David E. Davis, Jr., Founder and Editor Emeritus of Automobile Magazine, Dead at 80

david-e-davis-jr

David E. Davis Jr, whom TIME magazine called "the dean of automotive journalism," has died in Ann Arbor, Michigan, following complications from surgery for bladder cancer.

Davis founded Ann Arbor-based Automobile Magazine with Rupert Murdoch’s backing in 1985 after leaving his second stint in the editor’s chair at Car and Driver, which he moved from New York City to Ann Arbor in 1978. Davis, who had already refashioned Car and Driver into one of the most literate and entertaining special-interest magazines in America, imagined Automobile Magazine as a celebration of the automotive good life with the rallying cry “No Boring Cars,” but the slogan could just as easily have been applied to everything else in his life: No boring stories. No boring meetings. No boring road trips. No boring wardrobes. No boring friends. No boring employees. No boring food. No boring parties. When he was stuck with boring bosses, he suffered them most reluctantly, and in fact it was his disgust with the management team at CBS, which bought Car and Driver from Ziff-Davis Publishing in the mid-1980s, that propelled him to quit what he had considered the best job in the world, editor-in-chief of Car and Driver.

Conventional wisdom held that the “buff book” category could not accommodate a fourth title, in addition to Car and Driver, Motor Trend, and Road and Track, but Davis thought differently and was determined that Automobile Magazine would not only succeed but would forge a new path in automotive journalism. The physical magazine itself changed the category, introducing full-color photography and thick paper stock, which the other three magazines quickly copied. The writing, editing, and magazine-production skills that the longtime editors of Road and Track, John and Elaine Bond, had instilled in Davis in the 1950s, and which he had honed during his many years at Car and Driver, were taken to new levels in the pages of Automobile Magazine. Davis directed it all with panache, style, and seeming ease, and his monthly American Driver column was a must-read for America’s most discerning automotive enthusiasts and the biggest players in the automotive industry. Davis’s vision for Automobile Magazine was vindicated less than six years after it was founded, when Rupert Murdoch was able to sell it at a handsome profit in 1991 to K-III Publications, which became Primedia, which was later sold to Automobile Magazine’s current parent, Source Interlink Media.

Davis reluctantly ceded the editor-in-chief’s chair to his protégé, Jean (Lindamood) Jennings in January 2000 and served as the magazine’s editor emeritus for six years, during which time he also occasionally served as an editorial consultant to sister magazine Motor Trend. In 2006, at the age of 75, he joined the start-up digital magazine Winding Road, and recently returned to the pages of Car and Driver as a monthly columnist.

Born in Burnside, Kentucky, on November 7, 1930, and graduating from high school in Royal Oak, Michigan, Davis attended Olivet College briefly and worked a string of jobs including stints selling Volkswagens and mens clothing and assembly work at an automotive plant. He credited the chance sight of a Jaguar XK120 with cementing his love of the automobile. His brief career as a racing driver came to a screeching, bloody halt in October 1955 at an SCCA race in Sacramento, California, when he flipped his MG and scraped off a good portion of his face. Spending his 25th birthday in the hospital was a sobering experience, to say the least, and the trauma of the accident and the subsequent surgeries and painful recovery was a turning point in his life.

After recovering from his accident, Davis got a job selling ads at Road and Track, then wrote Corvette advertising copy for Campbell-Ewald in Detroit, then did his first stint at Car and Driver in New York City, where he quickly became editor. An executive creative vice-presidency back at Campbell-Ewald in the 1970s segued to his second round at Car and Driver.

Davis is survived by his wife, Jeannie, a.k.a. J.L.K., a.k.a. “the woman who changed my life,” his sons Matthew (himself a well-known automotive journalist) and David III, his daughter, Peg, and his stepdaughter Eleanor Snow, and stepsons Vincent and Tony Kuhn.

-Joe DeMatio

Deputy Editor, Automobile Magazine

For more on David E. and his history with Automobile Magazine, please read Jean Jennings's column from the April 2011 25th Anniversary issue.

