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Posted on Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 7:44 a.m.

David E. Davis Jr., auto writer and founder of Ann Arbor-based Automobile Magazine, dies at 80

By Paula Gardner

(Updated at 10:28 a.m.)

David E. Davis Jr., called "the dean of American auto journalism," died in Ann Arbor on Sunday after complications from surgery for bladder cancer, according to Automobile.

Davis moved Car and Driver magazine from New York to Ann Arbor in 1977, then founded Automobile Magazine here in 1985, according to the report.


David E. Davis

Davis was 80.

Writer Eddie Alterman blogged about Davis on the Car and Driver website late Sunday:

"He was so in love with the craft and subject matter of car magazines that he came to inhabit an archetype. He was the dashing, witty, high-spirited, and deeply knowledgeable writer/editor who brought the automobile to life, whose personal flair transferred to whatever he was writing about."

Davis returned to Car and Driver as a columnist in 2009.

Davis was one of several auto industry leaders who called Ann Arbor his home and established this area as a hub of automotive journalism as David Kwan, who writes an occasional column for Business Review, detailed in 2008.

David Cole, chairman emeritus of the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research, told this morning that Davis "had a huge impact on the industry over the years."

"Just a great guy, true car nut, great writer, interesting personality," Cole said. "He had a depth of understanding around what he was writing about, but he always had a caustic humor that was part of him, whether he was writing for a publication or you were just talking to him, that was him. Certainly he will be missed."

Davis didn't shy away from speaking his mind.

"He was a provocateur, in some ways kind of like the Bob Lutz of auto journalism," Cole said.

Bill Milliken Jr., a local commercial real estate broker and auto collector, was a friend of Davis.

He'd visited Davis at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital on Saturday night, along with Davis' family and a former co-worker, and he left there fully expecting Davis to recover.

"He was sitting in his chair and telling us a Groucho Marx story," Milliken said. "There was laughter. That was, in our minds, the beginning of a slow road to recovery."

When he received the call on Sunday informing him that Davis had died, Milliken said, "I thought it was preposterous."

Davis had an office in Ypsilanti, near a warehouse where a group of collectors stores sports and collector cars.

"He was a family member to us there," Milliken said. "His office is a veritable museum of automotive history and memorabilia."

The impact of Davis on Ann Arbor was strong, Milliken said.

"From his seat in Ann Arbor, he inspired automotive journalism all over the country."

Ford Motor Co., in a statement, said the industry had "lost a giant."

“David E. Davis, Jr., was truly one-of-a-kind, and we are fortunate to have known him," Ford said. "His deep knowledge of the automobile business was matched only by his ability to tell engaging stories. All of us at Ford enjoyed each opportunity to work with David E., respected his opinions and appreciated his uncurbed enthusiasm for the business. While his writing will live on for generations to come, his wit, charm and passion will be greatly missed."

Davis spoke to University of Michigan students at the spring 2004 commencement. Here is an article about his speech. reporter Nathan Bomey contributed to this story.



Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 1:46 p.m.

A worthwhile read, though by no means a nice rosy obituary: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

I don't know what to say. I've been reading David E. Davis' columns since before I could drive. His personality came across so strongly in his writing I feel like I knew the man (for better or worse!). At a time when the automotive journalism world is ungracefully transitioning from magazines to blogs, it's hard not to feel like this is also the end of an era. He will be missed.

Bob Martel

Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 11:34 p.m.

I was fortunate to have met David a number of years ago when he started Winding Road and located his office in my building on Plymouth Road. I had fun planning the office layout and decor with both he and his charming wife, Jeannie. Over the ensuing years, I enjoyed our many chats covering all subjects. I hope he enjoyed them as much as I did. David E. Davis was a true gentleman. He will be missed.


Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

This man was a true giant in the field of journalism. His impact was felt nationally as well as internationally. One of the most knowedgeable individuals with respect to the American automotive industry. He will be sorely missed.


Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 8:45 p.m.

Yes, anyone who can come up with a phrase like &quot;Car AND Driver&quot; is a genius, IMO. That magazine and this man bring back for me: drag racing on Woodward Avenue (1965 Chevelle Malibu, 327 'vett engine, perfect power shift at 104 mph - to 130+ top end). Even though his magazine followed that activity by nearly two decades, it was the spirit of Davis which reawakened those memories many times. The Detroit Dream Cruise should hold a memorial service for Mr. Davis this year. Ann Arbor has lost one of its legendary figures. I sure hope there are more like him coming along.

Hot Sam

Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 5:38 p.m.

A true pioneer of one of Ann Arbors greatest cottage you rest in fast accelerating, tight cornering, and accurate braking peace!!!

Fred Zimmerman

Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

I worked for David E. Davis, Jr. for a year back in the 1980s when I was an editorial assistant for Automobile. Although he was barely aware of my existence and I didn't stay long at Automobile (I am too impatient to be a consistent proof reader), he had a profound impact on me. For one thing, he solidified my impression that &quot;publisher&quot; is just about the coolest job title in the world. Consciously cultivated eccentricities are the stock in trade of many great impresarios, and Davis had a full toolkit--he carried himself like a Victorian gentleman transported to southeastern Michigan, complete with handlebar mustache, tweeds, and eloquent diction. He had a temper and didn't mind letting others know about it, but he could also be extremely charming and considerate. I thought the most important thing about him was that he was genuinely civilized man with broad interests: he saw the automobile as a humanistic pleasure on a par with fine cigars, beautiful women, and great literature. He took a slice of the world that can be deeply mundane and offered it to his readers as a transcendent experience. A rare gift.

Stephen Landes

Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

I always enjoyed Mr. Davis' work -- his writing carried with it a wonderful sense of humor, history, and love of automobiles. It was my great pleasure to see him once in a while in the local grocery store and have a few minutes to talk, say hello, and wish him well. And I wish him well today.

Jon Saalberg

Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.

Sad to read this news. Enjoyed reading his columns in Automobile Magazine and in Car &amp; Driver. Truly a literate voice for automotive enthusiasts.


Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 12:47 p.m.

A life well lived, his family is in my thoughts. &quot;Cogito ergo zoom.&quot;


Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 12:44 p.m.

David E. Davis was a class act and a great writer. I always enjoyed his monthly columns and have been a subscriber to Automobile magazine since it first published in 1985. Rest In Peace Mr. Davis, you will be missed.

John B.

Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 8:28 p.m.

It takes about three seconds to figure out his handle....


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 1:54 a.m.

Is this DK, I know you will miss him, we all will !


Tue, Mar 29, 2011 : 12:46 a.m.

It is a great loss. How many have figured out your &quot;handle&quot; or does no one notice?


Mon, Mar 28, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

I enjoyed Davis' work back in the day. RIP.