In the slow lane with Jay Leno

Jay Leno in the driver's seat
Jay Leno in the driver's seat 05:53

Not perhaps the first thing that leaps to mind when you think of Washington's problems, but rush hour here is among the worst in the nation. Commuting in and out of the nation's capital consumes roughly 150 hours a year. The pace of Washington's rush hour traffic is so lethargic that even a venerable Ford Model T would have to slow down to keep up.

Behind the wheel: Jay Leno, Jay Leno, whose profession is comedian, and whose passion is automobiles. "Well, obviously this is the car that changed American history," he told "Sunday Morning' special correspondent Ted Koppel. "Prior to the automobile, most people had never been more than 30 miles from their home."

The comedian and car enthusiast Jay Leno takes a vintage Ford Model T out for a spin in Washington, D.C., where gentle political humor these days seems similarly antiquated. CBS News

Leno has collected more than 150 of the finest cars in the world. He knows their bloodlines, what makes them run.

Of the Model T, he said, "This car was the great savior of the American horse. Back before the automobile, New York had 60 tons of manure dumped on its streets every single day. And in the summertime, horses would drop dead from exhaustion, and guys would cut the reigns and leave the dead carcass and just walk away."

[CBS News fact-checkers, intimately familiar with the subject of horse manure, point out that the actual quantity deposited in New York was closer to a thousand tons a day. 🐎 💩]

"And all of a sudden this thing comes along; a little puff of blue smoke in your face didn't seem quite so bad!"

Koppel asked, "And if you're peeling out, how fast can we go?"

"Top speed was about 44, 50 miles an hour. Don't forget, the speed limit in 1912 was about 18."

"Oh, they had a speed limit? I didn't know that."

"You know how they developed the national speed limits?"

"I have no idea."

"When they had the highway system, they would take ordinary citizens out in cars and they put a towel over the speedometer," Leno said. "And then they'd go, 'Tell me when it feels uncomfortable.' At about 60 people go, 'Eh, that seems about right.' That was sort of how it was developed."

No kidding? [Actually, the fact-checkers are twitching a little on that one, too, but … it's a good story!  👍]

Driving through Washington, Leno remarked, "I've had a lotta funny experiences at the White House. The first time I did the White House Correspondents Dinner was with Reagan. And I was standing backstage, and this general comes backstage, he's got all the medals, he goes, 'Hey, hey, you the comedian?' I said, 'Yes, sir.' 'Let me tell you, that is my commander-in-chief. You understand that? You don't make fun of him. You don't denigrate – ' And he's pokin' me in the chest, you know? 'That is the leader of the free world, bah bah bah dah.' He gives me this big speech, and then he leaves all pissed off. Like, Oh man.

"Then two minutes later, [Secretary of State] George Shultz comes in and he's got a drink in his hand. He goes, 'Leno, come here. Nail Ronnie's ass to the wall!' I said, 'Well, that general told me – '  'Ah, screw him. He works for me!'" 

Comedian Jay Leno, right, with special correspondent Ted Koppel, riding about Washington, D.C. in a century-old car.   CBS News

Leno and Koppel's tour took them past the Old Post Office, which is currently the site of the Trump International Hotel.

Leno mused: "He had Trump Steaks; that went bankrupt. He had Trump Casino; that went bankrupt. And he had Trump Vodka; that went bankrupt. And I say, if you can't make money selling Americans gambling, liquor and meat, how bad a businessman are you, you know? Really?!?"

"That's kind of a classic old Leno joke," said Koppel. "That's kinda harmless."

"Well, see the difference is, in the old days I never questioned anybody's motive. I just questioned their judgment. And that was the fun part, because basically you were thinking of the person as a patriotic and a good American, and doing things for the right reasons, even though the way you went about it was wrong, or the way you handled it was wrong.

"I must admit I've never seen it this partisan," he said.

In the current political climate, everything's a little rougher, including late-night comedy: Now, Leno said, "if people don't like your politics, [then] they don't like your comedy or your music or your acting or your whatever it is you do for a living. That's the part I find unbelievable. What do you make of it?"

"Well, Jack Kennedy had a favorite line; he said, 'The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who preserve their neutrality in times of crisis,'" said Koppel. 

"That's great!"

"And that always struck me as the perfect definition of what I do!"

"Well, that's what I tried to do when we did 'The Tonight Show,'" Leno said. "Every week I'd [hear], 'Well, you and you Democratic friends …' 'Well, you and your Republican buddies …' And I would think, 'Oh, everybody's mad equally here! Well, this is fantastic!'"

A man on the street approached. "What kinda car is it?"

"Model T!" said Leno.

"What year?"

"1912. Only two payments left!"

CBS News

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Story produced by Dustin Stephens.