If you picked up a car magazine in the 1970s or 1980s, chances are good you’ve read stories or editorials by David E. Davis. Considered by many to be the founding father of modern automotive journalism, Davis’ career in publishing began with a job selling ads for Road & Track magazine. His undeniable talent as a writer soon led him to a job writing for Car and Driver magazine, where he spent the bulk of his career as a writer or editor. Ultimately, he would go on to start Automobile magazine, take over the Winding Road web publication, and return to Car and Driver as recently as 2009. Davis died on Sunday, of complications following bladder cancer surgery.
I haven’t been in this business long enough to have my own personal David E. Davis story, but I certainly knew the man by his reputation. I saw him on a “Cannonball Run” panel at Amelia Island earlier this month, and he looked both healthy and in good cheer. In fact, during the Concours d’Elegance event, Davis was making the rounds of journalists present, stopping to greet old friends and size up new faces. I remember him stopping by our table long enough to see whether or not I was a familiar face; despite the fact that we weren’t acquainted, he beat me to the punch with “Good morning”.
It’s likely that the world will never see another David E. Davis, since both print and online publishing seem to be devoid of leadership these days. Davis brought respectability and fair pay to automotive journalism, something completely absent in the “free is not a business model” world of online journalism. Some called him bitter or cynical, and his temper was as legendary as his wit; at one time or another, every major journalist or editor seemed to be in Davis’ crosshairs. Like many of us in the business, Davis fell into journalism as a second career, and those of us in similar circumstances can only dream of the opportunities and experiences that Davis enjoyed throughout his storied career. He will be missed.