Sam Swope acquired his first auto dealership, Swope Motors Inc. -- which sold Dodge and Plymouth -- in Elizabethtown, Ky., on Jan. 1, 1952.
For decades, he continued to acquire dealerships, building a wide-ranging brand portfolio: Toyota in 1967, Honda in 1971, Cadillac in 1976 and BMW in 1978. And so it went. Swope Motors became the 16-dealership Sam Swope Auto Group Inc., of Louisville.
Swope, 88, died Tuesday, Dec. 9, surrounded by his family.
On Dec. 31, 2011, Swope retired and handed over the reins and the chairman’s position to his daughter, Patti Swope. Dick Swope, Sam Swope’s nephew, was already the group’s CEO, in charge of its day-to-day operations.
On Jan. 1, 2015, Dick Swope is scheduled to retire. Patti Swope, 51, will take over as the group’s CEO.
“… and advertise”
Shortly after his retirement, when asked by Automotive News how he built his dealership business, Swope replied, “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.”
He also said he planned to spend more time on his 2009 Harley-Davidson with a Screamin’ Eagle engine, one of almost a dozen motorcycles he owned at that time.
Swope is also survived by his wife, Marlys; son, Brad; daughter Susan; and brother, Bill.
In 2009, Automotive News named Swope one of its “visionary dealers,” calling him “an early adopter of new brands and new trends.”
One of his ideas was to combine franchises and dealerships in huge real estate developments. In the mid-1960s, Swope brought together a variety of brands in a large Elizabethtown store he called Plymouth City.
By 1982, he had developed one of the country’s first regional auto malls, the 32-acre Swope AutoCenter in suburban Louisville. The property housed Cadillac, Pontiac, GMC, Honda, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen and BMW stores. By the 1990s, Lexus and Saturn stores were added.
In the 1990s he opened a used-car superstore called Sam Swope’s Big Lot. Swope also captured Louisville’s attention with a big-box dealership in 1999 called Swope Discount AutoCenter that pulled together used-vehicle inventory from his stores.
In 2002, he took the big-retail approach a step further with a store he named AutoMatrix. The site consisted of a large dealership that sold only used trucks, called Sam Swope’s Just Trucks, and a vehicle-accessorizing service.
Sam Swope Auto Group and the Swope Family of Dealerships of Elizabethtown make up Swope Automotive Group, founded by Sam and later joined by his brother, Bill, the father of Dick Swope.
Swope Automotive Group ranks No. 85 on Automotive News’ list of the top 125 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 10,740 new vehicles in 2013.