Roto
I will really miss Mr. Davis. One of the most sensible automotive writers I've ever read. He would span the gamut of automobiles from the lowly Camry to the Ferrari's, Lambos, Rolls, etc. Any could earn his admiration or not and for a variety of reasons. He thought the way I do about cars. Technical and open minded with spirit and a bit of practicality. He was a great automotive writer. I will always remember Mr. Davis who was (and remains) for me the heart and sole of what automotive journalism should be.
John
I'm saddened to learn of this, but know that I'm taking good care of his little purple Porsche in his honor.
chris
my buddy’s step-mother makes $73 hourly on the computer. She has been out of work for 5 months but last month her pay was $7787 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read this site MakeCash5. c om
Glen Ota
Never had the pleasure of meeting David. One thing is for sure, the man can write. I enjoyed everything I read. God Bless you Mr.Davis. Don't forget to remind the good LORD to order his 458 in RED!!!!!!!! It flys!
Clifffton
I knew your father's mom, I went past the family antiques place so many times and thought there might be a connecting given the name out front but.. naw couldn't be. The first time I went upstairs and saw all the car magazines you could have knocked me over with a feather. Your Dad's remembrance after she passed was so so true to her :) DED II you are already missed. Thank goodness you mentored so many scribes. You live on through them!
Don Tombasco
Back in 1962, when I was 14, I started reading Car and Driver magazine. In fact, it was the first magazine that I subscribed to. As long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by sports cars. I didn't know why until David E's writings explained it all to me. If I had been lucky enough to meet him, I would have thanked him for giving me a lifetime of automotive reading pleasure. Now, all I can do is offer condolences to his family and friends. He will be missed.
Mollie Mobley Carter
I have laughed and cried over these posts. What struck me is the number of folks who referred to David E. as the "cool uncle." I can assure you, he was. The cars, the travels, the stories, those all helped however, what made him the cool uncle was the fact that he could make his rather un-cool neice feel special. Consider being a young teenage female in the early 80's. Braces, glasses, perm, big hair, Auqa Net. For my 13th birthday, my silly uncle sent me a singing telegram. Not just any singing telegram- it was a guy in a gorilla suit with a enormous amount of helium balloons. At a family reunion held at my grandparent's house in New Pittsburg, OH (population, maybe 200), David E. played bingo for hours at the local county fair to win me the stuffed elephant that I figured I needed more than life itself. Well, sure enough, next morning, long after I had gone to bed, there was that stuffed elephant. Most recently, I had the experience like none other when I was the passenger in a car that my uncle was driving from his home to Zingerman's Roadhouse where we were having lunch. Not only did we get flipped off by some old geezer in a Buick, we cut off a city bus. It was a beautiful moment. We got to the restaurant, my stomach was in my throat, I was thanking God that I was still alive and I was still able to impress my uncle with my ability to take down the 4 piece chicken dinner with the mashed potatoes and gravy. I will carry fond memories of a man who always wore cool sunglasses, had a least one pair of awesome cowboy boots, loved his mother's homemade bisquits and frankly, in my eyes, really deserved his own theme song.
Jim Huls
Jim Huls I started reading Sports Cars Illustrated in about 1955. David E Davis was one of my earliest and most exciting writers. I have read just about everything the man has put to paper. I admired his attitude, his knowledge of cars and the car business. I've read every automotive publication I could get my hands on, and Mr Davis always stood out as the most knowledgeable, the most honest, the most interesting.... One had to admire his calling a spade a spade, his honest comments, his exciting stories, travels, eats, drinks, escapades, etc. He lived a life 99% of the planet aspires to, but never reaches. And most important, you could believe what he said. I never had the opportunity to shake his hand. I did see him at the Indy 500 one year. The automotive world has lost it's most believed and admired communicator. I just couldn't feel more loss. He will be long remembered! May his family realize the mark he has made on the automotive world and know we grieve with you. In the last article I read that was written by DED, he said that a new Fiat 500 was in his future. Can't you just see him, right now, up there with the tail hung out?
Gary Orr
