March 27: David E. Davis, Jr., the “dean of automotive journalists,” remembered
David E. Davis, Jr., the founder of Automobile Magazine, the former editor of Car and Driver, and the man Time magazine called "the dean of automotive journalists," died a year ago today — on March 27, 2011. Many of us owe a great debt to the man who made criticizing cars a respectable occupation.
I clearly remember the first time I saw David E. Davis, Jr. (see the 7:00 mark in the following video). It was April of 1987, when he appeared in a memorable segment of 60 Minutes waxing philosophic about the V-12-powered Lamborghini Countach:
I was 12 years old at the time.
Many years later, Davis asked me to be his driving partner on a classic car rally in northern Italy, during which I snapped his portrait as he piloted a snazzy green-on-green 1934 BMW 319/1 on the mountain roads above Lake Como. Over the course of that road trip, Davis dispensed advice about great tailors (see Anderson & Sheppard of Savile Row), great books (read Westering Man: The Life of Joseph Walker), and a great life in general: "Every few years, reinvent yourself." As a young man, Davis had reinvented himself after a horrific car crash left him partially disfigured. About that, he wrote:
I suddenly understood with great clarity that nothing in life — except death itself — was ever going to kill me. No meeting could ever go that badly. No client would ever be that angry. No business error would ever bring me as close to the brink as I had already been.
Perhaps because he seemed larger than life, it's still hard to believe that David E. Davis, Jr. is gone. Then again, maybe he's just reinvented himself.