Davis Divan: One of the oddest cars to emerge in the post-war boom

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The 1948 Davis Divan is one of the odder cars to emerge during the post-war automotive design boom. | Ted7 photo
The 1948 Davis Divan is one of the odder cars to emerge during the post-war automotive design boom. | Ted7 photo

Editor’s note: Leslie Kendall is curator and historian at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.


While many automobiles are interesting to enthusiasts because they differ in subtle, but desirable ways from thousands of other similar vehicles, others are noteworthy for their highly individual appearance resulting from their designers’ complete disregard for prevailing design and engineering trends. With their aircraft-inspired styling, aluminum body construction, and three-wheel configuration, the cars built by Glen Gary Davis fall squarely into the latter category.

Like Preston Tucker and dozens of other would-be manufacturers during the late 1940s, used car dealer Davis launched an automobile manufacturing enterprise during the strongest sellers market the automotive industry had ever seen. Derived from a prewar design by legendary race car builder Frank Kurtis, the Davis Divan was touted as the car of the future. Its single front wheel enabled it to make incredibly tight turns and its bullet-like shape was said to penetrate the air with great efficiency.

Davis was featured on the cover of Motor Trend, but a bright future was not in store for the company. | Petersen Automotive Museum photo
Davis was featured on the cover of Motor Trend, but a bright future was not in store for the company. | Petersen Automotive Museum photo

Convinced that his car would capture the enthusiasm of the motoring public, Davis raised enough money to establish a Davis automobile pilot production facility at a hangar at the Van Nuys airport and cars began to trickle out. Promotional literature claimed up to 50-miles-per-gallon fuel economy and a 100 mph top speed for a price of just $995. The press was eager and hopeful, but material shortages, a severe lack of capital, and other problems prevented Davis from realizing his dream of mass-producing his car.

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Employees desiring back wages, investors, and impatient would-be dealers and buyers who had put deposits on cars they never received brought legal action against Davis. Though convicted of fraud and imprisoned, Davis steadfastly maintained his innocence for the remainder of his life.

Divan production was plagued with issues. | Petersen Automotive Museum photo
Divan production was plagued with issues. | Petersen Automotive Museum photo

Although sources report that 17 Davis vehicles were built before production was halted, just 13 passenger cars and two “jeeps” have been accounted for. Bearing serial number 482E49, the Petersen Automotive Museum’s 1948 Davis is the fourth passenger car built and one of very few with a continuous ownership history. Amazingly, it has never been modified and retains its original 60-horsepower Hercules four-cylinder engine, Ford transmission, and removable hardtop.

Driving the Davis is a memorable experience not because of its performance and handling — which are appalling — but because of its ability to attract the attention of motorists and pedestrians in a way that even a Ferrari or Duesenberg cannot.  A Davis today proclaims one’s individuality in the same way that it did more than half a century ago.

Only a handful of the Divans are left. | Ted7 photo
Only a handful of the Divans are left. | Ted7 photo

Davis’ innovations speak volumes about his valiant effort against enormous odds and our automotive landscape is richer because of him.

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Leslie Kendall was born in San Diego, California and has had an unquenchable interest in automobiles and automotive history since early childhood. After earning an MBA from Cal Poly State University -- San Luis Obispo in 1985, he entered mortgage banking only to leave the lending profession after seven years to volunteer full-time at the San Diego Automotive Museum where he was hired to be the curator after just eight months. He was invited to join the team responsible for creating the Petersen Automotive Museum in April 1993 and in October 1995 was named curator, ultimately creating from scratch more than 100 special exhibits relating to automotive history, industry and artistry. He is a regular contributor to automotive media outlets (both print and broadcast); a professional automotive museum exhibits and collections consultant; a concours d’elegance judge at events around the country (Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, California Classic, Palos Verdes, etc.); and a member of the Society of Automotive Historians (former board member), the National Association of Automotive Museums (current board member), the Classic Car Club of America, the Horseless Carriage Club of America, the American Alliance of Museums, and other organizations.

4 COMMENTS

    • There’s a Davis in Southward Motor Museum, Paraparaumu, New Zealand.
      The handing can’t possibly be worse than a post-war Ford Prefect …. can it?

  1. Yeah, another victory for the litigation society; people wonder (while ALWAYS looking for someone to sue) how our so-called "system" got to this point.
    Americans have been "get rich quick" sue happy for generations now.
    At what cost (bought insurance lately)?
    ‘Spose it’s what ya get when you allow lawyers to run everything, and insurance companies to fund them.
    Sigh. So much that could have been.
    Davis maybe had a bad idea, but it was at least original; and having owned a trike that was quite safe, if Harley Davidson based, Davis may well have provided an alternative to the VW Beetle… But, lawyers. Sigh.
    RCorman
    Fargo ND

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