David E. Davis, Jr., one of the top names in automotive journalism, has died. Davis passed away on Sunday following his battle with bladder cancer and was recovering from surgery as reported by AutoWeek. Davis was founder and editor emeritus of Automobile magazine and had previously served as editor for Car and Driver. He was also behind the launch of Winding Road, an online automotive magazine.
Davis’ career began as a race car driver and factory worker and led to positions as a writer for Road & Track and as a Corvette ad copywriter. In 1962, he joined Car and Driver as a writer, seven years after an SCCA accident where he flipped his MG and severely damaged his face, requiring extensive and painful plastic surgery.
That accident transformed Davis who soon became noted as one of the more fiery writers and tempestuous editors in the business. In later years as he looked back at the accident, Davis noted that no meeting or business error could ever affect him to the same degree as the accident that nearly took his life, writing with abandon and battling with some of the industry’s other leading writers including Jean Jennings and Brock Yates.
I was one of those guys who admired Davis although unfortunately I never got to meet him. Davis’ acerbic wit alternately fascinated and repelled me, a man known for his brutal honesty about the cars he drove and sometimes the people who were his colleagues. Were some of his battles intensely personal? You bet — but, his admirers and detractors knew where they stood with him.
Davis’ personal battles never seemed to detract readers from what he was all about: giving them a candid picture of each car he drove. Like many automotive journalists, Davis was on the press rotation, receiving a new car to drive every week. Most of his trips, especially in later years, was from his home to work and around where he lived, but occasionally he arranged to have that car longer, taking it on a whirlwind trip to Alaska and back to Michigan, giving us as much details about the local color as well as noting the “folded-paper sheetmetal from the origami school,” of the Honda CR-Z and similar critiques that sometimes put him in the crosshairs of auto industry titans and publishers alike.
In later years, Davis’ tone softened, perhaps as he realized that his time was short and that no quarrel should get in the way of a real friendship. Indeed, just a few weeks ago Davis was in Florida for the Concours d’Elegance on Amelia Island and was seated in the front row at Yates’ seminar about the history of the Cannonball Run.
So, hat’s off to a guy who taught the rest of us how to get to the heart of the story even when it sometimes means being the lone voice in a crowded field of automotive “yes men.” Davis shaped automotive journalism, enabling the rest of us to to receive better pay and prominence as we followed his lead.
Photo: Car and Driver