Jon Shirley Collection – Page Two
SCD: What leads you to sell a car?
JS: I’ve sold three really great cars. I sold a 375MM that was one of the three 340s. It was the top finisher Ferrari in the Carrera Panamericana in 1953, and clinched the World Sports Car Championship on points and finished behind the three Lancias that were led by Fangio. It was driven by two amateur racecar drivers. They weren’t professionals, although one of them went on to become the head of the Italian version of the FIA. The 375MM was very heavy. It had three four-barrel carburetors. It starved whenever you went around a corner hard and the car wheezed and gasped but there’s no fix for those. They were the only really bad carburetors probably ever made. And I did do some good rallies with it. We had some fun with it and then I just decided it wasn’t going to get driven much. The second car was just not a track car. The 290MM had the best race history of any car that I’ve had, and probably one of the best race histories of any Ferrari because it spent a year and a half as a factory team car. I think I listed 15 or 16 drivers that included Wolfgang von Trips, Fangio Phil Hill, Jean Behra, and Castellotti. It took a second in the Mille Miglia. It was a very good car, but again, there are only four of them. It had an absolutely irreplaceable engine in it. If you ever blew it I don’t know what you’d do. I did do the Colorado Grand in it and I did vintage race it, and then I just… I had the opportunity to get the Blue Alfa and so basically I sort of reached a level of investment in this stuff that I said I don’t really think I want to put more money into it. So what I would do is I would sell something because there were things that I wanted to buy. The two Alfas and the Maserati all came from the sale of those two cars. So that to me felt really good. And to buy the Alfas when I did was really a very good move because Alfas lagged Ferraris in appreciation and those cars have appreciated a great deal.
SCD: And the Testa Rossa you just sold?
JS: When I vintage race, that and the 300S are in the same class.
JS: And I just liked the 300S better. It hasn’t been restored. In some ways it has, but it’s never been restored to show. It’s been restored to race. I just enjoy racing it more. It’s better on the track, especially the short tracks that we race on. It just seemed like we’ve done so much with the [Testa Rossa] because I vintage raced it for three and a half years before we did the restoration and I vintage raced it a little bit after the restoration. But it was still just so nice. If someone wanted to show it—like it take it to Villa d’Este or something like that—they’d probably do very well. It’s probably a class winner over there or it’s an automatic entry into almost any event that calls for cars of no older than 1957.
SCD: Speaking of racing, how did you start?
JS: I started racing at about 1995. I’d been introduced to Pete Lovely and Butch Dennison who at that time were jointly Pete Lovely Motorsports. Butch had a Lotus 18 that had been wrecked. He put it all back together and said “you should vintage race this thing.” So that’s how I started vintage racing; in that car.
SCD: Any training along the way?
JS: Oh yeah. First I went to Bondurant and then I did Russell when he was still at Laguna Seca. Then I took his advanced course after he’d moved to Sears Point. So I had three pretty extensive racecourse trainings and I got a lot of help from Pete Lovely just hanging around. Sometimes his Lotus would be in the same class with me, like down at Coronado and he’d follow me around for a couple of laps. He made me so damn nervous that I realized what he was doing. Then I just pointed by him and he’d take off like a rocket ship. But the more you do it the better you get at it. The seat time just makes all the difference in the world. Now I mostly just race the P3 which which I really love to race, and the Maserati.
SCD: Oooh. The Alfa P3. What’s the story?
JS: The car is probably the most famous Alfa P3 in the world. We don’t know any of the race history of the car in 1934. It was one of the Ferrari team cars and there’s no way to tie which car to which race. In 1935 they took three of the P3s and they put on the Dubonnet front suspension. They changed them to hydraulic brakes from mechanical brakes and were trying to keep up with the Germans. By that time, Hitler was pouring money into Auto Union and Mercedes and they were producing really fantastic cars with exotic fuels. Ferrari was just a little guy who put a team together with four investors. The car went to Nurburgring in 1935 being driven by Tazio Nuvolari and he beat all the German cars in the German Gran Prix. It was such a shock that they didn’t even have the Italian National Anthem to play and his mechanic had a 78 in his case someplace and they played the Italian National Anthem. The official German guys who were there were very glum about the whole thing, but the crowd thought it was the most amazing thing they’d ever seen. Nuvolari said the applause was deafening. So he made it a very, very famous car and the reason we know is that there were photographs taken when the hood was up and the serial number could be seen so it absolutely tied down which car it was. After that the car ended up in the hands of Salvadori. It was scooted out of the country and got to England and then it ended up down in New Zealand and was raced a lot in New Zealand and some in Australia after the war. This car raced forever and it won. It was winning races in New Zealand right into the ’50s as long as you could figure out how to keep this thing running—which is no small trick because it runs on alcohol and you have to start it with one set of plugs and run it with a different set of plugs. God knows, up to very recently we only started it…it was made to start on gasoline. There’s a little gas tank and then you switched over to the ethanol and changed the plugs.
It went through a variety of owners and ended up in the hands of a man who at one point owed almost all the P3s that there were. He was putting quite a collection together. Then I don’t know, I think he decided to buy real estate in Tokyo and he sold off most of the cars. A lot of his cars came back to the United States. So I was very lucky to get this car when it showed up. It’s an amazingly fun car to drive. I mean, you’ll never ever see me at the level it could be driven. Peter Giddings probably comes as close to doing that as anybody does; Peter Greenfield sometimes. But they have just huge torque; just incredible torque. You drive around…this is still a three speed transmission and the first gear is unusable on the track. So it’s a two speed gearbox. I think Peter Giddings has a four speed gearbox.
SCD: Yeah, he does.
JS: With that extra gear going around turn 11 at Laguna Seca it would be really helpful because I came out of that and it coughs a couple of times before I even really get the power onto it and get it to go up the hill. But I have a good time.
SCD: Tell us more about running the P3.
JS: The P3 we don’t run just on straight methanol. We put in…there’s some lubricant in it. There is a little bit of gasoline in it. There is a little bit of, I think, nitro or something. They try to get it to lubricate better and to get the plugs to fire clean. You’ve got to get some lubricating in there if you can because there’s absolutely nothing in just the pure alcohol. We have no idea what they ran. I think it wasn’t very sophisticated. The Germans were highly sophisticated in what they did. We see pictures of them and they were wearing biohazard suits or the equivalent of that in those days. So that must have been some pretty evil stuff.