Birthday Honors

David E. Davis, Jr.
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02 David E Davis Jr

My friends at Autocar magazine in London contacted me last summer and asked for my thoughts on the twenty best-looking cars of the last hundred years. I could have made three such lists, each with its own twenty great cars, and still been right in every case. This is a highly subjective exercise, and one with which almost no one will agree, but I still enjoyed doing it. I am just forty-eight hours away from my seventy-second birthday as I write this, so I decided to share my twenty most beautiful cars with all of you, with the request that you send your own list of twenty to Automobile Magazine and give us some idea of where you stand on the question. The more the merrier.

David E. Davis, Jr., Lists the 20 Most Beautiful Cars of the Last 100 Years
  • Austin-Healy 100M, 1955
  • Bentley Speed Six, Le Mans Bodywork, 1930
  • Bugatti Type 55 Roadster, 1932
  • Buick Century Convertible Sedan, Side Mounts, 1938
  • Buick Riviera, 1964
  • Cadillac Sixty Special, 1941
  • Chevrolet Deluxe Confederate Series BA Sports Roadster, 1932
  • Ferrari 166MM Barchetta, BY Touring, 1949
  • Ferrari 250GT LWB California Spyder, 1959
  • Ferrari 250GT SWB, 1959
  • Fiat 500B Topolino, 1948
  • Ford Model B Roadster, 1932
  • Invicta 4.5-liter, Low-Chassis, 1930
  • Jaguar XK120, 1948
  • Jaguar E-Type Coupe Series 1, 1961
  • Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster, 1936
  • Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, 1954
  • Packard Custom Eight Phaeton, 1930
  • Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, London to Edinburgh, 1911
  • Talbot Lago T150 SS Ventral Fin Coupe, 1938
This was a struggle for me. For instance, the Austin-Healey 100S is probably a prettier car than the 100M, but I love the 100M's adjustable windshield. I am deeply in love with the Airline Bentley that was left behind on the docks in France when the German army overran that hopelessly feckless country in 1940, but it was a prototype and thus lacked the credentials of the great Speed Six. My friend Martin Swig has chided me for listing the 1938 Buick Century instead of the 1937, because—in his view—the '37 has the prettier grille. Well, tough. I happen to think that the 1938 Buick grille is one of the best things GM ever did.

Mr. Swig also knocked my pick of the 1941 Cadillac Sixty Special over the 1940, on the grounds that the 1940 model's front fenders were more discreet and thus more elegant. (I'm still torn between the two.) In the case of the three Ferraris I chose, my all-time favorite Ferrari is the 1956 250GT Tour de France model, but I must grudgingly admit that it was not the most beautiful. I will now reveal my dark side and suggest that the only truly beautiful Ferraris are front-engined cars powered by V-12 engines—a prejudice that helped to narrow that particular field for me.

All of this came to mind because I included my "List of Twenty" in a speech I gave Saturday night at the first annual Hilton Head Concours d'Elegance, at Hilton Head, South Carolina, where I was an honored guest. Why was I an honored guest at such a splendid affair? Well, because my friend and former colleague Harriet Stemberger (now Harriet Ruggeri) was co-chairman of that event and did a vast amount of the organizational work necessary to guarantee its success. It was Harriet who joined me in an empty office in August 1985 to launch Automobile Magazine, and it was Harriet who organized literally dozens of parties, test trips, and European and Argentine tours for our readers as business manager of Automobile.

She ordered me to put the event on my calendar at least a year ago, and I gave up a dear friend's annual birthday quail shoot to do so. As it turned out, J. L. K. Davis and I had a terrific time among a crowd of old friends. Bill Warner, impresario of the Amelia Island concours—a couple of hundred miles away, just outside Jacksonville, Florida—once again showed what a great gentleman he is by being wholeheartedly helpful to the folks at Hilton Head as a judge, an advisor, and an entrant. He won the 2002 Meguiar's Award as the collector-car hobbyist of the year, and nobody currently walking the earth deserved it more.

Hilton Head is a lovely resort and residential area, and it has attracted a likable population of seasonal and year-round residents. More than 600 of these nice folks volunteered to work on the Hilton Head concours, and they really made it special. Retired corporate moguls were running the parking lots. Handsome, well-dressed women acted as tour guides and greeters on the shuttle buses. Everybody was friendly and helpful, and all were unfailingly professional in the execution of their particular responsibilities. Having recently come home from the Paris auto show, where they refused to grant my request for press credentials, I was especially grateful for a little tender loving care.

It is a little more than 900 miles from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Hilton Head, South Carolina. We made the journey in a brand-new Lexus GS430, which averaged 66 mph and 22 mpg for the round trip. God, it was good! We used the Lexus electronic navigation system all the way. That system incorporates a handy trip computer which I'd use weekly, at least, if I drove that car all the time. Interstate 77, from near Coshocton, Ohio, to Columbia, South Carolina, may very well be the prettiest Interstate in the entire system. Wonderful car, wonderful road. Happy birthday to me.

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