Like many others who have posted here, I was first introduced to David E. at the age of 14 during his tenure at Car & Driver. He quickly became required reading and I followed him to Automobile. To this day I still subscribe to both magazines, although neither will ever be the same without his monthly words or wisdom. I learned a lot, laughed a lot and was frequently in awe of the experiences he chose to share with all of us. I will most certainly miss anxiously looking for and perusing his frequent missives. I extend my most heartfelt sympathies to his many friends, but most especially to his family. Like his legion of many admirers I know you will sorely miss his larger than life personality.
Mark Szymanoski
It was your vision and this magazine that introduced me to automotive journalism in its finest form. You raised the bar for all, and for that, I am eternally grateful. Rest in peace, David.
Ron Czajkowski
A strange little story....In April of 1987 at the age of 19 I watched an episode of 60 Minutes about the Lamborghini Countach. I've always loved Ferraris but also admired Lamborghinis. During the episode, Morley Safer interviewed David Davis about the Countach and at one point Mr. Davis made the comment about how he felt anyone who was worth anything at all should own a 12 cylinder car before they die because there is nothing else like it. That comment has always stuck in my mind throughout my life. Owning a 12 cylinder car was a dream beyond reach, I always figured the best I could do was a Ferrari 308 or 328. Recently I started to seriously pursue my dream of owning a Ferrari. After seeing the price of Testarossas come down to the price of 328s I thought about Mr. Davis's comments on that video and thought this is a one time purchase in my life(I'm not rich but saved for this purchase for years) so I started looking for a Testarossa. Now for the strange part.... After looking at cars that were junk, I found a what sounded like a nice Testarossa near Detroit. The car was being stored over the Winter in Ann Arbor but was being brought to Detroit for a pre purchase inspection. On March 25, 2011 I drove to Detroit (12 hours from home) to view and test drive the car. I purchased the car that day. On the drive back home, Mr. Davis's comments kept coming to mind. When I got home I did a search and found that 60 minutes video and watched it multiple times. I decided a couple days later to do an internet search for David Davis. I was saddened to learn he had passed and especially that it had been so recent, that it was in Ann Arbor(where the car was stored), and that I had purchased my dream car (12 cylinder) so close to his location and only days before he passed. Almost like it was meant to be. My condolences to his family and take comfort in knowing he had an influence in my life even though we never met.
Wayne Wright
What a loss the automotive world and humanity in general. DED was my hero. I have every AUTOMOBILE magazine ever published. I first 'met' DED coming out of an Admirals Club elevator. I stood in front of him, looked him straight in the eye then spit all over my chin, finally stammering a week "hello Mr. Davis" He just glared and pushed me aside. Years later I was at a dinner party hosted by AUTOMOBILE magazine at a Carmel restaurant. DED had invited his biggest automotive advertising customers to the Pebble Beach concour and I was the guest of my Isuzu client. We were all standing around in the parking lot waiting to board the bus back to the hotel and admiring the Davis's beautifully restored 1955 Chrysler 300C. All of a sudden I blurted out "how about a ride back to the hotel?", and with that, DED pulled back the front seat and said "hop in" . That was the best time I ever had in the back seat of an automobile including the night of my high school prom. It was a night to remember and I always will.
steve wilson
I dang near ran over DED as he was coming on to Route 15 near Gettysburg,no doubt he was enjoying a tour of the battlefield in the Mercedes ragtop he and his wife were in. Im glad I saw him,glad I missed him. We locked eyes for a moment. I knew who he was instantly. I was so delighted to see him,I just smiled and saluted. What a guy,all the way around. I loved reading his every word. God rest.
JoeCamaro
I really enjoyed his writing. He made me angry and he made me laugh. I wish that I could write at least a quarter as well as he could. He will be missed. He is one of those that was larger than life.
Martin A. Villa
I will personally make March 27th of every year I'm blessed to see as a day of remembrance for David E. Davis. This man was a powerhouse in auto journalism. His writings and style will carry on for many lifetimes to come. If you possess any kind of automotive enthusiam, he helped to nuture it . We have truly lost a giant. God bless you David E., and may He give you Heavenly rest.
Charles Robertson
