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Abilene Mechanic Retiring After 45 Years

ABILENE, TX – Abilene is home to a special breed of automotive enthusiasts who have spent their lives pursuing the ultimate thrill. Robert Fain is among the cream of the crop and is known as a hot rod builder, mechanic, and former dragster. His automotive knowledge and experience are matchless. His passion for hot rods has played a pivotal role throughout his life. He is also the owner of Fain’s Automotive. An auto repair shop he opened over 4 decades ago in Abilene, TX.

Robert, 71, got into the world of cars and made a name for himself at an early age. In 1966, he entered the industry as a passionate young man looking to become a professional. Fain started working at Vernon Fletcher Automotive shop on Walnut Street. He continued there for around eight years and then teamed up with H.A. Travis to open Poplar Automotive on Poplar St.

Six years later, the team moved to South Clack Street and opened a new shop. In 1985, Robert decided to start his own business and that is how Fain’s Automotive was born. He started with a crew of five mechanics.

As time went on, the shop reduced the number of mechanics and began focusing on making the customer experience better. “As people moved on we just didn’t rehire,” Robert said. “We got the shop smaller and a little more user-friendly.”

Fains Automotive does general auto repair. They have a good and loyal clientele that has been supporting their business for over 35 years. This is because of the great service and reputation Fain’s Automotive has within the community.

The person that kept the shop together for decades is his wife Vicki, and Robert would agree to that statement. She is the love of his life and even has a passion for classic cars too. They have been together for over 50 years. Which is pretty remarkable. Now let’s take it back a little and tell you how it all started.

Robert was born and raised in Abilene, Texas, He graduated from Abilene High in 1969. In high school is where he met the love of his life, Vicki. Since then, they have been pretty much inseparable.

Vicki is not from Abilene but moved here because her father was in the military. Her father was in the Air Force and went to Vietnam when she was a junior in high school. She came to Abilene because of Dyess Air Force Base and started going to Cooper High School.

“If you were a teenager in Abilene in the 60’s, Mack Eplen’s Drivateria or Mack’s was the place to be on the weekends,” Robert says. What made the place so special was a big square in the middle that the kids would drive their cars around. It’s the same drive-in hamburger place where Robert and Vicki met each other. The couple started dating when they were 16 and have been married for 52 years now.

Vicki remembers getting into the car with Robert with a friend of hers and that is when the spark between them happened. At that time, Fain had a rather notorious reputation due to his name being among hot rodders.

“Yes, I knew he was a hot rodder.” Vicki recalled. “My girlfriend used to tell me they couldn’t believe that I dated that thug, you know, because he did hot rods. But yeah, we did it.”

When the couple first met, Vicki was driving a Volkswagen Bug. Robert’s passion was contagious, and Vicki soon began accompanying him in his races as crew chief. He says he is a lucky man to have a wife who supports his passion. He says he wouldn’t have gone to the racetracks if she didn’t go with him. He shows his appreciation the only way he knows how and that is by building and restoring hot rods for the love of his life.

In total, Robert has rebuilt 5 hot rods for Vicki. He said that if he ever returned to racing, it would be in a beautiful Chevy Nova that he restored for her years ago. They still have it and the couple drives it to the racetrack often.

“I’d go to Sam’s, fill it up with gas and drive it to the racetrack.” Vicki said. “But I was a terrible driver. I was a much better crew chief than I was a driver. So, I finally just gave it back to him and said, “You drive it.”

Robert started competing in 1969. The guys he raced with soon began known as the Fain Gang in 1995. It was a friend of his, Bob Tagg, who first put the name on the side of his car. The name Fain Gang was given by another friend of his, Paul Bilberry.

A car that the group was known for was a 63’ Ford Falcon.

“It was just people who had all ran together and helped each other if needed,” Robert said. “There was nothing official about it except when we showed up at the racetrack, we showed up in full force. You know, with lots of fast cars.” The group raced from Oklahoma to Louisiana, Houston, and the South, Texas, area near New Mexico.

However, time took its toll on the Fain Gang and the group began to get smaller and smaller, as the members grew older. Things were just not the same without a huge group and it got to a point where racing was not being done as much as it used to be. Robert ended up selling some of his race cars and kept others.

