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Luxurious wheels roll on, a bit slower

Even in this economy, some are willing to pay hundreds of thousands for 'cars with a soul'

The showroom of Ernie Boch Jr.'s Ferrari/Maserati of New England dealership on Route 1 in Norwood. The showroom of Ernie Boch Jr.'s Ferrari/Maserati of New England dealership on Route 1 in Norwood. (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Robert Preer
Globe Correspondent / May 3, 2009
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The sleek, low cars, many bright red and lined in a long row, shimmered against the white Italian tile floor at Ernie Boch Jr.'s Ferrari-Maserati dealership in Norwood one recent afternoon.

Soft jazz wafted through the airy showroom in the two-month-old dealership in the heart of the Automile. Ferraris were on one side, Maseratis the other. Examining the extraordinary vehicles were a father and teenage son, several middle-age men, and an older husband and wife.

On this day, John Johnson, 45, a record producer who lives in Easton, was ready to buy. He had been to the dealership several times in recent weeks and was sold on a 2009 Maserati GranTurismo with a price tag of $141,000.

"Ferraris and Maseratis - these are cars with a soul," said Johnson, who produced New Kids on the Block and Marky Mark Wahlberg and is now working with up-and-coming vocalist Lisa Bello. "I tried going to other cars, but I keep coming back here."

Johnson, who has owned three Ferraris in the past, believes sincerely that buying a Maserati or Ferrari in a recession is a sound financial move.

"In these hard times, these are cars that can actually appreciate, and they hold their value," he said.

In what may be the worst economy since the 1930s, cars that have six-figure price tags and get single-digit city mileage are still selling, although not in the same numbers as years past. Prices and sales of used super-luxury cars have dropped, but the wait to buy a new Ferrari is still about two years.

Boch says he sells new Ferraris faster than they are delivered to the dealership. "Everything is presold," he said.

In a nod to the recession, Ferrari cut production this year to keep supply and demand more evenly matched. Boch and other US dealers are getting about 20 percent fewer new Ferraris to sell.

"Where we've made it up is with the preowned," said Boch. "We'll sell more of them. Those prices have come down and spurred the market a little."

Ferrari is a storied brand, started by Enzo Ferrari in Italy in 1928. With the prancing black stallion as its logo, Ferraris are unbridled, supercharged sports cars, with as many as 12 cylinders, built for racing but legal to drive on the street.

Maserati, which like Ferrari is now owned by Fiat, is a legendary racing and sports car, slightly lower priced and easier to come by new than a Ferrari.

Boch said Ferrari's decision to cut production has hurt his bottom line. He expects to get 20 to 25 Ferraris this year compared with 34 last year. Sales of used Ferraris and Maseratis have been steady at between seven and 15 a month, but with prices down, profits on the preowned side of the business have fallen also, according to Boch.

Selling super-luxury vehicles is a departure for Boch, who owns five other new-car dealerships in Massachusetts. The Boch name has long been associated with practical, lower-priced vehicles. He is the country's number one seller of Hondas and New England's top Toyota dealer.

Boch entered the very high-end market in 2006, when he acquired the New England Ferrari-Maserati franchise after its previous owner, based in Newton, gave it up. There are only 34 Ferrari dealers in North America, and Boch's territory is all of New England except for the half of Connecticut closest to New York City.

Ferrari chooses its dealers carefully, and, according to Boch, the company was concerned about his reputation. When officials asked him whether he had sold luxury cars before, he said he replied, "I don't consider Ferrari a luxury vehicle. I consider it exotic. It is beyond luxury." The company liked the answer and sold him the franchise.

Boch housed the dealership in Foxborough, near Gillette Stadium, while he undertook a $5 million renovation of his former Dodge dealership in Norwood.

The Ferrari-Maserati dealership includes a large service area with tile floors and extra-wide lifts, a parts department, and a storage facility that will keep your special car safe when it's not in use. "We have guys who have Ferraris whose wives don't know they have Ferraris," Boch said.

About half of sales are cash and half financed, according to Jesse Berger, the dealership's finance manager. The typical buyer trades in a vehicle that is lower-end, relatively speaking, such as a Mercedes or BMW.

Prestige is a big part of owning a Ferrari, according to Boch.

"The guy who buys this is sick of pulling into a parking lot and seeing that all of his friends are driving a Mercedes or driving a BMW," Boch said. "You pull into a parking lot with this, and you are pretty much guaranteed to be the only guy driving one."

Deals tend to be consummated over an extended period. "No matter how much money you have, you always think twice about buying a quarter-million-dollar anything," Boch said.

Manny Christo, 29, of Rehoboth has been in love with cars since he was very young. A restaurant owner and Mercedes driver today, he has had his eye on a particular used Ferrari that has been at the dealership for months.

"It's the one that has that sound you dream about," said Christo. "That screaming sound."

The 1998 F355, a two-seat coupe, had a price tag in the mid-90s last year, but with this year's price cuts is down to $70,000.

"Because of the financial situation, this is an opportune time to buy," said Christo. "It's like the real estate market. A lot of people have sold their cars back to the dealers."

As he looked over the object of his affection one more time, Christo was ready to trade in his car and do the deal.

"A Mercedes is something you grow out of," he said. "This is another world."

Robert Preer can be reached at preer@globe.com.

Ferraris and Maseratis

Listed on Boston.com/cars (within 100 miles of Boston) on 4/27/09

Cheapest used Maserati: 2005 GranSport, 2-door gray, coupe, 26,625 miles, Avon Auto Brokers, Avon, $44,995

Most expensive used Maserati: 2009 Quattroporte, 4-door gray (grigio) sedan, 29 miles, Ferrari-Maserati of New England, Norwood, $132,915

Cheapest used Ferrari: 1990 339, 2-door red convertible, 18,479 miles, Euro Asia Motors, Everett, $44,999

Most expensive used Ferrari: 2008 599 GTB Fiorano, 2-door red coupe, Ferrari-Maserati of New England, Norwood, 1,040 miles, $339,900

Most expensive car ever: 1962 Ferrari TRI/LM Testa Rossa Spyder, a classic race car, sold at auction for 6,875,000 euros, or about $9.275 million.

Fancy wheels onscreen

Ferraris and Maseratis have appeared in hundreds of movies, usually in supporting or background roles. Some of the more prominent of the Italian sports cars to make the big or small screen:

1978 Ferrari 308 GTS in "The Cannonball Run" (1981)

Ferrari 550 Maranello in "Bad Boys II" (2003)

Ferrari 400 in "Rain Man," (1988)

Ferrari Testarossa in "Miami Vice" (TV show, 1984-1989)

Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," (1986)

Maserati Quattroporte V in "24," (2001-2009)

Maserati Spyder in "Desperate Housewives" (2004-2009)

Source: Internet Cars Movie Database