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Now It's Real

Published on Thu, Apr 2, 2020

By: Brian Kennedy

The automotive world is hurting today, as Robert A. Fria , lifelong Mustang expert and historian, has passed away.

Sooner or later, the pandemic of COVID-19 is going to hit you close to home. That happened to Mustang fans Wednesday as they learned that Robert A. Fria, long-time Mustang historian and author, has died.

I met Bob Fria once, at the Petersen Museum. He had his blue 6-cylinder Mustang on display and was giving talks about it as the Museum celebrated the 50thanniversary of the Mustang in 2014. Fria struck me as an affable fellow, knowledgeable about the car and Mustangs in general, but not impressed with his own expertise.

Fria purchased the first pre-production Mustang hardtop (otherwise described as the first Mustang hardtop to be assigned a VIN) in 1997, then spent twenty years researching how it came to be. The car has many differences from even the early build production so-called “1964 ½” cars. In fact, it differs in at least 50 ways, according to Fria’s documentation, as discovered during a two-year bare-metal restoration.

The results of Fria’s research appear in his hardcover book Mustang Genesis: The Creation of the Pony Car(McFarland, 2010). His work documents for future generations the production processes used to create one of the most frequently restored cars on the planet and demystifies a lot of the confusion surrounding pre-production and production autos. The book is replete with black and white photos on text pages and a section of color plates gathered together in the middle. Lee Iacocca wrote the Foreword.

Not only useful, the book is insightful, going beyond the usual fan-speak to delve into the intricacies of mass production and its constantly moving data points. It’s worth a read whether you’re a Mustang fan or enthusiast of any other vintage car marque. Reading it should have a special poignancy now that Fria is gone, because it is obviously a labor of love and adoration of a car that now lives on without its restorer and caretaker.

In recent days, the car went to auction, twice. The first time it was a no-sale at Mecum Indy in 2017 with a high bid of $400,000. It then went up at no reserve at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale in the winter of 2019. The hammer price was $175,000. The sale included two huge binders of material related to the car and the people who have owned it over the years.

For an excellent description of Fria’s car and his work in restoring, researching, and document it, see the following article:

According to published material on Fria, he was a retired airline captain, born in 1942. He made his home in Escondido, CA.

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