Dave will be greatly missed. He is responsible for teaching me what fine writing was in his stories and monthly musings. He is a titan amoung writers, not just auto jurnalists, standing with Ken Purdy at the apex. I followed him from Car and Driver when he created Automobile Magazine and thrilled when he let folks like Jean, PJ and a dozen others loose to create fantastic word pictures that stoked my love for things automotive. My prayers go with his family and hope what I and the others have to say will help the healing process. DED was a great man and will be sorely missed.
Ray J
Long time follower and admirer of DED's work. RIP. You made a difference and will be missed.
Jeremy R. Litz
I have followed since the first issue of Car & Driver and up to today. Thank you DED Jr for making my life a little more interesting and iformed. The best part is the humor and laughter you brought to me.
Jon Lundberg
My experience was that DED changed the way we Americans - and I'm sure others as well - thought and talked about cars. He was a game-changer and true to the nature of the beast, was an individual not ever to be duplicated. David's wave goodbye to us was the ground-breaker, "Winding Road". Every "car person" owes DED - big time. Thank you, sir! Godspeed and R.I.P.
Peter R. Robinson
As a Brit that grew up with MGAs and Triumph TRs, in the old country, I came to the US in the early '90s. Automobile magazine filled a mid-Atlantic void, and David D.'s charismatic and joyful compositions were a delight to read. He was an enthusiast and performer who grew up and matured into his late years with the association and love of cars that smelt like cars, and cars that performed like cars! His spirit and acumen will be sorely missed.
S.M.Light
I had the honor of having lunch with David E. Davis at the Madison Ave Sports Car & Driving Society and listening to many of his exploits.. He, and others like him (Leon Mandell Comes to mind) made automotive journalism what it is today. Todays automotive journalists owe him so much for paving the way. I wish him Godspeed on the long winding road ahead.
Lee
The automotive world was a better place because of him and it and us, will miss him!
George B. Walker
I still enjoy reading DED Jr's "The Sports Car Mystique" after 40 years, which I believe expresses his joie de vivre. More, it was his ability to communicate and share that with me that made me a fan during his career. His philosophy on desirable cars was simply stated: "They were fun to drive!" Comforts be damned: "... I had to brush the snow from the seats of my car before I could drive it home from work." His philosophy on life seemed to be ever the revolutionary, protesting against the boring. But he knew that he had to guard against his own success. "One of the hangups with revolutions is that they tend to lose their momentum once they succeed. Sooner or later the original revolutionists are all fought out - they're tired, and they want to enjoy the fruits of their conquests." Time to move on to the next revolution. If the explanation of Death lies on the other side of Eternity, then I know that DED Jr. will continue his unending goal to prevent it from being boring, and more, to somehow make it fun. To his family, my condolences and best wishes. To DED Jr., posthumously, my gratitude for making my life more fun and less boring!
Dan Kerstein
My heart goes out to the Davis family. DED Jr. has been my downfall for well over 30 years. After reading several of his rants and raves, I find myself at age 64 counting to the number 71. That's the number a cars I have owned, and more than 1/2 of them because of DED Jr. He would make his comments and I would rush to a local dealer and test, drive and usually trade his last forced upon me vehicle for the new one he had written about. The auto industry has lost a very special person and I have lost the will to buy more cars. Thank You DED for making my life full of fun, freedom and whiskey. And also learning to adjust to each new car that you in effect caused me to buy.
Wayne O. Cavanaghl
I only met DED once at Pebble Beach in 1991. We had a nice conversation about Automobiles, (what else) I have a great number of car magazines in my collection and DED wrote some of myfavorite articles.
Tom Monti
Reading works about and by him during the past 30 years, many times I felt his ego was oversized. On reflection, I now see his ego was just the right size; it was the man who was oversized.
Robert Rutske
Damn, Damn....Been reading DED jr since his very beginning at C&D and of course have every issue of AUTOMOBILE since #1. Even stole his "Freedom & Whiskey" for my own scribblings. To his very extended family, all my thanks. RIP
Chris Burton
Thank you, Mr. Davis, for taking me along for the ride....in all the amazing automobiles I was never priveleged to drive, to all the exotic and funky locales I could never hope to visit, and for the glimpses into the minds and spirits of the people who delight in this zany passion for speed....you made my world a far more fascinating place ! Zoom in Peace.......
