Of Mad Men and Their Machines
I visited an old friend last night – and before you start asking me about social distancing, mask-wearing, and all that, it wasn’t that kind of visit. David E. Davis, Jr. actually died in 2011, but his was one of the voices that instilled in me the passion for cars and the desire to write about them professionally. Davis was a Car Geek, a racer, an Ad man, and a motoring journalist. HE was also a quintessential “renaissance man”. His book “Thus Spake David E.” is a collection of his editorials and articles from throughout his career, and they are some of the best automotive and life reading out there. There is the obvious automotive content, but beyond that are stories about women, whiskey, camaraderie, adventure, the outdoors, and style. As a pre-teen Car Geek, I wanted to BE David E., or at least to know him.
A few years into my motoring journalist career, I actually had the chance to interview David E. for an article on famed Mercedes and BMW (and a multitude of other makes) importer Max Hoffman. Mr. Davis had known Hoffman well “back in the day”, and regaled me with stories of Hoffman’s very humble beginnings, his entrepreneurship selling costume jewelry, and on to his being the driver behind the Mercedes 300SL and the BMW 507, and even the BMW Bavaria. Hoffman was apparently someone to know, but so was Davis. He spent over an hour talking to me about Hoffman, cars, car writing, and even his own cars. Suffice it to say, he didn’t disappoint.
This picture, from the July, 1977 issue of Car and Driver, is my earliest memory of reading any car magazine. My Dad would bring car magazines home now and then as a casual car guy, and I would flip through them pretending to understand completely all the talk about handling, torque, lateral G’s, and horsepower. Really, especially at +/- age six, I was in it for the pictures. This one sticks out in my memory, because even at a young age I’d been trained in different types of cars and I did like a Mercedes. Moreover, it looked like a car chase scene on TV – which made it cool. Revisiting this article decades later, staged or not (supposedly not), Davis – through his words and pictures – made the story real at least for this young reader.
And that’s what continues to draw me to Davis as an author: his ability to draw you into a piece as if in conversation. He spoke with you rather than at you, and with an irreverence that put many of his contemporaries to shame and made their writing bland and soulless in comparison. David E. was not one to kowtow to PR departments and corporate big-wigs. In much the same way I appreciate John Lennon as a musician and Howard Stern as a radio personality, I can relate to David E. as a kindred spirit through the thoughts he put to paper. I have long tried to emulate that, to varying degrees of success, but was truly humbled when a subject of a recent article I wrote on a man and his son who’d restored a pair of youngtimer Mercedes told me “I love your writing. It’s different than other car writers.” At that point, while trying to decide if I was offended, he continued “I like the way you look at the human side of the story, and talk with the reader.” It was by far the best compliment I’ve ever received – and I owe David E. more than a little bit for it.
That 6 year-old pretending to understand, the 16 year-old with a new driver’s license in his grubby hands and a rusty sports car at his disposal, and even the 30 year-old writing his first article for a “real” car magazine couldn’t have imagined the adventures that lay ahead of him. Inspired by one of the greats, I’ve been lucky to do some pretty cool things, drive some pretty cool cars, and meet some pretty cool people. As I revisited David E.’s book, I was reminded of some of his mottoes from along the way:
- No Boring Cars
- Whiskey and Women
- Cogito Ergo Zoom (I think, therefore I go fast)
- No More Bullshit!
- and, well, you get the idea.
Davis was an outdoorsman as well, which makes me itchy just thinking about. But I’ve also come to realize that rather than to BE David E. I am proud to have known him just a little and to be inspired by him, and I strive to some of the success, wisdom, and luck he had as an automotive writer. I’m content to have cars, whiskey, writing, and a few other things in common with David E., but also to add my own twist to the recipe. I first read his book before I’d sold my first story. Nearly 20 odd years later I have some pretty fun stories to share about those things, cars, and people – including:
- Nearly taking out the entire editorial team of an international magazine on the Nürburgring
- Getting a phone call from Jay Leno to talk cars during a meeting about cool roof ratings
- Being tossed the keys to the “most original” 300SL roadster the Mercedes Classic Center, USA had ever seen and told to “have fun”
- Interviewing Erich Waxenberger as he test drove the new, fast diesel Mercedes – his way
- Burning the back tires off a 1999 RennTECH E60
- Exchanging WW2 jokes over beers with English and British motorheads
- Driving all night from ATL to WDC in a Pagoda with a bad radiator with my Dad singing strange songs
- Chasing a Bentley Turbo R around the Goodwood track in a BMW 1M
- Spending several days with famed car designer Paul Bracq and ending-up as his pen pal
- Caravanning from PA to St. Louis with a wily group of vintage Mercedes 600s
- Meeting a tipsy Chris Harris in the Pistenklaus Restaurant in Nürburg after a day of 911s and Ariel Atoms
- Driving a restored 300SL roadster in the rain to the joy of the owner and the dismay of his wife
- Having burritos in Magnus Walker’s kitchen and talking Jags and Porsches
- Shooting photos of a brand new Maybach in front of a rural WalMart
- Trying to revisit my youth with a green 1978 Alfa Spider
- 52.5 hours door to door from San Francisco to Virginia in a BMW E39 5-speed wagon with only 4 hours sleep
- And many more, including all kinds of tales of woe about buying and selling 140+ cars over the last 25 years!
Just compiling this partial list I realize how fortunate I’ve been, and this makes a pretty good forum in which to tell the stories. Now – where to start??
One thought on “Of Mad Men and Their Machines” Leave a comment ›