Every Car Has A Story
Every Car Has a Story: Seattle Hotelier Mike Malone’s Car Obsession Goes Back Decades
Hotelier Mike Malone races cars all over the globe. And he’s got stories.
By Matt Bell December 19, 2022
Seattle business leader Mike Malone is well known for his ownership of the Hotel Sorrento in Seattle and his pioneering of the subscription music business when he founded AEI Music, but his passion for cars drives him today. If there is a real-life version of the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World, it’s Mike. His stories are epic. He races vintage cars all over the world and I was lucky enough to catch him at his car barn to hear a few of the tales suitable for print.
Tell me about your first car. My first car was when I was a junior in high school. It was a 1929, three-window coupe Model A that somebody cut the top off so it looked like a roadster. I lived with my parents on Queen Anne and it was in a yard with a for sale sign on it. They were asking 35 bucks. When I tried to start it, it went pop, pop, pop. And I said, ah, man, 35 bucks. I don’t know. I’ll give you 27, and I drove it away.
Were you always into cars? I got hooked when I was in college. Back then I made most of my money by selling used cars. I had an old guy that would loan me his dealer license and I would wholesale Volkswagens. Dealers would take them in on trade and I’d clean them up, put an ad in the paper and sell them. I specialized in Volkswagens because the car dealers didn’t want to deal with them because they couldn’t service them. The paint on those cars is great. They can be abused and over a good weekend, you could make them look new.
How did you get started in vintage racing? I was invited to the track by a friend of mine, Frank Brickowski, who played for the Sonics. I was sitting with his wife watching the action when he walked up and I told him he was the slowest one on the track. He challenged me to do better and, long story short, he sold me the car he was driving and I went racing. It was a Porsche and I was known back then as a spinner. That’s where you take a turn and spin out on just about any corner. I went to driving school for many years and once I got in an AC Bristol, it all changed. The car was perfectly balanced, unlike a Porsche, and it just handled. Everything made sense. I was hooked on vintage cars and racing from then on.
I saw you race a vintage F1 car in Monterey. Those cars are no joke and frankly seem like a bad idea to be racing. Why do you do it? I am a competitive person and it’s the first time in my life I found the competition was really with myself. The only way you can be competitive in a race car is to relax. You drive faster when you relax. When you’re in the race car, it’s not easy and your natural instinct is to tighten up. You have to force yourself to relax. It’s a relationship between myself and the and the car and the track. I can’t focus on who I am passing or if everyone is passing me. Your time is all that matters.
What tracks have you driven? Too many to list but my favorite tracks and places to race are in Europe. I like Spa and Goodwood, which I just came back from. But it’s the people and the racers over there that I like most. They are true enthusiasts who love the sport. They are the type of people who work on their own cars and don’t have a big crew and huge budget. They also just know how to have fun and not work. They are really good at not working and enjoying life.
Which car do you like driving around Seattle the most and why? I just love the 1961 Mercedes 190 SL. I bought it from the original owner who purchased it from Phil Smart, right here on Capitol Hill. And the amazing thing is, it’s all original paint, original interior, original everything but tires. And it has less than 45,000 miles. The crazy thing is how many people love this car. I get five times the number of people who stop and ask me about this car than any other car I drive. The thing I love most about this car is it runs, it always starts and it always stops, which can’t be said for a lot of classics. The only flaw on this car is a small dent in the front where I hit a dumpster while parking it.