Born in a cabin in Kentucky hill country with no electricity and no running water, David E. Davis, Jr., moved to greater Detroit as a young boy during the Depression, when his itinerant father landed steady work there as a woodworker. An erratic student and college dropout with a flair for writing, the young Davis went on -- in a life as rich with adventure and reward as it was with heartbreak and misfortune -- to redefine the American car magazine, ushering in standards of literary quality that had been sorely absent while in the process creating a larger-than-life persona for himself so distinct that it often obscured the man behind it. Respected by his peers, beloved by readers and many in the industry he helped cover in a new and important way, he was also feared -- and even loathed in some quarters -- by those who did not subscribe to his views, by those who saw him as arrogant, and sometimes even by those once closest to him.
Davis died in March following surgery for bladder cancer, leaving behind his beloved wife, Jeannie, his sister, three children, eleven grandchildren, and three stepchildren.
Three weeks before his unexpected passing, New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman traveled to Davis's office in Ypsilanti, Michigan -- digs brimming with the memorabilia of a truly memorable life in and around automobiles -- to conduct a six-hour interview, the first of what was to be a series of such meetings, chronicling the eighty-year-old legend's life and times. The following are excerpts from what turned out instead to be the last telling of some of this master storyteller's many stories.
"[My father] was short -- maybe five-foot six -- but really tough, really strong. He got to drinking when he was older, had two major automobile accidents, and did serious damage to himself; he walked with a pretty good limp. My mother was grumpy and hard to get along with sometimes, but she was an absolute saint compared to my father. He'd played football in college, and he wanted me to be an athlete, but I spent all my time reading books.
"Every time I got involved in something physical, I managed to hurt myself. I broke my collarbone three times. The last time, my old man was so mad that he sat me down on the toilet in the bathroom and set it himself and wrapped me in tape and sent me out to play.