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Driving for a good cause

If the conversation at North Tonawanda High School Class of 1982 reunion on Saturday turns to cars, alumnus Leon Bourdage will have a lot to say as an owner of a red Ferrari.

Considered by many to be masterpieces on wheels, these handcrafted Italian sport cars -- like fine art -- rise in value with age.

But Bourdage isn't interested in bragging rights.

"I was lucky to have a great graduating class and a lot of good friends and teachers," Bourdage said.

Bourdage is bringing hundreds of Ferraris and their passionate owners to Western New York this Labor Day weekend, as chairman of the Ferrari Club of America benefit for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Currently, Bourdage tools around in a 1978 308 GTB Ferrari. He fell in love with car culture at age 8.

"My father always had an appreciation for cars and took my brother and me to car shows," said Bourdage, who recalls a one such show in Eastern Hills Mall during the early 1970s. "There, I saw my first Ferrari, a red 365 GTB/4 Daytona," he said. "I still remember it vividly. From then on, I always loved sports cars."

About the same time that first Ferrari caught his eye, he also was fascinated by watching a relative create handmade jewelry.

"I started doing it on my own at about 15 years old," the now-jeweler recalls. "There are a lot of artists in my family. I was doing bench work, casting, repair work. I worked part time in that venue until I graduated high school. Then I got an apprenticeship where I trained with some old-world European jewelers who really put you through your rigors.

"Between the ages of 18 and about 20, I worked with a company that pioneered remounts. The people I trained with were constantly having me do things over and over again. It was a more classic training. I always worked with gold and platinum, diamonds and precious stones, handmade bezels, bead-set jewelry, pave settings."

That skill enabled him to purchase his first Ferrari at age 23, a 1963 250 GTE.

Today his five-day Art of Ferrari event is expected to attract thousands of automotive enthusiasts from around the world, supported by local sponsors like Wegmans, and the International Race Research Center. The cars, made in Modena, Italy, all carry the prancing horse symbol, originated by a World War I ace.

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? Write to: Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240, or e-mail lcontinelli@buffnews.com

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