Bill Gates is a guy that everybody loves to hate.  He is incredibly rich, holding the title of Richest Man in the World for over a decade.  He’s nerdy-looking, and his company writes the most-used (and most-abused) operating system in the world.  I’m running on Windows 7 myself, and pretty much enjoying it.

Paul Allen is the relatively quiet co-founder of Microsoft.  He owns the NFL Seattle Seahawks, the NBA Portland Trail Blazers, and about 138 million shares of Microsoft stock.  He is the finance behind Bert Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, and owns two of the worlds largest yachts.  When your little boat is longer than a football field, you’re playing with the big boys.

So when these guys want to play motor car, do you think they go down to the Ford dealership and see what’s on the lot?  No, they do not.  They get themselves each a Porsche 959.  This bad boy is a real, honest-to-goodness race car.  Zero to sixty in under 4 seconds.  197 MPH top speed.  The rally version finished first and second in the Paris-to-Dakar race of 1986, and that same year the race-track version (the 961) finished first in its class at the 24-hour race at LeMans.

So Bill and Paul (they were on a first-name basis, you see) each get the Porsche of their dreams.  They drop the big bucks in 1987, and have the cars imported here to the States.  Now understand that these are not US cars – these are straight-from-the-factory, ready-for-the-Autobahn models of German engineering.  And German laws.  They have not had the required emission controls installed.  They have not had the necessary safety tests done.

That’s right – nobody has ponied up a Porsche 959 for the government to crash.  And I don’t blame them – only about three hundred of the cars were created.  But I’d think it would be worthwhile to take the plunge and buy one to throw away.  Unless they wanted two of them.  That’s almost one percent of these cars that were ever created!  It probably wasn’t the cash – even if they had to buy two at market rates, that’s only about a million bucks.  (“Only” a million.  But at a billion shares of MSFT, a penny jump in stock price brings him $10M.)

But no.  It may have been a matter of principle.  It may have been a lower lip that stuck out far enough that birds built nests underneath it.  It may have been forgetfulness (but I doubt that one).  Anyway, for whatever reason, the two rich boys did not choose to get the car crash-tested.  So the cars couldn’t legally be brought into the United States.  So they sat in a warehouse in Seattle, under Customs Service impound.  Undriven.  No oil changes, or running the AC to keep the rubber gaskets fresh.  I imagine that the tires went flat.

Because these two cars, the Microsoft 959s, stayed in that warehouse in Seattle for thirteen years.

I don’t think I could do that, buy a car of my dreams and let it sit.  I know that Bill had some other things going on.  1987 was the year that Windows 2.0 was released.  And by Y2K, maybe because of the pressure that Windows ME (the worst version of Windows ever) put on him, something had to change.  Lo and behold, the rules changed, and the EPA and DOT deemed that certain Automobiles of Interest could be brought into the US.  And wouldn’t you know it, the 959 made the list.

Now I don’t know that Bill and Paul had anything to do with getting the regulations changed.  I have read that the number of cars brought in through this loophole regulation is in the single digits per year.  I also know that Microsoft has gotten much better at lobbying: they went from spending $16K in 1995 to $1.6M five years later.  That’s a hundred-fold increase.  Two orders of magnitude.  Ending in the year 2000, which is when the cars finally made it out of the warehouse.  I’m not saying there’s a connection, necessarily, but it would be real interesting to follow that money and connect some dots.

So the cars are out.  I’m not sure if they have driven them much.  The import regulations limit the cars to 2500 miles per year.  You can burn through 2500 miles awful fast at 200 miles an hour.  I haven’t heard that either of the gentlemen had picked up new traffic tickets (Bill got one in Albuquerque in 1977, but that was a while ago).  And there’s the whole age and family thing.  Between buying the car and finally getting it, Bill met and married his wife (project manager for Microsoft Bob), had a kid (and two more since), and built himself a little (66,000 square foot) house.

I think it’s another example of the Golden Rule – them that has the gold makes the rules.

And for your viewing pleasure:

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