Former dealer Martin Swig, thought to be auto mall inventor, dies at age 78
Martin Swig's auto retailing career began in 1957 as a salesman at European Motors in San Francisco, where he sold Alfa Romeo and Fiat cars.
Former auto dealer and vintage car enthusiast Martin Swig -- thought to be the inventor of the modern auto mall -- died July 3 of a stroke at age 78 in his Sausalito, Calif., home.
Swig, who grew up in Palo Alto, Calif., had intended to pursue a career in automotive design, according to his official obituary. But his father told him he must go to Stanford University, where he graduated in 1956 with an economics degree.
His auto retailing career began in 1957 as a salesman at European Motors in San Francisco, where he sold Alfa Romeo and Fiat cars.
In 1969, he opened a Datsun dealership, and in 1982, he opened the San Francisco Autocenter, a multifranchise dealership containing 17 brands in individual showrooms, all under one roof.
The Autocenter -- thought to be the first auto mall -- sold an array of makes, among them luxury brands, imports and American cars. In a letter to the editor published in Automotive News in December 2003, Swig wrote that the “Wal-Mart-style” concept drew praise.
“The New York Times and Time magazine hailed it as the dealership of the future,” Swig wrote. “Customers loved it. Other dealers loved it. Manufacturers tolerated it because San Francisco is such a tough place to do business.”
Swig’s letter was in response to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece by J.D. Power III, who had called for a similar model for auto retailing.
Swig was a frequent writer to Automotive News -- he had seven letters published from 1994 to 2008. He also wrote a monthly column for the San Francisco Nob Hill Gazette, called “Wheels.”
Leveraging the growing value of his real estate, Swig closed the Autocenter in 1998, transforming it into an upscale shopping center.
The closing of the San Francisco Autocenter marked the end of Swig’s career as a dealer. He spent much of the rest of his life collecting vintage cars, and founded the California Mille Miglia race car tour in 1991. The 23rd annual event, scheduled for April 28 to May 2, 2013, has been titled “Tribute to Martin Swig.”
Autoweek contributed to this report. For its report, click here.
You can reach Adam Rubenfire at email@example.com.