. Cobra Ranch Historical Automotive Blog: Featuring Wally Wyss

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Monday, April 4, 2011

RIP David E Davis Jr.


     Of all the people I met in advertising, back in the mid-'60s, when I was a fledgling copywriter on the Chevrolet account, David E. Davis, Jr. was the most impressive. He was rotund even then and looked like a real life model for Mr. Schweppes, a mythical figure in a Vermouth ad, with a Victorian beard and waxed mustache turned up at the ends.

     He seemed very educated and charming, but I found out later that he moved from Ohio (though born in Kentucky) to Royal Oak MI when his parents moved and to my knowledge never went to college. He was self taught but very well self taught with an amazing ability to remember what people liked to hear about. He spent a lifetime being a "man's man" sort of an ersatz Hemingway and if you wanted to know the best mountain road between Switzerland and Italy or which is better, the gullwing Mercedes coupe or the roadster, he could tell you.

      At Campbell Ewald I think he was an account executive, with the task of charming Chevrolet to spend ever more amounts of ad money but I gather prior to my joining the firm in the late '60s he was there during the Fifties when another writer, Elmore Leonard, was dancing his fingers on the key. Of course Leonard went on to become a best selling novelist.

      I regret now I never asked him if he saw the cable TV show Mad Men, for that purports to be the story of how ad men lived and worked in the Sixties, so I yearned to ask if if that was how he remembered the ad game.

      I think Davis was at the helm of Car & Driver during its early glory years, maybe at the same time as he was on the payroll of Chevy's ad agency but never seemed to direct brickbats away from GM, as far as I could tell.  I would go hear him give speeches and darned if he couldn't talk as charmingly as he could write. I regret now I didn't go to other venues where he was speaking because I know I could have elicited some prize quotes.   He was an ad salesman for Road & Track back when John and Elainre Bond (the founders) had it, but later went to Car & Driver where he and Brock Yates made the magazine really memorable. Later they had a famous feud that lasted for years.   Finally he started a rival magazine, Automobile; and also wrote a book, entitled Thus Spake which had some of his best columns.

      When he started Automobile he was among the first to realize that readers aren't just happy with reading about engine compression ratios and how to downshift but also want to read about famous personalities and relish in descriptions of the life style of the wealthy car enthusiast. He knew that us middle class folks liked to read about his pheasant hunts, wine tastings and everything else he did, even to when a squirrel ate the interior of his Ferrari. I also know readers who were turned off by this, feeling it pretentious but I was one of those who lived vicariously The Good Life through his descriptions.

      He is one of the few personalities I met who, all along the way, had his picture taken at every juncture with good potential (such as driving the W163 Mercedes GP car). Just how many guys think that far ahead ("I better have this picture taken in case I get famous")?  That look by the way was partly a disguise. He had flipped an MG-TD in a race in the early '50s and required extensive plastic surgery. The beard and mustache hid that. I would say he was as injured as the RAF pilots in the early fighters that didn't allow bailouts and were horribly burned and had to have their faces put together of skin from the rest of their body. He managed to make the new look work for him. 

David E. Davis, Jr. passed away Sunday, March 27, 2011 following surgery for bladder cancer.

--Wallace A. Wyss


  1. Looks like he was quite a man.

  2. Rest in peace. Supporting and following. alphabetalife.blogspot.com

  3. Reast in Peace dear old man i didnt know much about you but you have formed my world more then i know im sure