The Robins family of Costa Mesa, Calif., has been selling Fords almost as long as the manufacturer has been building them.
With their 100th anniversary coming up on February 7, Theodore Robins Ford and the Robins family are preparing for a celebration worthy of the dealership’s history and ties with both the Ford Motor Co. and the Orange County community.
Seizing an Opportunity
Before opening his Bay Avenue service garage on the Balboa peninsula in 1921, Theodore Robins Sr. flew in the Air Force Reserves during World War I. “Back in those days, there was no ground crew. You were the pilot, the maintenance guy, you filled your own gas tank,” says Theodore’s grandson David, who is the dealership’s general manager and co-owner along with his brother, Jim. “He liked to work on things and that’s where he ended up down in Newport. He wanted to work on cars.”
According to David, Theodore Robins Sr. loved to tell the story of how two gentlemen came in one day and offered to buy his repair shop business and building in order to start a Ford franchise. The two men then offered to let Theodore. stay on to work as the shop foreman. “He promptly told them neither was for sale then decided to go to LA to get his own Ford franchise,” David said. “When they later found out what he had done he told them, ‘Well if it was a good deal for you – it was an even better deal for me!’”
The original Ford Franchise Agreement, which is dated February 7, 1923, and lays out a quota that Theodore sell three vehicles a month, still hangs on the office wall at Theodore Robins Ford. Nearby is another framed artifact—a receipt for the first Ford vehicle Theodore sold, for $637.10 on February 14, 1923.
‘A Nice Family Legacy’
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. During the Great Depression, Robins and his son, Theodore “Bob” Robins Jr., who joined the family business at 14 years old, kept the dealership going by doing repair and body work since no one was buying new cars.
Then during World War II, as the government started rationing production and sales of new vehicles, father and son warehoused all their existing inventory until the war was over and they could sell cars again.
That entrepreneurial spirit and the ability to navigate challenges are what has kept the family business going for more than 100 years, says David Robins. “We went through the Great Depression in 1929 and got through WWII, and we figured out how to get through the financial crisis in 2008 and the pandemic,” he adds. “That’s what keeps me engaged in the business—the constant challenges you’re up against. Whether it’s an economy thing or a chip shortage, it’s always evolving and there’s always something new to figure out a way around.”
The dealership expanded and moved two times in Newport Beach—in 1928 and 1955—before settling in its current 10-acre location on Harbor Boulevard in nearby Costa Mesa in 1966. “When Grandpa bought the land out here, it was all farmland, even in the mid-1960s. At the time, a lot of people said, ‘You’re moving to where?’ Now 10 acres in Costa Mesa today is a nice family legacy.”
That legacy has now stretched down into the fourth generation of Robinses. David has two daughters who have both worked at the dealership. His older daughter went on a break a few years ago to have a family and plans to come back full-time when her children are in school.
One thing David heard years ago has really stuck with him: “The first generation makes the business. The second generation takes over the business. And the third generation will break the business.” But some rules are meant to be broken. “It’s always been in the back of my mind that we don’t follow suit,” says David. “I also notice they don’t mention anything about the fourth generation.”
Giving Back to ‘Those Who Gave Us So Much’
Another part of the family legacy is civic responsibility and civic service—a tradition that David and Jim have carried on. “One of Grandpa’s philosophies that he always brought up and instilled in us was that being in a community that supports you means you need to give back to that community,” says David.
David and Jim’s father, Bob Robins, was also a firm believer in giving back to the community. He became a dedicated volunteer and philanthropist, donating his time and money to a host of organizations such as the Costa Mesa and Newport Beach Chambers of Commerce, Newport Harbor High School Alumni, Hoag Hospital, Segerstrom Center of the Arts among many others. For his philanthropic work, Bob was named Newport Beach Citizen of the Year in 1994. The Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce gave him a lifetime achievement award in 2005.
Bob passed away in 2016, but his legacy lives on with the family tradition of hard work and serving the community. Jim and Dave are currently members of both the Newport and Costa Mesa Chambers, The Commodores Club, Newport Harbor Exchange Club, Sons of the American Legion, The Amigos Viejo’s, Balboa Island Museum and are strong supporters of many other community organizations.
“Theodore Robins Ford was founded on the strong belief of integrity – honesty and family values – civic minded and driven to give back to those who gave us so much,” David said. “Honesty and respect is a cornerstone of our success over the years and we continue that tradition with a high quality of customer service that has earned us numerous awards from Ford Motor Company.”
A Community Celebration
The dealership will celebrate its anniversary on February 7 with a party for the community and plans to donate $125,000 to eight local charities. Ford representatives also will be on hand to recognize the milestone. “We actually just came across our 25-year plaque from them, and we have the 50-year and the 75-year plaques displayed on the wall along with our President’s Awards over the last five years,” David says.
As for the future of Theodore Robins Ford, it might be a while before the fourth generation can actually take the reins. The Robins family has a tradition of working long past retirement age. David and Jim’s grandfather, Theodore Sr., worked at the dealership every day until he passed away at 91 in 1976. Same with their father, Theodore Jr., who came into the dealership every day until he died at 87. “I’m 60 now and I always tell myself I’ll retire, but I’m second-guessing myself,” says David. “I know I’ll be sitting home thinking, ‘How many cars did we sell today?’”
To learn more about Theodore Robins Ford, check out this Mayor’s Award video.
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