Balboa Island Museum Celebrates 100 Years of Theodore Robins Ford

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Images from the Theodore Robins Ford exhibit at the Balboa Island Museum

By Pete Weitzner | Special to the NB Indy

Theodore Robins Sr., founder of Theodore Robins Ford, and the four-generation, family-run Theodore Robins Ford dealership, are being honored this spring by the Balboa Island Museum Newport Beach with a Gallery Exhibit entitled “Celebrating 100 Years – Theodore Robins Ford.”

“We’ve had a lot of interest even before we put up the gallery,” Museum Executive Director Tiffany Pepys Hoey said.

It’s a great story. Seattle native Theodore Robins Sr. was born in 1893, same year Henry Ford built his first cars. Robins moved to Arcadia and became a pilot, flying for the Air Force Army Air Reserve in World War 1. He was the first man to fly over 14,400-foot Mt. Shasta in an open cockpit plane—and he never used a compass.

In 1921, Robins entered the car business with an auto shop repairing Model T Fords on Bay Street on the Balboa Peninsula. His rent was $15 per month.

Two years later, Robins drove up to Los Angeles in a Model T to sign a Ford franchise agreement. It was February 7, 2023. One week later, on Valentine’s Day, he sold his first Ford for $637—a 1918 Coupe.

Robins Ford was a growing concern from day one. In 1928 he expanded to 22nd Street, across from what today is the Crab Cooker Restaurant. In the Mid-1950s he expanded to 3100 Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, and then in the 1960s to Costa Mesa’s Harbor Boulevard of Cars, where they’ve been a fixture ever since.

The Balboa Island Museum exhibit includes artifacts stretching over 100 years of the Robins family and Ford, including a parchment display of all the Model Ts – Ford manufactured these “first cars that most people could buy” from 1908–1927 – including the economy-car of the portfolio, the $260 “Runabout,” complete with “waterproof gypsy curtains.”

The foundation for longevity was laid early. “Always be respectful of each other in the family,” grandson and Theodore Robins Ford owner David Robins said. “The great work ethic has made it through the generations.”

Theodore Robins Sr. in his Bay Street shop near the Balboa Pavilion

The Robins family has also built a 100-year record of generous service to the community. Beneficiaries include Hoag Hospital, Newport Harbor and Costa Mesa Chambers of Commerce, YMCA, and Exchange Club of Newport Harbor.

“Grandpa’s philosophy has carried through the generations. The business motto has always been be involved in the community and give back,” David Robins said.

In the 1970s, Newport-Mesa Unified School District named the clock tower at Newport Harbor High School “Robins Hall.”

The 100 Years of Theodore Robins Ford exhibit will be up through June.

Balboa Island Museum is located at 210B Marine Ave., Balboa Island. For more information, visit https://balboaislandmuseum.org.

Theodore Robins original garage on Bay Street in Balboa
Prices of Ford vehicles in the 1920s
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