News Column

AZ Ford Dealership Celebrates a Centennial

Dec. 23, 2012

Joe Ferguson

Ford F-150
Pickups sell well in Arizona, especially among U.S. Hispanic consumers.

A piece of history sits on the showroom floor of Babbitt Ford in downtown Flagstaff.

Nestled between framed newspaper and magazine advertisements for classic fords sits a mint-condition 1912 Model T Roadster in the newly-remodeled showroom.

The dark blue Ford with pin striping is on loan from a local collector, who restored the vehicle to museum quality after finding it in the 1960s in poor condition and missing major parts.

The car has even been traced back to the Flagstaff dealership and was one of the first cars sold by the Babbitt family when the nascent dealership was located on what now is Heritage Square.

It sold for $600 in 1912, estimates Alan Chan, the current owner of the Babbitt Ford dealership.

But the antique car isn't what is historic at the corner of Aspen Avenue and Verde Street.

The real history is the men and women who have been selling cars to generations of northern Arizona car buyers for the last 100 years.

A single name -- Babbitt -- can be traced back to the formation of the E.D. Babbitt Motor Co., which started in a lot off San Francisco Street two weeks before Christmas. Edwin D. Babbitt was a son of David Babbitt, eldest of the original Babbitt Brothers.

Jim Babbitt, who is now retired, continues to have a stake in the dealership.

"It is about honoring him ... that is why the name is still on the building. It is not about Alan Chan," said Chan, who is now the primary owner of dealership.

Chan joined the dealership in the mid-1990s after being a management consultant for the business for several years.

Family still plays a role in the national Ford company as well.

A representative for Ford gave Babbitt and Chan a hand-written note written by William Clay Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Henry Ford, congratulating them on their 100-year anniversary.

"It was very personal," Chan remembers. "They know their dealers, they know what they do for the Ford company brand."

A former mechanical engineer, CPA and management consultant, Chan said he relied on a local contractor -- Craig Shafer -- to remodel the aging showroom.

Although he dabbled in drafting while attending Northern Arizona University, Chan said he relied on Shafer to give his business' waiting room a "retro" feel.

The downtown dealership does buck a national trend by selling more trucks than cars.

Chan said roughly two-thirds of the vehicles sold out of his Ford dealership are trucks, with the rest comprised of sedans and SUVs.

A new turbocharged, direct-injected, six cylinder engine -- labeled by Ford as the ECO-boost -- has been very popular, Chan said.

He said the new engine is more efficient at higher elevation than previous models.

One of the perks of being the owner is having your pick of vehicles, but Chan opted for the vehicle most of his customers drive.

"I drive a Ford Super Duty," he said proudly.

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2012 The Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, Ariz.)