Former Free Press auto critic Tony Swan, a giant in automotive writing and one of the best people with whom you could hope to share a drive, died Thursday. He was 78.
Tony lived the way he drove; full throttle, looking out the windshield.
“Going fast involves more than just horsepower. There’s also the willingness to go fast. I had plenty of that,” Tony wrote in a recollection of his early days behind the wheel.
He and his wife Mary Seelhorst approached his nine-year battle with head and neck cancer the same way. They packed in trips to Paris, jaunts to Minneapolis for football games by his beloved University of Minnesota and more, creating memories they wanted to share.
“We’re going to see the Bristlecone pine trees,” Tony told me of a trip to a California a couple of years ago. “Some of them are 4,000 years old. I just want to hug one of ‘em.”
In addition to being a trained journalist, and first class writer (click to read some of his work here), Tony was a skilled racer. He was still competing a just few months ago.
At a race this summer, “before strapping in, he texted a photo of himself in his race suit, middle finger prominently raised, to his doctor, who had advised him not to race,” Tony’s friend and longtime Car and Driver colleague Rich Ceppos wrote on the magazine’s website. “It was that same attitude that allowed him to carry on years longer than the medical experts had told him would be possible.”
Tony died surrounded by family in his house in Ypsilanti’s historic Depot Town, a neighborhood rife with automotive history and good beer and burger joints, two of his favorite things.
Tony was famous for his acerbic wit and lack of patience with blowhards, but he didn’t have a mean bone in his body, and he was equally notable for his patience with cub reporters.
Tony’s career began in 1967 as a sports reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. He parlayed his love of motor sports into a full-time auto gig with Detroit-based Auto Week in 1970 and went on to write for or edit nearly every major automotive outlet, plus stints in advertising and as Western Travel editor for Better Homes and Gardens. Tony was also one of the founding members of the North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards.
Tony had an almost old-fashioned gentility. I still remember the horrified look he gave me when I said I planned to wear shorts to an outdoor news event on a humid, 95-degree day.
“I’d never do that,” he said, proving it the next day by showing up in a crisp linen jacket, checked shirt and pleated slacks.
Tony is survived by his wife Mary, son Austin, daughter Hillary and six grandchildren
Contact Mark Phelan: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-222-6731. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan.
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