Jon Shirley Collection – Page Three
SCD: What races stand out?
JS: You know, the first time I took the car to Laguna Seca for the Historics I had a really good race. I won the class. I did really well and I was challenged. There were a couple of pretty fast Bugattis of that same era. The bigger engine Bugattis were something to deal with, with good drivers, but I managed to get around everybody and that’s probably the one that I remember the most. I’ve had a lot in it. I had two seconds this year in it. I even drove it here in Seattle at the July 4th Historics that they have every year. I beat an injected solid axle Corvette. The guy had a lot of excuses afterwards, but I still beat him.
SCD: Tell us more about your blue Alfa Romeo 8C 2900.
JS: Well, the car was made for an engineer at an Italian company. I don’t know why the company bought him a supercar because that’s what it was in those days. It was about as expensive and as fast and as technical as anything you could buy in the world. It’s one of 42 made or something like that. It was very carefully taken care of. Just before the war they put it in Switzerland. It stayed in Switzerland and it was there when Griswold came over he was the Weber distributor for the United States and was trying to do some stuff with Alfas. He found this car. He bought the car, brought it to the states, took it to the 1948 first Watkins Glen street race and won. Then the car passed through a variety of owners until it got to David Cohen who at the time was at in South Africa. David kept the car for a long time. He sent it up to England to get it worked on a couple of times. I believe Terry Hoyle worked on the car. Then he moved to Canada, Vancouver, and brought the car with him and drove the car a lot. The car was really driven a lot. It was shown some, but just as it was. I had seen the car when we transported it along with one of my racecars way back in the 90s to Watkins Glen. I didn’t race there, but I did race at Road America. So I caught up with the trailer at Road America and my car was on it. They unloaded the Alfa just to put it out there and let people look at it. So I got kind of interested in it and Butch Dennison told me all about it. When I got back I asked David are you ever going to sell it and he, of course, said no. So I said, “if you do, and I’m still alive, then I’d like to be the first person that hears about it” and he said “okay.” When he decided to sell it he contacted Stephen Bayne who was Pete Lovely’s partner in a lot of things including the Seattle dealership for Ferrari called Grand Prix Motors. Stephen said, “You do remember that you told Jon that he had first right.” David said, “Oh yeah you’re right. Call Jon for me.” We did a deal on the phone. He said he had three days. I said I don’t need three days. We decided to drive E-type on a run and so my wife and I drove up to Vancouver and signed the paperwork and that was that. Then we owned the car.
Again, we did a little driving in it before we restored it. We took it on the Mille Miglia, which was great fun, and then did the restoration on the car. Since then it went on the Alfa 8C tour between winning best in show at Pebble Beach and then going to Villa d’Este where it won; the first car ever to win all three awards that are given there which are: Best in Show by the judges, Participants Choice which are the people that go there on Saturday, including the press, and then People’s Choice which is the Sunday public. And it rained all day that day. It just poured that Sunday and I was amazed. The place was full of Italians. They all just came out. That’s where you could go buy a ticket to go in. We knew that we had already been given the other two awards and you could just tell the way people were milling around the car. They just kept coming to look at the car and you’d see them come back to look at the car. They all had their ballot and the car won, which had never happened before. It was always the people never agreed with the participants, or even the judges sometimes. You would get three different cars would win the award. So that was great fun.
SCD: What’s your favorite Pre-War Car?
JS: The best single car you could own? I mean, I’d probably stick with my blue Alfa although it’s not a racecar. I think it’s as good a pre-war car as you can own. If I’m going to drive a pre-war racecar I’ve got the [Alfa Romeo P3]. If I couldn’t drive this [Alfa P3] for some reason I’ll drive the 8C2300. I had a lot of fun with that. I can go back in the pack and I can mix it up with all kinds of different cars because it’s not [as powerful]. Tom’s engine is really very good in his cars. It’s got more grunt than I do for sure, but I don’t want to mess with it. It works just fine. We rally it a lot.
SCD: How about your favorite Post-War car?
JS: Oh, you know it’s sort of like if there was a fire and I could only get one car out of here what would I take out? My favorite car is whatever I’m driving at the time, frankly. It’s really hard to say. I mean, do you grab the Rossellini car when you’ve got a GTO sitting over there? I don’t know.
