David E. Davis Jr., the writer, editor and publisher who helped influence the form and tenor of feature-based automotive journalism, died on Sunday evening at the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ypsilanti, Mich. He was 80.
The cause was complications following surgery for bladder cancer.
News of Mr. Davis’s death spread quickly, with colleagues and admirers — many of them citing Mr. Davis as their principal inspiration for pursuing careers in automotive journalism — taking to the Web to share their remembrances and condolences.
As Eddie Alterman, the editor of Car and Driver magazine, noted, Mr. Davis developed in print a dynamic persona in which he could effect the gentleman driver, the industry gadfly, the garage tinkerer or the auto-show raconteur with equal believability and panache:
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.
Under his editorship in the ’60s, Car and Driver — until then an enthusiast’s title with little casual readership — became a magazine where stories featured pacing and inventive narrative structures reflecting the best popular-culture journalism of its day. Indeed, Mr. Davis cited Tom Wolfe, the novelist and cultural observer, as an influence on his approach to automotive journalism.
As Edmunds Inside Line wrote on Sunday, “At Car and Driver in the early 1960s, Davis made himself important, yet he also made automotive journalism important.”
Mr. Davis later founded Automobile magazine in 1986 and helped to establish Winding Road, the Web-based automotive magazine, in the middle of the last decade. He returned to Car and Driver in 2009, where he wrote regularly and entertainingly well into March.
NOTE: As a former Detroiter I remember him well. When I first became interested in the automobile I greatly enjoyed reading his articles. First, in Road & Track. He was a young man then, and I was just a teenager.
photo credit: © 2010 Road & Travel Magazine
text credit: Jonathan Schultz via © 2011 New York Times.