Classic SFPersonalities

Walter Dawydiak Lives Life in the Fast Lane

By Michelle Konstantinovsky

Dawydiak, pictured at left with daughter Bianca. Says Patrick Barber: “Walter is a true Renaissance man who turned his passion for fast cars into his vocation.” Photo by Matthew Petty.

The tagline pretty much says it all: “Obsessed and proud of it.” That’s the phrase that greets visitors to the Cars Dawydiak website, and within a few minutes of speaking with Walter Dawydiak, the auto haven’s namesake, it’s clear the team’s passion trickles down from the top.

“I was the boy underneath the covers with a flashlight looking at Porsche magazines and books,” the San Francisco native says. “I guess it started as an adolescent infatuation, and through various twists of events, I’ve been able to successfully grow it into something larger and more enterprising with each year and decade.”

Rather than write off his fascination as a childhood phase, Dawydiak spun it into a full-fledged career, opening the doors of his eponymous business in 1981, in partnership with friend Scott Akers. “It started as a detail shop, but I wanted to be in the car business — I’ve always loved vintage cars,” he says.

Once Dawydiak parted ways with Akers, he moved the enterprise they’d built at 11th and Folsom to Bush and Franklin.

“Originally it was going to be a car wash,” he says. “But the city wouldn’t permit it for that use, so as plan B, we said, ‘Let’s open a car sales place with a workshop upstairs and sales downstairs,’ and it’s grown from there.”

In 2011, Dawydiak bought a sweeping space at Pine and Van Ness on a handshake from the previous owner, and set up shop at this current location two years later. Now Cars Dawydiak does everything from maintenance and repairs to mind-boggling sales (there’s a 1967 Porsche 911S for a $204,900, but anyone interested in the $675,000 1988 Porsche 959 will be sad to know they missed their chance, as it has already sold).

Embarking on his sixth year at the Pine Street location, and his 38th year in the business, Dawydiak is reflective on his hometown’s consistent evolution. “Obviously the city has changed a lot,” he says. “It’s funny, I was listening to the radio the other night and that song came on — ‘We Built This City.’ You probably could pick any decade and say what the city was built on. It was rock ‘n’ roll and now it’s tech.”

But while the Bay Area tech boom has drastically transformed the socio-economic landscape, Dawydiak says his client base has remained solid. “We sell rites-of-passage cars,” he says. “We cater to a specific clientele with high expectations with what we do.” And what Dawydiak and his team do is pretty much everything a fellow car nut could want. “We handle all aspects of vintage and modern sports cars from purchasing to maintenance to restoration or crash repair,” he says. “We’re well-versed in anything.”

“Walter is a true Renaissance man who turned his passion for fast cars into his vocation,” says longtime client and president of Pacific Union-Compass, Patrick Barber. “Who else could pull off an ascot and tweed coat while selling you a six-figure vintage Porsche? Only Mr. Cars Dawydiak.”

As for the future, Dawydiak is focused on bringing his daughter Bianca into the family business and keeping up with the times while staying true to his roots. “At some point there will be electric Porsches out there and electric Ferraris,” he says. “As time moves on, people move with it.”

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