SCD: Correct us if we’re wrong, but didn’t the Rossellini do better at Pebble Beach than any other Post-War car?
JS: That’s correct. When the Rossellini was at Pebble it got more votes for first in class than any car had ever gotten. I believe at some time in the next five or ten years a postwar car is going to win. So if somebody really wanted to win they should buy that car from me, freshen it up, take it back. It’s been long enough that in another five years or so that you could bring it back. It might win. If you’re going win with a postwar car it better be something that they made a very tiny number of and that’s really good because it’s one. It’s got a lot going for it, but I think there’s definitely some other postwar cars. There’s an absolutely beautiful Bertone-made 250 GT that’s owned by Lorenzo Zambrano. It’s a coupe. It’s got a split front grill. It’s split into two halves.
SCD: Like the Sharknose 156 F1 car.
JS: Yeah, and it’s a one of a kind, and it’s absolutely dead drop gorgeous. I mean, he showed up with that car against me at a Ferrari National event and I knew I was not going to win the class. That was back when they had the one, two, three in class. He won the class and I got second, but to me that’s a very special, interesting, early enough car, and there’s others like that and they’re not all Ferraris for that matter.
SCD: Do you tune your own cars?
JS: I am not someone who is going to come in and tell you that you ought to change the front springs. I don’t have that kind of a feel for the car. I can come in and complain and Butch will try to talk me through it: “Okay, you go through a corner, tell me everything that goes on. If you spun out, what happened?” I found Pete Lovely was the guy to get to do things like that, but I’ve worked on the cars. I’ve done just about everything that you can do. I wasn’t involved in running a milling machine or a lathe or something like that, but I have totally stripped and put engines back together again and I’ve done brake jobs on some of the old Ferraris. I don’t do much of that anymore. I guess it’s partly just physical. You know. Your back starts to really hurt when you’re underneath a car for too long.
SCD: Which restorations stand out?
JS: We did that [NART Spider] ourselves. That was the only one I ever did myself. We took it down to Pebble Beach and got third in class. We’d never shown before but we won six firsts after that. That third was still better than any of the firsts. It’s only amateur hour and you’re there in a class of ten Ferrari’s. We didn’t win anything at the Ferrari Nationals over at the Hyatt and the next day we took the car over there [to Pebble Beach] and won third in class.
SCD: Favorite tracks?
JS: I’d have to say that my favorite track is Mont Tremblant; Lawrence Stroll’s track. It’s a very challenging track and it’s got a little bit of everything because it’s really high speed, and has blind corners. It’s got a couple of very slow corners, especially that one that loops you back onto the little straight. It’s got a very fast back straight. It’s got fast corners, very slow corners. You go underneath that bridge. It’s just a beautiful place. I like Road America a lot also. I’d say those are probably my two favorite tracks.
SCD: Have you driven both the 300S and the Testa Rossa at Mont Tremblant?
JS: Yes I have. I’ve driven them both at Mont Tremblant.
JS: I think the 300S is an easier car to drive. It likes to go around corners a bit more than the Testa Rossa does. If you got a situation where all out top speed is going to be important, the fact that you’re a six cylinder car versus a 12 cylinder car, even though they’re both three liters I think top speed will make a difference, but you’ve got more torque coming out of corners with the 300S which makes it a bit easier to get on it sooner and control the way it drifts. I just think if Maserati had more money they would have really been a tough fight for Ferrari in those particular years because the 200 is the same thing. I mean, as a two-liter car they’re just a fantastic little cars and they really, really are quick.
SCD: Any other favorite car and track combinations?
JS: Well, I’d say the GTO at Road America was absolutely fantastic. That was…and I was in a learning phase with that car at the time because I hadn’t really run the track much and just learning things like how fast you can go through the carousel there was just like another world to me. Geeze, I burned up a whole gear and discovered that I still adhesion because it’d come flying out and go down and scare yourself to death at the kink. That was a great combination. And, actually, of the tracks on the west coast Infineon is my favorite by far. I don’t know why. Most people would pick Laguna Seca over Infineon, but I just always feel tuned in there. I love to drive the P3 there. I love to drive the Maserati there. They’re both really good. At Mont Tremblant it can be anything. It just doesn’t matter. Old car, new car, the challenges are the same no matter what kind of a car you have.