Eric Green
To all the staff and The family of Mr. Davis, Thank you for allowing us to share him with you. His mentoring will live on with writers of Automobile.
John Teeter
To all personnel who make up the staff and v. much indeed are that which is Automobile, starting with a singularly special and indefatigable comet of an individual within my heart who has always so significantly 'made' the publication for myself from its beginning............, and then, of course, Mr. Davis' family and closest of friends, associates.........., please allow a complete outsider, a total stranger as it were to extend my deepest regards to each of you as the individuals you are and your obvious manifold heartfelt emotions, remembrances, reflections and respects in the passing of Mr. Davis. You are all within my thoughts. John Teeter
John P Laube
This is very sad for me as I have read Mr. Davis' ramblings for over 30 years with great relish. He recanted countless motoring adventures involving some of the great personalities of our time. His irreverent style always kept you on the edge of your seat, just waiting for the next absurd situation to arise (the interior of his Ferrari being destroyed by a racoon comes to mind). He did not suffer fools gladly and if wheels, food or alcohol was involved he was sure to have an educated opinion on how to exploit it to the maximum. I have a copy of his hardbound book "Thus Spake David E." on my desk at my side as I write this. Godspeed David and may heaven be a better, faster place. You will be remembered always.
Andy
How ironic, that I just finished reading Jean Jenning's article on DED Jr, and then I see this.
Ken Shelby
I just saw the obit in today's NY Times. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. From out here in the audience, it sure looks like you folks had a wonderful time being in his life, and having him in yours.
Jack Walter
I've been an avid reader of DED's work since 1966 and several of the things he wrote had a profound effect on my tastes in automobiles. His articles in Car & Driver fueled a passion for Land Rovers and BMWs that lasts to this day. At a book signing some years ago I got to talk with him and told him that as a direct result of his writing I had owned eight BMW 2002's and 15 Land Rovers - he signed my copy of his book "Apparently I've ruined your life" a sentiment I'd wholeheartedly disagree with. I greatly admired the man and will miss seeing his columns. My condolences to his family and the staff at Automobile magazine and especially Jean Jennings who I met at Amelia Island when she and Hurley judged my Porsche Carrera. I will miss the old curmudgeon.
Bill Pope
I have been an avid reader of Mr. Davis since I was a kid in the 70's. I still will read old articles. Craziest thing, I googled him last night and watched an interview. I had no idea he had passed. He was a very interesting man. I was thrilled to see him writing at Car & Driver again.
David McGlasson
I feel I have lost a favorite old uncle. David E. was about my Dad's age, and I have read him since he came to C/D for his second stint as editor in the '70's. His outsize personality and appreciation for the finer things in life made him unique in the industry, and I never tired of his grand stories. Expressions like "Cogito, Ergo Zoom!" and his favorite salutation, "Freedom and Whiskey!" defined him forever in my mind. My deepest sympathies to Jeannie, his kids, and the whole family. Losing a patriarch who lived so large will leave a hole that won't ever be filled. Safe journeys, David E.!
Dave Bartell
From the first time I picked up a copy of C & D in grade school until his passing , David E. Davis was the literary equivalent of the cool uncle who got to drive all the cool cars, go to all of the cool places, and told the best stories. I think I'll crack open my copy of 'Thus Spake David E' and remember him at his finest.
George Bunting
I had the extraordinary good fortune to crash Jeanie and David's breakfast on Mon. After he judged at Amelia. He was in top form as remembered from journeys through Italy, England and Michigan. He was such a part of my love for automobiles and what's important for living life to the fullest. My thoughts reach out to the family as time and friends help heal the lost a great individual who touched so many with his words and spirit.
Raf F
My condolences to the Davis Family and the staff of Automobile Magazine. I have been reading Mr. Davis’ writing since the early 70’s suffered though with him the horrible car years of the 70’s and early 80s. Mr Davis had a real impact on my car buying choices and non-choices for that matter. The car makers have listened because look at what we have to choose from today! That is how I remember Mr. David E. Davis, Jr. Thank you for the automobiles of today!