Eventually, he sold his beloved 1963 Ford Falcon. This particular hot rod meant a lot to Vicki and Robert because they shared over 30 years of memories in that race car. Traveling with family and friends to compete at different racetracks all over the country.

The lucky buyer was a local dragster himself named Carroll Johnson. He admired and looked up to Robert because he was one of the best drag racers in the Big Country. Robert was also always available when Carroll had any questions or needed help when working on his vehicle. Sadly, last year Carrol Johnson passed away and now the 63’ Ford Falcon has a new owner. A nice couple who are now the 3rd owners of the vehicle.

For many years, Fain’s Automotive has been the place to go if you had a problem with your hot rod or racecar. This is because of Robert’s expert automotive knowledge on those types of vehicles. He is known for never using a manual or book, he can diagnose and fix any make and model. Pretty fascinating, right!

As Vicki and Robert grow older, they have passed on the business operations to their son Jason. His father believed that he has morphed into the role and does an excellent job. “People trust him because he is honest and charges fair prices,” Robert says. One rule Robert has taught him is to never make the shop too big and filled with mechanics.

You will learn a lot about cars growing up with a father like Robert. So, being a mechanic and having a passion for cars was destined for Jason.

“I guess it all started with me and my sister growing up around cars our whole life,” Jason said. “I had an opportunity to grow up around all these guys who were hot rodders and all the guys made it a unique experience for me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Jason says his father is a fountain of knowledge. He has no issue figuring things out about cars and he becomes an artist when it comes to cars.

Jason’s sister Holli is also joining the family business and taking care of things that were once done by her mother. She is responsible for office work, bills, customers, and payments.

Another person who makes Fain’s Automotive complete is Kenny Chapman. The hardworking mechanic worked at the shop for 20 years before leaving briefly. He has now been back with them for about a year now. Jason says that he is extremely good at what he does, regardless if he’s working on fabrication, welding, or anything else.

Robert has always had a passion for restoring classic cars and he is one of the best out there. In his prime he could fully restore a car in less than a year. Today, it takes him a little over 2 years. Which is still pretty remarkable for the average person but not to his standards, he stated. He’s currently working on a 55’ Chevrolet for Vicki. A few cars he built and is proud of include the 66’ Super Sport, 67’ Ford Mustang, 56’ Corvette, and 66’ GTO, to name a few. He has a special place in his heart for Pontiacs. There is one in his family that he got in 1979, when his son Jason was 4. It has a 327 engine and 4-speed transmission with 100,000 miles. “It’s a good hot rod and a good car. We’ve been all over the world in it,” Robert said.

When Vicki was asked about her husband’s love of cars, she said, “You see these people that save animals, Robert saves cars. When he sees a car he’d say, you know if somebody doesn’t do something with that car it’s going to go away. And so, he goes to make an offer and the guy says sure. He would either fix it and sell it or keep it if we were attached.”

Jason also has a nice 67’ GTO which he got when he was 14. The car sat in storage until about five years ago. It was built with a 496 Pontiac engine and a four-speed transmission. The car has 535 horsepower and 633-foot pounds of torque. He still has another car from his childhood, a 55’ Chevy pickup which he got when he was 15.

It would be safe to say that the love of automobiles runs in the family. Robert’s dad was in parts and service. He worked on vehicles all his life. His grandfather was an old radiator mechanic and worked at a radiator shop in downtown Abilene. His grandfather kept on doing this till he was 90 years old.

Even two of Robert’s brothers are deep into cars. His middle brother, Melvin, had a 57’ Chevy and 440 Charger in college. He is now a licensed architect and has a great job. This funded his interest in track racing, and he got himself a ZR1 Corvette and got it modified. Melvin even has a Ferrari Modena and a twin-turbo Porsche in his collection.

The eldest brother is a mechanical engineer and went into the Air Force. He flies F-15s and races cars on tracks.

Robert Fain is known and respected throughout the big country area because of his automotive knowledge and skill. As he transitions into retirement and continues to work on cars for his wife Vicki. He knows that the business will be in great hands. With the business being handed to the next generation, Jason and Holli.

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