MARTIN L. SWIG
February 8, 1934 - July 3, 2012
Martin L. Swig, business entrepreneur, automotive writer and classic car collector, died Tuesday, July 3rd, in Sausalito, California.
A quintessential West Coast “car guy,” he organized the California Mille (a thousand-mile historic race-car tour on the back roads of Northern California) in 1991 after discovering and driving Italy’s most-famous open road race (the Mille Miglia) in 1982. Summing up his priorities in the historic motorsport world, he dedicated his event to “Great cars – Little Roads – and Wonderful Friends.” He kidded sedentary TV sports types with his annual January 1st Anti-Football Drive; and with his Double 500 (five hundred kilometers in a car not worth more than $500), created the predecessor for the well-known 24 Hours of LeMons for cars not ordinarily honored by vintage car collectors.
Mr. Swig’s love affair with cars began when he earned his driver’s license at 14. In 1957 he joined San Francisco’s European Motors on the showroom floor and in 1969 acquired his own Datsun dealership on Van Ness Avenue.
By 1982, after adding several more dealerships, he converted an empty building on the site of Seals Stadium and created the San Francisco Autocenter – perhaps the nation’s first one-stop automotive shopping center with some 17 different makes – ranging from Rolls-Royce to Suzuki – under the same roof.
In 1998, Autocenter was reborn as Potrero Center, an upscale neighborhood shopping center. At that time he exchanged full-time dealership work for full-time collecting, purchasing a wide assortment of historic cars that included a 1925 Lancia Lambda, a 1928 Alfa Romeo 6C 1500, a Tatra T87, and several vintage Chryslers. “When I found I had about forty [vintage cars] I made a deal with my wife,” Swig loved to say. “Each time I bought a new old car, I agreed to sell one. I’m running slightly behind on my half of the bargain.”
When he wasn’t collecting, driving and organizing car events, Swig wrote a monthly auto column for San Francisco’s Nob Hill Gazette and placed provocative stories and commentaries on a variety of automotive blogs.
Born in New Jersey, Swig moved with his family to California in 1946 where Martin attended Palo Alto High School and Stanford University, graduating in 1956 with a degree in economics. His father, Howard Swig, was the brother of Benjamin Swig, past owner of the Fairmont Hotels.
He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Esta; their sons David and Howard Swig of Sausalito, California; his daughter Annalisa Swig Poirel (Sebastien) of Hohengoeft, France; four grandchildren (Anders, Solveig, Isolde and Jacob); his sister, Lura Bastek of Naples, Florida; and his brother Richard Swig of Council Bluffs, Iowa, many nieces and nephews, and close friends who shared his passions and irreverence. A memorial service will be held Friday, July 20, 2012, at 1:00 PM at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco.
Obituary as a pdf file
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