Joe Sweeney
I read and enjoyed David E. Davis for most all of his automotive journalist career. Who will now ever use the noun "paragon" to describe an automobile that meets or exceeds his expectations? His journalistic style, and the infusion of his personality in the his writing, was unique indeed. I was pleased to see David E. in the with his Fangio Chevy in the pit area at the Monterey Historics some years back. I was always glad to see him resurface since the Automobile Magazine departure. I had purchased the inaugural issue in 1986 and am still a subscriber. While I am not concerned about the business or politics that led to his departure, it was a delight to see him surface at MT, and then more recently at C&D. He will be missed.
Paul Hartzell
Mr. Davis was a former co-worker / colleague / friend of my father, Jim Hartzell, and spoke some very kind words at my father's funeral this past September. Rest in Peace Mr. Davis.
Jeff Reynolds
I have been a car fanatic for nearly all of my 47 years. Mr. Davis' bold and lively style of writing, both in his own words and in the words of those he inspired, have been my steady monthly companions since I learned to read. The first time I cried when reading of a death in the automotive literary world was Ms. Jennings touchingmemory of her father. This is the second. Freedom and Whisky, Mr. Davis.
andy
The automotive world has lost a great figure. RIP Mr. Davis...
Mark Relovsky
I stopped reading Car & Driver when DED left and I began a subscription to Automobile almost immediately. Twenty five years of his influence and everything is still fresh. He was an innovator and a tremendous writer. Thank you DED for your influence over Automobile. Thank you Automobile staff for continuing the excellence.
American_n_Proud
David E. will be greatly missed. A loss for the entire Automotive World.
kego53
I am very sorry to hear of Mr. Davis's passing. Thank you sir for the countless hours of pleasure reading your columns and your magazines. Many condolences to the family and friends.
Jim Fitz
So sorry to hear this news! I read every one of his magazines and most of his articles. He was a gifted writer and editor and will be missed...
casey shain
I'm just so sad right now. My love of cars, and my career in publishing, can be traced to reading DED, Jr starting in the mid 1960s. My first magazine subscription was Car and Driver when I was 7-8 years old, and reading about his love of cars, food, drink, friends and life at the magazine in New York City, shaped what I wanted to do with my life. As shocked as I was when I read his last column In C&D in the mid '80s, I was thrilled to read his first column in Automobile in '86. Thank You. My heartfelt condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. RIP DED, Jr.
David E. Davis III
SORRY ABOUT MY 1st REACTION.....the initial posting was extremely brief, just a paragraph. Mr. DeMateo has now expanded the remembrance and I am pleased, and much relieved to see what he has added in regards to my dad. I realize it was only a few hours since he had passed so in loo of my inability to remove my initial comment I offer my apology to him as I am certain the folks at Automobile will do him justice in the coming issue(s). I LOVE YOU DAD! I MISS YOU MORE WITH EVERY PASSING MOMENT.
David E. Davis III
Yeah, I know....sorry about that. My mind works a lot like dads did, really fast and on target in the moment and focused. I didn't see dad take a lot of hits that hurt him, but Automobile really effed with his head. He and I were slightly estranged the last few years but still gabbing on the phone when we could. His legacy lives on my writings and his grandson David "Evan" Davis IV........I guess where this mention was concerned I had seen the posting from Car & Driver that went up about an hour and half after dad died and it was beautiful and an appropriate length (LOL).....I guess I'll only really know where they stand on the man that made them when Jean Jennings puts in her two cents. I know she will be at his memorial which we are planning for sometime in April, as we need to give some folks around the globe time to get there plane tickets and all. It's just been the second hardest day of my life tonight as my beloved mother Norma J. Davis, the woman who saved his life on no less than 5 occasions after his accident in 1954 passed away due to cancer complications in August last. Dads exit was quick, though sadly I fear terrifying for him, but I want to thank everyone who remembers him so fondly for their good wishes. It means more than you'll ever know to all of us in his family. I am hoping that I will be in a 1965 Shelby with him and Carroll Shelby remembering when, at the age of 6 we flew across the Brooklyn Bridge at 130 MPH laughing and yelling......I just want to see him one more time on this day. FREEDOM & WHISKEY!

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