By Jeff Nickell
Bakersfield has been in love with new modes of transportation since the horseless carriage arrived back in the early 1900s. Automobiles are no exception.
Several local dealerships have been in business for decades:
• Family Motors: 20 years
• Haddad Dodge: more than 35 years
• Sangera Automotive Group: 40 years
• Bill Wright Toyota: 42 years
• Motor City Buick GMC: 48 years in current building, but in business since 1940
• Three-Way Chevrolet: 56 years
• Barber Honda: more than 57 years
• Jim Burke Ford: 100 years in 2013
Many automakers had already hit the scene when the Ford Model T — the most widely produced and available car of the era — ushered in a new method of transportation in the United States.
It was during the full height of Model T’s popularity when George Haberfelde opened his dealership in Bakersfield. He purchased a Ford garage from Judge Benjamin Brundage’s widow. The year was 1913, when Henry Ford made his statement to a salesperson who was worried people may not buy the car if it only came in one color: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
Haberfelde’s entry into the auto market kicked off the storied history of Haberfelde Ford, and its eventual transition to Jim Burke Ford. Kyle Northway, advertising manager for Jim Burke Ford Lincoln Jaguar, said the company’s corporation name is still Haberfelde Ford, illustrating what George Haberfelde meant to Jim Burke.
Jim Burke Ford has not only been a highly successful business but has been heavily involved with the community. George Haberfelde was mayor of Bakersfield from 1923 to 1924. And Jim Burke Foundation has invested heavily in local students.
Ford Dimension — which teaches business communication skills and emphasizes volunteerism, career development and business ethics — is a longstanding program that chooses 10 high school seniors each year.
The company also created the Dream Builders high school leadership program in 2003, and Drive One 4UR Class, which gives $500 to classroom teachers for supplies and projects. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office endorses the program.
Barber Pontiac-Honda is the second oldest local dealership still in business. Founder John Barber was born in Fowler in 1921. He came to Bakersfield with his wife, Maxine, in 1948, at the urging of his brother Leo, who worked at Adams Motors, the local Pontiac dealership. John Barber worked his way up from the parts department to salesman, sales manager and then general manager. In 1955, John and Maxine Barber purchased the business from Mr. Adams’ widow.
From that point, Barber grew the company from one franchise into a multi-franchise company. Throughout the years, he bought and sold several franchises in Bakersfield including Pontiac, Honda, Isuzu, Oldsmobile, Cadillac, Volvo, Jaguar, Volkswagen, Porsche, Subaru, Saab and Kia. In 1962, he moved his Pontiac dealership from 24th and F streets to 500 Oak St. And in 1977, Barber opened the first Honda dealership in Kern County, at 2911 Brundage Lane.
In 1985, Barber Honda was the first to set up shop in the Bakersfield Auto Mall, now the go-to place to buy an automobile locally. To this day, the dealership operates successfully based on the strong foundation built by John Barber.