Victor Benitez strides across the sales floor of Gus Machado Ford in Hialeah past a fleet of Shelby GT 500s, muscle cars in hot colors that cost $85,000 to $125,000.
“I call it the million-dollar showroom,” said Benitez, the vice president and general manager of the business that is marking its fourth decade. “But we’ve got a car for everybody.”
Legacy was on Benitez’s mind during the first week in January, when he described becoming the majority partner of the business he has run for 35 years and shared his plans for its future.
The Shelby is named for the late designer and winning race car driver Carroll Shelby, whose story was told in the 2019 movie “Ford v. Ferrari.”
Shelby is a part of the Ford Motor Company’s history of building fast Mustangs and Cobras.
And Benitez is carrying on the legacy of the late Gus Machado, the legendary business builder and supporter of charitable causes who died May 16, 2022 at age 87.
Machado’s family trust has a percentage of the business and Benitez, 68, of Miami Lakes, said he owns the rest.
Lilliam Machado said Benitez was the logical choice to take over the business from her late husband.
“Victor has been more than a partner in Gus Machado Ford,” she said. “He has been like another son to Gus. It’s been more of a business and family relationship with him. I don’t think Gus had any other thoughts about leaving the business to anybody else but Victor.”
She said some of Machado’s adult children work in the company, too, “with an incredible team supporting Victor in that business. Gus supported him and we support him in every way that we can.
“He is the majority owner of Gus Machado Ford and he is keeping the name, the tradition alive, and it was Gus’s wish to leave the business to Victor,” she said.
Benitez said Machado taught him many things, most importantly “persistency in business. Never give up on anything. It doesn’t matter how bad or good it is, you’ve just got to keep going.”
Benitez said the men went through “some really tough [economic] cycles” while running the company.
“In 2008, the world really stopped,” Benitez said about what happened after the collapse of the housing market. “Banks had trouble, Ford and Chrysler and GM almost went into bankruptcy and we never gave up. We kept working hard and we survived, through thick and thin.”
Like Gus Machado, Benitez came to the United States from Cuba. He arrived in 1969 when he was 14 years old and attended Hialeah Junior High and Hialeah High School, graduating in 1973.
“Schooling gives you the basics,” Benitez said. “The street gives you the vision.”
He earned an associate degree in the arts from Miami Dade College in 1975, when he married Idania Benitez. They met while in junior high school and have a son and three grandchildren.
After college, Benitez went into the car business, first in sales at Deel Ford, then at Potamkin Toyota where he said he had a partial ownership stake, before joining Machado in 1988 as a minority partner.
There are 120 employees who work at the six-acre dealership. Benitez said treating employees like family means that some have stayed with the company their entire working lives.
It’s a concept he plans to launch this year with a growing segment of the car-buying public.
His plan for the company is also a way to emulate the business visionary who was Gus Machado.
“My dream is to be able to form a dealer group that would cater to everybody but especially to Hispanics in the United States,” Benitez said. “There are so many big cities and small cities in
the United States that are very heavily populated with Hispanics. And the businesses and especially the car dealers neglect them.
“We know how to bring them in and make them part of the family by treating them right, giving them the right service, the right deals, making them feel just like we treat every one of our customers at Gus Machado Ford,” Benitez said. “That’s my dream and it may come to fruition this year.”
The company is also in the process of trying to expand, Benitez said.
“We’ll start here and then keep going to other cities,” he said.
Gus Machado Ford has ranked among the top 100 dealers in the nation for years and as one of the top dealers in South Florida, Benitez said.
He said he advertises in The Miami Laker because “first of all, Miami Lakes is my city, I’ve been living there for 40 years. Miami Lakes is a part of me.
“And [the dealership] is next to Miami Lakes. We have a lot of customers from Miami Lakes and not only that, we have a lot of customers who used to live in Hialeah and live in
Miami Lakes, and they come here.
“I’ve got to be present to them [in the pages of the newspaper],” he said.
Benitez serves on the board of trustees for St. Thomas University and on the board of directors for The Education Fund.
As its founder did, the company will continue to support education and cancer research, he said.
Its annual golf tournament will be held in November at the Deering Bay Yacht & Country Club.
“I’m honored really to have been able to acquire the business and to continue his legacy,” Benitez said.
Machado’s legacy was to “Be successful in business, give to your community, help people when they need it, and help our employees and customers to fulfill their dreams,” Benitez said.