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Cars, Kids, Kidneys and Customers: Manassas Park Mechanic Reflects on Elements of Life

David Ford reflects on his life as a mechanic and a father.

David Ford is the type of guy that would give you his kidney—really.

David Ford, a well-known and well-liked mechanic in Manassas Park, donated a kidney to his son Davis, now 23, in 2010.

His son was born with a disorder that causes his brain to attack his kidneys, ears and eyes, potentially causing deafness, blindness and kidney failure.

Davis now has hearing aids and wears glasses. With his father’s organ, he was able to stand with him at Manassas Park City Hall Tuesday night as he accepted an award for 20 years of business in the city.

“He’s smart, real smart kid and he knew he was dying,” David said earlier that day as he sat in the office of his repair shop, .

“He’s a new man," said David of his son. "Sharp as a tack, 6-foot-2, gorgeous kid—he gets a lot of women, he makes me sick.”

He’s the type of guy that builds his youngest daughter a 1972 Dodge Dart, paints it orange and names it the “creamsicle.”

The car has appeared in publications and was mentioned by Councilman Brian Leeper in an award presentation Tuesday night attended by a large crowd including people sporting Park Center Automotive t-shirts. He received a standing ovation from some.

Unfortunately, his daughter, Denise, who was also present at Tuesday’s meeting, can’t drive it yet, because of insurance reasons.

Standard insurance companies will insure the car for far less than its worth with all the upgrades and customizations David installed. The special insurance he purchased doesn’t allow anyone under 25 to drive the car, David said.

He keeps it at the shop sometimes, but drove it home on Monday, David said.

One more thing he did for his daughter—he delivered her in the front seat of a station wagon.

“We were headed to the hospital, she (David's wife) was scheduled for a caesarean the next day and that night she started. Here we go she’s in labor,” David said. “We got in the car, but we didn’t make it. I pulled over at a Shell gas station, I’m ripping her clothes off. This guy comes up to me, he’s going to beat my a-- because he’s thinks I’m raping her.”

Denise was 10 pounds 9 ounces. He’s listed as the attending physician on her birth certificate, David said.

He wanted to cut up the Oldsmobile station wagon and mount the side of it on the wall in his shop but decided against it, he said.

He does, however have a 1973 Ford Thunderbird mounted on the shop walls. The front of the car is on one side of the wall and the rear is on the other side, so that it looks like the car was driven through the wall.

When he’s not cutting up cars, giving up a kidney or delivering a baby, David concentrates on pleasing his customers and running an honest business.

“I wanted to try to open a place and just be honest with people,” he said. “It started with people I knew, I do not advertise, it’s referral only. It’s people that are b----ing and moaning at parties (about car repairs) and they say, ‘go see Dave.’ Once you get one you end up getting the family and the neighbors.”

Many of his customers are city hall employees who work just a stone’s throw away. David said it started with one guy who worked at city hall and then everybody started bringing their cars.

His best referrers are women, he said. About 75 percent of his customers are female, David said. “I show them things, you’re allowed in my shop I show them exactly what’s wrong with the car so they understand what they are getting; I can show you that bad part. They see that and they feel better.”

Women should be cautious when they visit auto shops, he said. Many mechanics, especially those who work for dealerships or big chains, will try to sell you something you don’t need, David said.

“Some of these things I hear today, I’m like, ‘Is this 1952?’” he said. “We treat you with respect we don’t talk down to you. They are just being B.S.ed around. It’s just this condescending attitude toward women.”

He opened Park Center Automotive after working in the federal government more than a decade.

David who is originally from Ohio and lives in Fairfax Station, came to Virginia as an employee of the Reagan presidential administration, but eventually grew tired of the commute and the, “rat race.”

“When I was in the government, everybody knew I was a car guy. I’ve been working on cars since I was a child. It was either open a shop or a restaurant, I love to cook.”

In fact, he cooks in his shop and has been known to whip up a barbecue sandwich for a reporter. Business was slow that first year, but picked up, he said.

“I like doing this, I can’t wait to get up in the morning,” David said. “I appreciate the people who have kept me in business this long. I want to give them a different experience; it’s the trust."

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Mary Stachyra Lopez July 19, 2012 at 11:49 AM
Great story!
Manassas Park Resident July 19, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Park Center is a great place to take your car. I took in an old beater expecting them to find something wrong with it. To my surprise, there was nothing wrong with it that I did not already know about. Honest, and great service. It had been a while since I was back, and David knew who I was from a few years ago. Great guy, and great shop.
Jamie M. Rogers (Editor) July 19, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Thanks Mary, I wish you still had your chevy. You could have taken it to Dave!
Faith Williams-Terrell July 21, 2012 at 03:36 PM
There's still hope for the good old USA....this is true entrepreneurship. Love it.

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