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A passion for fast cars

HE HAS THE JOB SO MANY YOUNG BOYS (AND GROWNUPS!) DREAM OF. UMBERTO BONFA, PRESIDENT OF FERRARI QUÉBEC, SPEAKS OF HIS PASSION FOR CARS, AND THE IMPRESSIVE GROWTH THE ICONIC ITALIAN BRAND HAS BEEN ENJOYING RECENTLY IN MONTREAL.

The year was 1976. Bonfa was only five years old, but he remembers clearly his uncle pulling up in front of his house in Montréal-Nord behind the wheel of a brand-new Trans-Am. One ride in the shiny sports car was all it took for him to fall in love. “I even started drawing them. It didn’t matter what kind of picture I had in mind; it might have been a farm or a house, but there was always a car in it.”

Four decades later, the president of Ferrari Québec has lost none of his passion for fast, powerful cars. In fact, it has all but intensified! When we visited Bonfa’s spectacular showroom on Montréal’s rue Jean Talon, he spoke tirelessly and enthusiastically about the features of the latest Ferraris. He was particular about every detail, eloquently describing the infinite customization options—from vintage colour choices, to high resale value.

In truth, cars—particularly those made by the legendary Maranello manufacturer—have been an intrinsic part of Umberto Bonfa’s life since his boyhood love affair began. He, his immigration officer father, and his hairdresser mother have never missed a Formula One race. “I’ve had a passion for Ferrari for as long as I can remember. The Trans-Am may have been the spark that lit the fire, but I grew up in an Italian family, and we always had a thing for the F1 in Montreal.”

As soon as he was old enough to drive, Bonfa bought a 1979 Pontiac Firebird, the first in a long line of muscle cars. “After school, I liked my toys. I always had some kind of car to play with—something clean, and inexpensive. I’d take care of it, fix it up a bit, and sell it, making a profit of about $500 or $1,000. Then I’d get something a little better. I also did a bit of racing at Napierville.”

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

Barely 18, Bonfa began to make a name for himself in the Canadian racing world. He had just finished College when, to his great surprise, he got a call from someone in the highperformance car business offering him a job!

For nine years, Bonfa worked his way up the ladder at SLP Engineering, the company that designed the classic Camaros and Firebirds manufactured in Boisbriand. He was head of marketing for Canada when he made the move to Saleen, responsible for a supercharged version of the Ford Mustang.

Another even more unexpected call came in 2005. This time, it was the president of Ferrari Québec, asking to meet with him that same day in the group’s showroom. Bonfa, who was halfway between Toronto and Montreal in a bright yellow Saleen Mustang, said he would be there that evening, as soon as he had put his two kids to bed. “He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he says.

MONTREAL’S 1%

Umberto Bonfa started as general manager of the dealership, and became president of Ferrari Québec in 2008. Under his leadership, the group inaugurated an ultra-modern space, roughly four times the size of the previous one, on rue Jean Talon. The company’s mission, however, remained the same: “We’re not selling, we’re representing the brand,” says Bonfa.

Ferrari remains one of the world’s most prestigious brands, and the Montreal dealership is no geographical exception. “We’re talking about new cars that cost $400,000, so our customers are the 1% in Montreal,” he says. “But the most important thing for us is maintaining honesty and integrity in these relationships. The first time they come in, people are customers. After that, they’re friends.”

Many Ferrari owners in Quebec own two, three, sometimes four vehicles, and get very excited about the new models, for which the waiting lists can sometimes be as long as two years.

SALES ON THE RISE

Ferrari may target a privileged fraction of the population, but sales have been climbing steadily in Quebec. In 1999, when Stroll family purchased Ferrari Québec, the Montreal dealership was selling around ten cars per year. Without revealing specific numbers, he confirms that Ferrari Québec now sells around 40 new cars a year, and as many used ones, each of them meticulously maintained by the group’s team of mechanics.

Bonfa takes this opportunity to note the contribution the Stroll family of Montréal has made to the the automotive industry and racing in Quebec (the Stroll family also owns Circuit Mont-Tremblant)

“Circuit Mont-Tremblant is known around the world,” he says. “Michael Schumacher loved it, and there are a lot of F1 drivers who come to play with their toys here—secretly of course! The track has also been economically favourable for the city of Mont-Tremblant. When a client shows up with a 1962 GTO worth $52M, and wants to take a few spins around the track, the hotels benefit, as they most likely arrive with family, valet, nannies and mechanics in tow.”

Our visit ends with a tour of the immaculate shop at Ferrari-Maserati, where dozens of cars worth millions of dollars are stored. Bonfa muses proudly that he has passed his passion on to his two boys, now 13 and 16. “They’ve been bitten,” he says. “I can tell.”

A passion for fast cars – e-mag