Roland A. Bacci, who brought Mercedes Benz to the Bay Area, dies

Roland A. Bacci, a longtime Marin County automobile executive who opened the first Mercedes-Benz dealership in the Bay Area, died at his Napa home on Sept. 25. Mr. Bacci, who suffered from leukemia, was 90.

For many years, Mr. Bacci was the guiding force at the family-owned R.A.B. Motors in San Rafael. He was also an innovative businessman, able to move old business enterprises in new directions. He was among the first to realize the potential for imported luxury car sales in the Bay Area and began the region’s the first Mercedes showroom.

He also had a hand in changing the social nature of neighborhood cocktail lounges in San Francisco when he converted an old dive bar in the Marina District into an establishment that featured comfortable seats, a fireplace, and a relaxed scene that catered to couples instead of hard-drinking single men.

Roland’s, his 1952 bar on Fillmore Street, not only made money but earned architectural design prizes.

Mr. Bacci was born in San Francisco in 1927 to Italian immigrant parents. His family spoke only Italian at home, and Roland did not learn English until he went to school.

He graduated from Galileo High School in 1944 and served in the U.S. Army at the end of World War II in Okinawa and South Korea.

Mr. Bacci returned to San Francisco and married Beverly Rossi in 1951. He then became involved in his wife’s family business — a tow truck and truck sales operation in San Rafael. He helped convert it into new car sales, and in 1958 opened R.A. B. Motors.

At first he sold Studebakers and De Sotos, two now-vanished makes. In 1961, he changed direction and sold Mercedes. The cars were a hard sell, his daughter, Robin recalled.

“They cost more than a Cadillac and did not have as many features,” she said.

R.A.B. Motors sold only 10 Mercedes cars in the first year. The first Mercedes he sold cost the new owner only $5,500. In a few years, the dealership was selling thousands of cars.

In 1984, Robin Bacci became president of the company. She was the first female to head a Mercedes dealership in the country. Mr. Bacci’s son, David, became sales manager.

But Mr. Bacci never really retired, said Pamela Scott, another daughter. “He really loved cars,” she said.

The family sold R.A.B. Motors in 2012.

Mr. Bacci is survived by his wife of 66 years, Beverly; his son, David of Point Richmond; his daughters, Robin Bacci of Greenbrae and Pamela Scott of Kentfield; a brother, Donald Bacci of Calistoga; and five grandchildren.

Funeral services will be private.

Carl Nolte is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: cnolte@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @carlnoltesf

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