Judging by the increasing number of red Ferraris we see zooming through the streets of San Francisco these days and the exotic cars parked in front of the Rosewood Sand Hill hotel in Menlo Park on Thursday nights, it is clear that techies have an affinity for supercars. Of the four individuals we spotlight here, some made a name for themselves at major companies such as Microsoft and Yahoo while others successfully launched their own startups. Some are regulars at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and others prefer rallies. The one thing the four share is their passion for haute wheels.
Eldad Matityahu’s curiosity in cars and how things work was piqued when he watched his brother build a go-cart when they were kids in Israel. Now he’s the owner of eCar Garage in Palo Alto, which specializes in the repair and maintenance of European vehicles. His crew has plenty to do just on the boss’ wheels, an eclectic collection of about 20 vehicles that includes one of only two 1955 Facel Vega FV-1s in the country and a 1923 Ford Roadster that he is taking completely apart and redoing with a monster engine, custom-made dashboard to fit a range of military fighter plane gauges and seats made out of WWII Air Force-issued bomber pants.“Part of what I like to do is create and see how I can do things that are unique and different,” he says. He founded and built Net Optics into the leading provider of network access and visibility solutions worldwide before selling the company, where he was the CEO from 1996-2001 and chairman the entire time, to Ixia in 2013. A year later he bought a neighborhood automotive shop that leased space in his commercial building, installed a computer system with special software, created a website and turned its focus from generic to European. He’s out to change the perception of how mechanics nickel and dime customers. Cameras in the shop allow customers to watch their cars being worked on via the web; he’s working on an app that will let clients receive photos of their cars when they are done, pay online and arrange for delivery of the cars. Although Net Optics sponsored the Mille Miglia North America Tribute and the 25th annual Santa Barbara Concours d’Elegance in 2011, and Matityahu competed in the 1,000 mile race in a 1954 Corvette, he does not show his cars. “I drive every one of them,” he says. “I take all cars and turn them into beautiful machines. That’s part of the creativity and the challenge when I get these old cars.” He’s also an investor in various startups where he’s helping young entrepreneurs build their businesses.
THE MONKEY INFERNO, THE BATTERY
Michael Birch owns The Monkey Inferno, a San Francisco-based incubator for new ideas; he famously sold his social networking site Bebo to AOL for $850 million in 2008, then bought it back for $1 million in 2013 and relaunched it as a messaging service.It therefore sounds odd when he says, “There’s something about older cars in that it’s a little easier to relate to how they work; whereas, with really new cars, it’s now all just computers. It’s kind of ironic coming from me, I know.” He also finds vintage autos more beautiful than newer models, which explains why the first car he purchased for his growing exotic collection was a 1965 Jaguar E-Type Series 1 that he spent two years renovating. “That was a car that I just always loved as a child,” said Birch, who hails from the United Kingdom. “Someone owned one in a house that I used to walk past every day on my way to school. He pretty much always had it in the driveway. I always walked past it and thought it was the most beautiful thing.”He also has a Caterham 7, a1983 DeLorean that he brought this spring and a 2002 Bentley Azure. He admits the latter is “not exactly old, [but] more reliable.” That’s why he chose that car to ship to Europe for the European portion of the recent 17th annual Gumball 3000, which went from Stockholm to Las Vegas and included a stop in San Francisco, where Birch hosted a Gumball 3000 party at his private club The Battery on May 27. Now he has his eyes on a Messerschmitt—a three-wheel car. “They’re kind of cool. We’re doing an office downtown for one of our companies in 1950s style, so I want to buy a Messerschmitt and then put it sort of up in the air. It would be a working one. I would drive it a little bit and then put it up in there. It’s very iconic ‘50s, so we’ll put a light inside and kind of make it an art piece.”
Yahoo chief financial officer Ken Goldman didn’t mess around when it came to the first car he ever bought It was a British Austin Healey, vintage 1959. “Then I bought a muscle car—a Firebird 400, which I kept when I moved to the Bay Area. After that I needed to save money so I bought a Suzuki, then a Mazda before being able to progress to BMWs and Porsche 911s.” His collection now includes a 2014 McLaren 12C he purchased after becoming infatuated with the car while in Pebble Beach. “I’ve been to the Concours several times and it’s actually where I got the idea to get a McLaren when I had the opportunity to see it up close,” he says. “It’s really just as good as a Bugatti and much cheaper. A McLaren is more unique than a Ferrari out here in the Bay Area.” His go-to car is a Tesla—“It’s comfortable, quiet for making calls, all-electric and travels in carpool lanes. It also has a great dash with GPS, which is particularly important for me as I am directionally challenged,” he says. His garage also has a Porsche 911 Turbo and Mustang Laguna Seca. “While I don’t have too much free time to drive any of them,” he says, “I really get a kick when I do get the chance!”
FORMERLY OF MICROSOFT CORP.
When former Microsoft Corp. president Jon Shirley, a computer-industry veteran who helped Bill Gates take the software company public, retired as director of the board in 2008, he did so to spend less time on professional commitments and more on personal pursuits. Passionate about cars—and contemporary art—Shirley keeps a collection of significant and important Ferraris and Alfa Romeos in his garage in Medina, Washington. No stranger to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, he won Best of Show in 2008 with a 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta; but, it was last year when he made history with his 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe, which became the first postwar car to take the top award at the prestigious event in nearly five decades. It was also the first Ferrari to win and has quite a pedigree, having been designed for Roberto Rossellini. “I’ve won Best of Show before, but it was really a special thrill to do it with this car,” Shirley said. This year he plans to show a 1949 Ferrari 166 MM Touring Barchetta and a 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta. He’s known for taking his cars on tour after they’re featured at Pebble. “Cars are meant to be driven,” he has been quoted as saying. “It’s too bad there are some people who don’t drive them.”