David E. Davis, Jr., former editor and publisher of Car and Driver and founder of Automobile magazine, died today following cancer surgery in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Davis was 80.
Davis had a long and full career in the automotive world, first as a racing driver, then ad man for the Corvette and ad salesman for Road & Track, before adopting journalism as his primary vocation. As a writer and eventually editor and publisher for Car and Driver, Davis charmed magazine audiences with his wit, literary acumen and entertaining stories. Later, he would found Automobile magazine, for Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.
Davis had been battling cancer, and recently underwent a nine-hour surgical procedure.
In 2004, Davis received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the University of Michigan. As commencement speaker, he recounted a pivotal incident in his life.
In 1955, Davis flipped his race car during a national championship in California. Then 24, he lost his left eyelid, the bridge of his nose, the roof of his mouth and most of his teeth.
"I was uglier than a mud fence," he said. "I actually frightened children and sometimes caused their parents to call the police on me.
"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."
After a second career in ad sales, Davis began writing for Car and Driver in 1962, staying until 1967, and later becoming its editor and publisher from 1976 to 1985. In 1986, Davis founded Automobile, and in 2009 he returned to C&D to write a monthly column. Time called Davis the "dean of automotive journalists."
In a 2010 column dedicated to Jim Fuller, the Volkswagen of America CEO who died in the crash of PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, Davis recalled giving the eulogy for Fuller, a close friend.
"For most of us, death comes as a tedious series of component failures; little indicator lights winking out one by one as various systems break down.
"The dozens of Fuller-watchers here among us today will not consider it inappropriate that Jim Fuller's departure from this life was characterized by a blaze of energy that lit up the sky and could be seen for miles."
The same, metaphorically speaking, could be said for Davis. (Photo: Car and Driver)