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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.

Stay Tuned In!

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.