AutoMatters & More: Remembering Bob Fria

Robert (Bob) Fria in 2011
(Jan Wagner)

On April 1, 2020, the coronavirus pandemic struck close to home, taking Robert (Bob) Fria as one of its many victims. Bob was an automotive enthusiast and historian, and a decorated veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He was also very active in the San Diego car community and beyond.

For many of us, Bob included, owning cars is more than just about having convenient access to personal transportation. It is the common element in an automotive lifestyle that is shared by like-minded people around the world. That lifestyle may include participation in motorsports, taking “club runs” on country roads with fellow car club members, enjoying social gatherings, giving back through charity fundraisers, participating in car shows, sharing and learning from each others’ automotive technical expertise and resources, collecting automotive memorabilia and more. It has been said many times that some people take better care of their cars than they do of themselves. Bob reportedly took a great deal of pride and pleasure in caring for the cars in his personal collection.

00961-20130305 Mustang Genesis book by Robert Fria-& Mustang model-for AutoMatters 270
(Jan Wagner)

Part of the fun of owning a car – and certainly my motivation for buying one car over another – is participation in that car’s related enthusiast community. In various capacities and degrees of participation, I have enjoyed membership in many such clubs and organizations in my lifetime, having owned many cool cars. One of those was a white 2011 Mustang GT with a beautiful red leather interior and a powerful V-8 engine. I joined the Mustang Club of San Diego, which led to many years of friendships, fun and great memories. That is where I met Bob Fria.

As we learn from Bob’s obituary, published in The San Diego Union Tribune, he loved flying from a young age. He obtained his student pilot license at age 15, and went on to fly the C-130 in the U.S. Air Force, serving in Vietnam. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal, and achieved the rank of Captain. After leaving the service, Bob flew for United Airlines, retiring as a Captain.

Bob’s Caspian Blue Mustang hardtop
(Jan Wagner)

In 1997 Bob purchased the very first Mustang hardtop ever offered for retail sale. His Caspian Blue Mustang hardtop had been manufactured in 1964 – hand-assembled first as a pilot car, with final production in Ford’s Dearborn Assembly Plant in Michigan. It had been intended for delivery to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, but due to a shipping snafu it ended up at a Ford dealership in Canada’s Yukon Territory, where the first of its 14 eventual owners bought it. Its list price was $2,471.10 (FOB Detroit).

As his Mustang was being restored, Bob did three years of research into the development of the Mustang. Then in 2010, encouraged to share his knowledge with the Mustang faithful by Jim Smart – renowned Mustang historian and keeper of an immense photo archive, Bob put what he had learned into his book titled: “Mustang Genesis: The Creation of the Pony Car” (with a forward by Lee Iacocca).

Bob speaking at the 50th birthday celebration of the Mustang in 2014.
(Jan Wagner)

As I had written in my review of Bob’s book (in “AutoMatters & More” #270) back in 2013: “This book, richly illustrated with archival photographs, was extensively researched through interviews of many of the remaining people who were responsible for the birth of the Mustang, including Lee Iacocca.” To this day it remains a fascinating and informative read.

In 2014 Bob, recognized as an expert about the Mustang’s long history, spoke on that topic at the car’s 50th birthday celebration at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Nevada. An article about Bob appears in that event’s commemorative program. Ford’s historic 1962 Mustang I Roadster concept car made a rare appearance there, on loan from the Henry Ford Museum (see “AutoMatters & More” #332).

Bob Fria at a Mustang Club of San Diego car show in 2011.
(Jan Wagner)

An active member of the Mustang Club of San Diego, Bob took great pleasure in sharing his own rare Mustang in car shows. His Caspian Blue Mustang hardtop always got attention for both its historical importance and also as an excellent example of the first generation of Mustangs.

Bob was happily married for 52 years. He authored many nationally published articles, gave many radio/TV interviews and “was a consultant for the Ford Motor Company, the Henry Ford Museum, and for numerous radio and TV productions.” Bob will be missed. Please join me in extending sincere condolences to his family and friends.

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Copyright © 2020 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #639