Petrol-head Gates plays Gotham

Written by Geoff Richards

October 17, 2005 | 08:23

Tags: #bill-gates #book #hard-drive #new-mexico #pgr2 #project-gotham-racing #xbox-360

Companies: #ferrari #microsoft #paul-allen

Bill Gates, once again the world's richest man, loves his cars. So what does a petrol-head Chairman play when his company makes, amongst other things, one of the most powerful games consoles ever? Project Gotham Racing, naturally.

Gates' favourite game was revealed last week in an impromptu visit to an introductory computer programming class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Gates was a tour of college campuses when he decided to drop in on the unsuspecting students. "It's fun to be here," said Gates. "This is my first visit to the university so I thought I'd drop by."

With PGR2 now virtually two years old, one wonders if Gates has used his position as Microsoft Chairman to personally test Project Gotham Racing 3, carving up the digital landscape on a prototype Xbox 360, now just 37 days away from its North American release on 22nd November. The next generation racer has some of the most detailed in-game graphics ever seen on a console.

Gates' obsession with fast cars is well known. On the 29th April, 1975, a fresh-faced William H. Gates III, aged just 19, was arrested by the Albuquerque Police department on the charges of speeding and driving without a license. It was the first of three arrests for traffic offences in the late seventies when the newly-formed Microsoft was based in New Mexico, before the company moved to Gates' home town of Seattle, WA.

Gates had bought a green Porsche 911 and used to race it along desert roads in the middle of the night as an escape from marathon coding sessions. Not long after he bought it, Gates returned to the Albuquerque dealership where he bought the car to complain it would only do 125mph - far short of the promised top speed. Sadly, the now classic 911 suffered heavy damage when a local resident crashed into it in 1977 with Gates at the wheel.

In later years, he bought a Porsche 930 Turbo he called the "rocket," then a Mercedes, a Jaguar XJ6, a $60,000 Carrera Cabriolet 964 and a Ferrari 348 that became known as the "dune buggy" after he spun it into the sand. Gates famously bought a US$300,000 Porsche 959 - the legendary king of late eighties supercars - only to have it impounded by US Customs when it arrived from Germany because the car failed to meet local regulations. Expensive crash testing would be required before they could be driven in the US - not something anyone was keen to perform, with just 230 cars ever made.

(left) Green Porsche 911, similar to the one Gates owned and crashed. (right) The legendary 450hp twin turbo, 4WD Porsche 959. Bill's spent 10 years in Customs storage.
After 10 years of lobbying, legal wrangling and frustrating government bureaucracy, the law was changed to allow small volume imports of non-compliant, rare cars. After another US$85,000 worth of modifications by Canepa Design, Gates finally got his car, as did Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and fashion guru, Ralph Lauren.

After such a nightmare in securing ownership, one suspects that the infamous 959 now takes pride of place in Gates' private collection in the 30-car garage of his US$97 million, 66,000 sq ft Seattle super mansion on the shores of Lake Washington.

If you are interested in reading more about Bill Gates' early years, the formation of Microsoft and the company's exploits with IBM, Apple, Intel and others up to 1991, James Wallace & Jim Erickson's 1993 book, Hard Drive: Bill Gates and the Making of the Microsoft Empire is worth a read.

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