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A Eulogy for David E.

Remembrances in advance of David E. Davis’s memorial.

by on Apr.25, 2011

The "dean of automotive journalism," David E. Davis died during cancer surgery at 80.

A memorial service for David E. Davis, who passed away on March 27, will be held later this week — more details at the end of this remembrance by Contributing Editor Mike Davis (no relation).

Since the passing many years ago of “Uncle” Tom McCahill, of Mechanix Illustrated fame, there has been no automotive writer better known than the inimitable David E. Davis, Jr., late of Campbell-Ewald’s Chevrolet advertising copywriting, Car and Driver, Automobile and finally of his own corpus.

I was one of the legion of David E.’s followers and admirers, and my only claim to fame is that my acquaintance with him probably goes, er, went back further than anyone else in the auto writing trade still kicking.

Sometime in 1962, when David E. was still at Campbell-Ewald plugging Chevrolet, he got in touch with me at Lincoln-Mercury Public Relations, where I was doing likewise for its brands.  Undoubtedly this was because before joining Ford Motor Company in mid-1960 I had been the moonlighting Detroit columnist for Sports Cars Illustrated, New York based magazine of Ziff-Davis publications.  David E. was about to leave the advertising agency to become editor of SCI, which he would soon rebrand as Car and Driver.

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To pick my brain about my experiences with SCI, he invited me to lunch with him at one of those curious little watering holes he became so famous for discovering, in this case the Danish-American Sportsman’s Club, in a run-down (soon to be torn down) neighborhood west of the Wayne State University campus in mid-town Detroit.


Marty’s Marketing Minutia:

Hellos, Farewells, and Hail Hearties

by on Apr.01, 2011

David E. Davis, photo courtesy Martyn Goddard.


As others, far more literate than I, have written and attested these past sad days of remembrance, David E. Davis, along with his automotive accomplishments, was the epitome of a bon vivant, raconteur and boulevardier, the personification of the Renaissance man and a damned good friend.

David E. and I first met at Campbell-Ewald in the early ‘70’s when he was the creative director and I was a suit but we hit it off. He suffered all suits poorly. So I must assume he took pity on me. If DED didn’t like an interoffice memo one of two rubber stamps would be stamped and returned. One said Bull Shit the other Don’t Patronize Me. Wish now I’d saved mine.

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After both of us moved on to entrepreneurial endeavors, our paths seldom crossed but were highlighted when we met in London at Turnbull and Asser while both of us were ordering shirts. Then, ten years ago, after my first ad review column appeared in Automotive News, he called complimenting me on the new career. And thus began a regular series of lunches and dinners in Ann Arbor to discuss today and tomorrow but seldom sad or bad yesterdays along with tidbits about good friends, former colleagues, superb wines, great cars and the wonders of bespoke clothing and fine shirts.


Along with countless others I will miss him.


Master Story-Teller, David E. Davis Dead at 80

A man of many hats and helmets.

by on Mar.28, 2011

The "dean of automotive journalism," David E. Davis died during cancer surgery at 80.

Few have left such a legacy on the car world as David E. Davis.  The knee-jerk response is to dub him the “dean of automotive journalism.”  But knowing David for the entirety of my career I would assume that should this copy have fallen into his hands he’d have quickly struck that out as clichéd.

There will be plenty of words spoken about David E. Davis in the coming days.  One cannot ignore the passing of a legend who had so much influence on the automotive world in his 80 years, right up to his death over the weekend.

Yes, he has often been called the “dean,” and by no less than Time magazine.  Elsewhere, it has been said, David “entirely and single-handedly defined…automotive journalism in the post-Vietnam war era.”

Davis himself suggested that his skill was “his ability to marry southern story-telling to big-city presentation.”  Journalists are, by definition, story tellers.  But few could so effectively captivate and hold the attention of an audience, even those who cared little to naught about automobiles.  Perhaps the closest I can think of with such a skill is Garrison Keillor, the host of NPR’s Prairie Home Companion.

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With the white beard – and girth — that sometimes rivaled St. Nick, eyes that alternately twinkled and pierced, and the trademark waxed moustache that added a touch of a smile even to the most cutting remark, Davis was one of those who seldom was lost in the crowd.

I last saw him less than a month ago, at the black tie gala at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.  David had lost a significant amount of weight as the result of the preliminary treatment he was receiving for bladder cancer.  (He would ultimately succumb to complications following surgery for the disease.)  He was a bit more mellow and reflective, but if he feared the possible dangers he kept it hidden, matter-of-factly discussing the doctor’s prognosis as if it were another road test.  Only David could make the risks seem almost humorous.