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Shirley is an avid model collector, with more than 500 models in glass in the mezzanine.

Dream Come True

One of America's most notable Ferrari fans once never considered owning one.

by Phil Berg

“I always wanted Ferraris,” admits Jon Shirley, “but I knew that I could barely afford a Jaguar E-type, much less a Ferrari, so I never really considered owning them.” This was, of course, before Shirley worked his way up to president of mega-giant Microsoft, before he began trading barely common Ferraris for even more unique models, and before he was able to own, and drive, the very cars that his heroes--Nuvolari, Fangio, Schumacher--had driven.

“My first car was a Sunbeam Alpine; it was a great car, except for the fins on the back. I drove it across the country several times.” He bought the Alpine roadster after he moved from Boston. “I was living in Boston, and car insurance in Boston for someone under 25 years old was higher than it cost to take taxis everywhere, and I’d rent a convertible every weekend, and it was still cheaper.”

Today, Jon Shirley has a collection of significant and important Ferraris, but he’s most proud of his Alfa Romeo P3 grand prix car (tended by Enzo Ferrari’s Scuderia) that whipped more powerful Auto Union cars in 1935 at the German Grand Prix. The more important the car in history, the better he likes it. And to house these machines, he’s built an enormous metal building that gives each car enough space for people to wander and gaze at various distances to view the cars. It’s not a museum—all of the cars run, and Shirley drives them in vintage racing events and at events he puts on by himself, renting race tracks such as Phoenix International Raceway for practice runs.

Shirley found the space to build his garage in the Pacific Northwest next to another building that was already being used by two car enthusiasts, and he was leasing one floor of the building to store his cars and a burgeoning car model collection. He called the building his “clean room”, where he kept his vintage racing cars when they weren’t at the mechanic’s shop.

The comfortable mezzanine is above a bookeeper's office and overlooks the collection.

In the new garage building there are currently about 24 cars, but they are spaced generously, with a lot of room between them to walk and step back to gaze. One end of the building has a couple of offices with a mezzanine above them. The other end houses a workshop, separated by a large system of folding glass doors. The workshop has a hydraulic lift, a full set of tools, parts storage, and a separate door to the outside. This area is used to keep the cars maintained, but at times has been used for major work as well. To keep the large new building functioning, a full-time caretaker for the cars is necessary. Local enthusiast John Bennett, who had recently retired from a career at AT&T;, took the job: “When we first started we thought we could do this three days a week. But we found there’s no way we could get everything done even in five days a week.” A bookkeeper occupies an office underneath the mezzanine four days a week.

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