Matt LeBlanc: A True Gearhead?

Credit: Alex Howe / Top Gear / BBC

Top Gear, BBC America's unfathomably popular car show, has a global audience of some 350 million, and even after 39 years, it inspires a level of devotion rarely seen on TV. So last year, when the show's occasionally profane, often impolitic hosts left after one of them, Jeremy Clarkson, punched a producer, fans were outraged. Viewers were equally shocked when Top Gear announced its new hosts: British presenter Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, of Friends fame. That's right, Joey "How you doin' " Tribbiani got the job, and he'll be the first Yank to host the show when its new season begins this spring. We already know Le­Blanc can drive — he holds Top Gear's fastest lap for the "star in a reasonably priced car" segment. But we had our doubts about his real-car credentials, so we caught him on set to vet his expertise.

You grew up in Massachusetts, and your father was a mechanic. What's your biggest accomplishment in the garage?

I've rebuilt a few engines. Mostly bikes. One time I had a little Aprilia 50cc scooter and I ordered a 70cc big bore kit to swap in, and timed myself how fast I could do it. I think I did it in a couple of hours — changed the head, the pistons, the cylinder, and the black box. That was fun.

Not bad. So what was your first car?
A brand-new 1984 Nissan pickup. I was kind of  bummed because I took auto mechanics as an elective in high school, and there wasn't anything that needed fixing. So I sold it and bought a 1978 Blazer, and that needed a lot of work. Eventually I said, "You know what? Maybe that Nissan wasn't so bad."

What are you driving now?
I have six Porsches that I kind of rotate through, a Mercedes, and a big dually truck. You know what I'm going to buy next? One of those new Ford Focus RS's. All-wheel drive, 350 horsepower, turbo four. Sounds fun.

Respectable. What's your wildest ride?

A 2011 Porsche 911 GT2 RS — 620 horsepower, manual transmission, rear-wheel drive. It'll bite you. Makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

What's the craziest thing you've gotten away with, car-wise?
Ripping up an ex-girlfriend's front lawn in that Nissan pickup and not getting caught by her dad.

You still have the fastest lap on Top Gear. How did you learn to drive on the track?

I've done a couple of driving schools. Skip Barber, and Danny McKeever has one called Fast Lane. I ride a lot of tracks on bikes with my friends. I'll take the Ducati or the GSX-R out.

Any racing secrets?
My whole thing is finding a car that handles good. You don't need a ton of power as long as you can carry good corner speed.

Are you a NASCAR or F1 fan?
F1 by a mile. It's the cutting edge of tech.

Name one Porsche you'd never buy.
I'm not a fan of the 914, though I know there are some die-hard fans out there. I'll get letters about that. And maybe the 924.

What's wrong with the 924?
It was designed to be a budget Porsche, and that's what it is. To me a Porsche needs to be a 911. That's just the way I am.

What's the worst car you've driven?
I just had to drive a Reliant Rialto. It's a British three-wheeler. Absolute piece of shit. Terrible car. Flips over in roundabouts.

Who's been your worst passenger?
I have a friend who gets really bad motion sickness. I hate driving with him. He has to go real slow, with the window down and his head sticking out. He looks like a dog.

Someday cars will be autonomous. What do you plan to do while the car drives?
Maybe play a driving game on Xbox. I'll try to beat the car while driving the same route.

What's your biggest automotive regret?
I don't really have any. I've got a lot of regrets, but none of them are car-related.

Top Gear premieres Monday, May 30 at 9/8c on BBC AMERICA.