A memorial service for David E. Davis, Jr. convened luminaries from within and without the auto industry to celebrate his iconic presence in their lives. Ronald Ahrens provides this report.
DAVID E. DAVIS, JR. MEMORIAL
The literary efforts of David E. Davis Jr. had a profound and beneficial effect on the American automobile industry and “did a great service to the United States in the one major manufacturing industry we have left.” So said retired General Motors product czar Bob Lutz, whose voice was among the many raised April 28 at the memorial service for the incomparable, bewhiskered editor, who died in March.
The service was in two parts, beginning at the First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the city where Davis had moved Car and Driver from New York in 1978. About 200 people attended and heard his sister, Dr. Jane Makulski, say, “If I have one regret, it’s that no magazine will have a column where he critiques what God has offered him.”
“Your pals are still gathered about you for the sake of freedom and whiskey,” said his pal Ham Schirmer, ending the eulogy that emphasized the great man’s love of cars, dogs, clothes, his wife Jeannie, and all his pals.
Part two was held immediately afterward at the car guys’ warehouse, as it’s informally known, next door in Ypsilanti. This former industrial building along the Huron River is home to vintage and special-interest cars, some undergoing active restoration or repair. In recent years, about 2000 square feet of office area was reserved for Davis’s operations.
Enjoying the food, drinks, and live music were luminaries such as the actor Edward Herrmann, a friend from Pebble Beach, and the writer P.J. O’Rourke, whose sometimes hilarious essays followed Davis from title to title.
O’Rourke’s toast summed up Davis’s tastes in food, alcohol, and automobiles: “To suckling pig when you’re hungry, Sazeracs when you’re dry, all the cars you’ve ever wanted, and heaven when you die.”
Former Time journalist Charles Eisendrath lauded board member Davis’s work on behalf of the University of Michigan Journalism Fellowship.
Representatives of the Car and Driver fraternity included Davis’s peer Brock Yates, former editor-in-chief Csaba Csere and executive editors Rich Ceppos and Mark Gillies, current editor-in-chief Eddie Alterman, technical director Don Sherman, columnist John D. Phillips III, and staffers Darin Johnson, Tony Quiroga, Juli Burke, Michael Austin, and Erik Johnson. Aside from Yates and Csere, all of the former either started their careers or served intermediate stints under Davis at Automobile.
Davis left Car and Driver in 1985 and soon launched Automobile. Deputy editor Joe DeMatio and managing editor Amy Skogstrom represented the magazine. Editor-in-chief Jean Jennings, who unseated Davis in 2000, was not present, reportedly at the request of the Davis family. Automobile alumni included William Jeanes, Bill Sharfman, Ken Gross, and James Lee Ramsey, who were Davis’s soldiers during the ’80s and ’90s. Kevin Smith, the original Automobile co-executive editor with Jennings, traveled from California. So did Davis’s art director Larry Crane. Kathy Hamilton, former senior editor, flew in from New Jersey.
Motor Trend was represented by Todd Lasa, Frank Markus, and alum Jack Keebler. Larry Webster waved the Popular Mechanics flag; spy photographer Jim Dunne also paid tribute. Kevin A. Wilson, former AutoWeek executive editor, did the same for Crain Communications.
Michael Jordan, Automobile’s West Coast editor for nearly 22 years, took time off from his position as Edmunds.com Inside Line executive editor to come to the rites, along with news editor Kelly Toepke, who started in the early 1990s as Davis’s assistant.
John Hilton, long-time editor of the alternative monthly Ann Arbor Observer, contributed to Car and Driver and Automobile in the 1980s. He lent his eminence to an assortment of locals ranging from Paul Eisenstein, of TheDetroitBureau.com—present dean of Detroit’s automotive journalism establishment—to Lindsay Brooke, senior editor at Automotive Engineering International, a publication of the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Davis’s long shadow fell across three generations of automotive journalists, who came together to honor his singular career during a memorable and often poignant afternoon.
The Davis family requests memorial gifts be sent to:
620 Oxford Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Ronald Ahrens is a former Automobile employee and a frequent contributor to that publication, the New York Times and numerous other media outlets. He recently moved his Baggy Paragraphs Company to Monrovia, California and, until phone numbers are established, his best contact is: firstname.lastname@example.org