Martin Swig: Vintage racer, car collector and California Mille founder passes away at age 78

Martin Swig, a well-known classic car collector, vintage racer and automobile dealer, died July 3, 2012, in Sausalito, Calif. He was 78.

Swig fell in love with automobiles at an early age and his interest never waned. He learned to drive at the age of 12, secured a driver’s license at 14 and would often “borrow” his parents’ car for some late-night driving with his friends. Swig worked as a used car salesman while putting himself through college at Stanford University and began working for European Motors in San Francisco shortly after earning a degree in economics in 1956.

He continued to sell cars throughout the 1950s and ’60s before purchasing a Datsun dealership in 1969. Swig gradually added Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Mazda and Toyota dealerships, and he broke new ground in the industry with the creation of the one-stop-shop San Francisco Autocenter in 1982. At one point, Swig’s Autocenter offered 17 different European makes under one roof.

Swig’s interest in auto racing dates to the 1950s, when he began attending road races at Pebble Beach and Golden Gate Park. He started racing his own 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900 Zagato during the 1970s and took part in the Monterey Historics every year from 1976-2010. He raced in the first Mille Miglia Retrospective in 1982 and founded the California Mille in 1991.

He also collected toy cars.

Swig is survived by his wife, Estra Swig, and their two sons, David and Howard Swig, who share their father’s love of classic cars and vintage racing.

A memorial service for Swig will be held Friday, July 20, at 1 p.m. at San Francisco’s Temple Emanu-El.

For more about Martin Swig, read his 2011 interview with Sports Car Digest at

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