Jay agreed not to sell the car, but refused to allow Annunziata to just give it to him. In a mutual agreement, Leno paid Annunziata an undisclosed amount for the car and Annunziata did the noble thing and donated the money to a local auto restoration school as a four-year scholarship.
Annunziata passed away in 2011 and Jay decided it was time to feature this beloved Duster on his show Jay Leno’s Garage, which you can see above. You even get to go for a ride in this amazing piece of machinery.
What’s more impressive are the five years that Annunziata spent building this car, so we decided to dig in and really show you what went into building this beast.
Click past the jump to read about the development of this 1,000-horsepower Duster.
Paul Annunziata was freshly graduated from technical school and was ready to dive into his Pro Stock Street project, but lacked the capital needed to jumpstart the entire process. On a whim Paul picked up a $1 scratch-off lotto ticket and miraculously won the initial $10,000 he needed to get the vehicle started.
The body began as a body-in-white model 1975 Duster, which was purchased using the $10,000 lotto winnings. The term “body-in-white” means that the body was unpainted and without a chassis.
Annunziata took this primer-only body to a trusted body shop to first have its rear end tubed, so that it could fit the massive slicks under it. Tubbing is the act of cutting the rear fender wells out, expanding them to fit larger tires, then welding in a replacement fender well. From the looks of it, this car is tubed to within inches of its frame rail, maximizing the available space for larger tires.
Up front, the body shop had to fold the front shock towers outward to allow for the incoming 426 cubic-inch Hemi engine. Without this careful folding, the Hemi’s cylinder heads wouldn’t clear. He also had the same company relocate the under-hood heater components, as well as the brake master cylinder to make the necessary clearance for this Hemi engine.
After all of that, the Duster’s hood was then cut up to clear the gigantic blower mounted atop the 426 c.i. Hemi. Then it was off to receive its black paint job with red pinstripes. Underneath each door window are Annunziata’s initials in the same red color that the pinstripes are in.
Also added in where a set of grocery cart-style wheelie bars, or you can just call them undercar bars. They are called this because the sit directly under the car and look almost like the wheels on a grocery cart. These style wheelie bars were used because extended wheelie bars are not street legal, of course.
When Leno got the Duster, the only modification he did was to remove the grocery cart wheels, as according to him “Police tend frown upon doing wheel stands in the street and they just clanged and made a lot of noise.” Short of that, the car remains just as its original builder intended.
On the inside Paul left the two stock front seats, but removed the back seats, likely to help make room for the tubed back end. You also see your obligatory tachometer, speedometer, oil pressure gauge, oil temperature gauge, transmission temperature gauge and water temperature gauge. There is also what looks to be a six- or eight-point roll cage.
The engine is a 426 cubic-inch Hemi V-8 straight out of a Dodge Superbee that was heavily modified by famed engine builder Ed Pink. The 426 Hemi’s 425 horsepower wasn’t enough for Annunziata, so he strapped a Roots-style supercharger onto the top of it. Also sitting atop the engine are a pair of carburetors. All of this combined to pump out roughly 1,000 horsepower at the rear wheels.
When Leno got a hold of the 1975 Dart, he made a few mild modifications. He added in a larger radiator to handle the added head in Los Angeles. He also rejetted the carburetors to make them a little bit more streetable. For anyone who has ever built or tuned a drag car, you understand that you jet the carburetors to throw as much fuel as possible into the combustion chamber, damn near flooding it. Well, that’s great for the track, but not so hot for the street.
If you are anything like us, when you hear that Roots charger whooshing away in the background, it just makes you feel all fuzzy on the inside. There are not many sounds that are more sexy than a well-tuned supercharger.
If you know Pro Stock drag cars, this will come as no surprise, but if you don’t know about them you might be surprised to find out that this car has an automatic transmission. There is little information given on the transmission, but hearing an automatic chirp the tires between shifts under light throttle tells us that this is a heavily modified automatic.
As we all know, Paul Annunziata dropped $10K on the car initially, but on top of that he added in an additional $17,000 ($27,000 in total) turning this car into the 1,000-horsepower monster that it is, which equals out to about $60,000 in today’s market. It’s not just the money either; he spent five years of his cancer-shortened life building this car and “tightened every nut and bolt,” as he put it.
Though Annunziata built this car for the street and strip, he rarely ever used it on the street. Because he kept in on the track, it only accumulated a few hundred miles. Leno let us know that he’s put a few hundred more on it, but it still only has 517 miles. One thing we love about Jay Leno and his growing collection is that he is not afraid to drive his cars. We will venture to say that he will put some good mileage on this one.