David E. Davis: The Most Interesting Man in the Car World
“Is your life a rich tapestry?” That’s what David E. Davis would ask instead of, “How are you?” He was exactly the sort of man you’d expect to follow that greeting: bigger than life.
The best day of my life was the one I spent with him, sharing our passion for cars and the topics that often pair well with piston engines. This year we remember the 10th anniversary of his death.
David E. Davis Re-defined Automotive Journalism
I enjoyed his writing long before I had the pleasure of meeting him. He was a contributing writer, editor and publisher at Car and Driver magazine and the founder of Automobile magazine. The title of his book —Thus Spake David E.: The Collected Wit and Wisdom of the Most Influential Automotive Journalist of Our Time — is both a hint at the man’s personality and possibly the most accurate name for a book.
His work changed what we read about automobiles and was heavy with integrity. He once wrote a review of the 1968 BMW 2002, praising the car while damning the sound system. It’s not exactly clear under what circumstances he left Car and Driver after the article was published but I know in my heart of hearts that the story contains the phrase, “Davis did not back down. He stood behind what he wrote.”
At Car and Driver in the early 1960s, Davis made himself important, yet he also made automotive journalism important. — Edmunds Inside Line
Sidebar: I agree. The German radios of that era (we won’t mention the brands) worked best when the car was parked under the radio signal tower. If the car wasn’t in danger of being crushed by that same tower falling, then it was too far to pick up a good signal and you were either listening to dead air or something randomly registering.
To Me, Davis Was Car Culture
Until I found Davis’ work, I was used to reading what was available: dry facts about cars that were much more interesting than the articles that described them. Davis introduced storytelling to car reviews. When I read what he wrote, I found myself inside of a lifestyle that resonated with me.
For me, Davis is the whole idea of car culture. I don’t know the difference between a putter and wedge but I can rattle off every model Ferrari manufactured under Enzo’s watch. I can’t name the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys but I can tell the difference between a matt English horn button and a cheap imitation or why a two-button peak lapel jacket is more formal than a standard notched lapel.
He was the dashing, witty, high-spirited, and deeply knowledgeable writer/editor who brought the automobile to life. — Eddie Alterman, Car and Driver
I developed an interest in the car lifestyle because of the mentors in my life and Davis, who was known for always being well dressed as well as having an incredible appreciation for anything automotive, was one of my biggest influences. His influence on me was so great I went out and bought a new 1989 red Land Rover Range Rover. That turned out to be a huge mistake, but we talk about that in other blog.
He was a true raconteur. He drove fast cars (and sometimes crashed them). He appreciated single malt scotch. He dressed in bespoke Anderson and Sheppard suits tailored on London’s Saville Row. In fact, the first thing he said to me was to comment on the cut of my double-breasted blazer. We were at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance and wandered off to walk the show and seriously compare notes about the best tailors, which led to opinions on the best shotgun manufacturers. Year after year, we’d meet at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park and I’d enjoy our talks immensely.
In 2010, as America was crawling out of the Great Recession, our paths crossed in Detroit. He was lobbying for the position of Obama’s US Car Czar and I was in town for a business meeting.
He invited me to spend the day at his office in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We spent the whole day talking about every subject that interested us — sports never came up — and I reveled in the collection of car memorabilia he’d built over years of fascinating experiences.
There were scale models that manufacturers had gifted him and signed car books stacked everywhere. I was privileged to be in a private museum of the highest caliber with the man who knew every mind-boggling story behind every artifact.
David E. Davis died a year later on March 27, 2011. I miss those times talking with the big brother I never had. And he was that kind of major influence for me. I could talk about all the Ferrari models. He had driven them all. He was bigger than life and, for my money, one of the instrumental players in the formation of how we enjoy cars today.
Robert P. Minnick is founder and CEO of the Piston Foundation. The cars in his life and the people he calls friends because of those cars inspired him to create a national fundraising platform to preserve car culture. He’d like nothing better than to know future generations can have car experiences as memorable as his own.