Theodore Robins Ford celebrates 90 years

COSTA MESA — Theodore "Bob" Robins Jr. bought his first car in the late 1940s from his father for $150.

It was on the vintage side: a 1914 Model T.

"I saw it and I thought, 'Gosh, wouldn't that be a neat automobile to drive around?'" Robins, now 82, said of the iconic car, which back then was just starting to be picked up by collectors. "It always got a lot of attention. It was real fun to drive."

His father sold it to Robins, then a Newport Harbor High School student, on the condition that he would sell the car back if he ever tired of it.

Robins never did.

That same Model T faces Harbor Boulevard from the Theodore Robins Ford showroom floor.

The car was restored to its original glory — replaced parts, new wooden spoke-wheels, polished brass headlamps and fresh black paint — as a gift to Robins from his sons for the 75th anniversary of the dealership.

This month the Robins family celebrates 90 years. The dealership's roots go back to an auto repair garage owned by Robins' father on the Balboa Peninsula in 1921. His father signed a franchise lease with the Ford Motor Co. — the one-page document that Robins still keeps — and sold his first Model T in 1923 for $637.10.

The dealership moved locations over the years before settling at the 10-acre Costa Mesa location at Harbor and Bay Street.

"You could say I was born in the business," said Robins. "Of course, I was just watching and hanging around the shop for the first few years. But I grew up in the shop … helping Dad on the weekends and (during) summer when school was out."

Treating the community and customers well was the cornerstone of his father's business philosophy, Robins said. It is a philosophy that has bridged the four generations of Robins' family who have worked in varying roles at the dealership over the years.

His father was named Newport Beach Citizen of the Year in 1966 and Robins in 1994, both for their philanthropic work.

"Both [Robins and his father] believed in giving back to the community," said Robins' son, Jim Robins. "And they believed in taking care of the employees. The employees are here every day. They need to be taken care of because they need to be able to present a good image to the customer and to the community."

Robins' father remained involved in the business until his death in 2007.

"He told me, 'I would rather be around the business that I have been around my whole life. I've never felt more comfortable at my desk than anywhere else,'" Bob Robins said. "He was here, opening mail, up to the last."

It's a sentiment Robins, who still logs daily hours at the dealership, understands.

"As long as my health is good, I want to stay in the business," he said. "I like the business. I like being around the business. I want to stay right where I am."

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