Anonymous Report This Comment
Date: February 23, 2007 09:33AM
1948 Davis Divan
Three-wheelin’ into oblivion By NICK KURCZEWSKI
AutoWeek | Updated: 02/16/07, 11:14 am et
When millionaire and part-time Indianapolis 500 racer Joel Thorne commissioned a
custom roadster in 1941, few could have imagined that the outrageous
three-wheeled result would serve as the blueprint for a production car. Then
again, few were as quick-thinking and fast-talking as Glenn Gordon “Gary”
Davis, a former car salesman who befriended Thorne. Davis saw potential in the
one-of-a-kind creation—nicknamed the Californian—which had been designed by
Frank Kurtis, Thorne’s shop foreman at the time and the future founder of the
Kurtis-Kraft racing outfit that dominated the Indy 500 in the 1950s.
Davis managed to pry the Californian away from Thorne in 1945. Exactly how
remains unclear; everything from a simple cash transaction to a staged accident
has been suggested. Whatever the case, Davis’s timing could not have been
better. Post-World War II America was ravenous for new cars, and the Davis
publicity machine thrived in this consumer feeding frenzy.
By 1946, Davis was touring the United States, using the Californian roadster to
promote his fledgling Davis Motorcar Company. When the Californian became tatty
from constant use, Davis had prototypes built at the company’s new factory in
an aircraft hangar in Van Nuys, California. Now called the Davis Divan, the
two-door sedan had one 15-inch wheel up front and two 15-inch driven wheels out
back and was powered by a 47-hp, 132.7-cid Hercules L-head four-cylinder engine
(soon changed to a 63-hp, 162-cid Continental four) mated to a Borg-Warner
three-speed manual. A removable hard top, covered headlights and a body shaped
like a bar of soap completed the $995 package.
Davis Divans were soon in the news, on the covers of magazines and in newspaper
ads. Franchise agreements were signed, and the quirky car looked poised for
success. Yet despite the hype and the hyperbole, Davis had oversold and
underfinanced his futuristic aluminum-bodied car. Impatient franchisees came
looking for cars that were not there. Davis’s own employees—who initially
agreed to work without salary on the promise of double pay once serial
production began—began to revolt. By May 1948, the Davis Divan had gone from
car of tomorrow to yesterday’s news. The Van Nuys factory was shuttered,
assets were liquidated and Davis eventually served two years in prison for 20
counts of fraud.
Roughly 13 Davis Divan sedans are believed to have been built—not including
three Jeep-like military variants. Incredibly, all but one survives. The example
featured here is the sixth built and was saved from a scrap yard in 1967 by Tom
Wilson, founder and director emeritus of the Davis Registry. Wilson recently
sold the car to Jeff and Susan Lane of Nashville, Tennessee, where it now takes
pride of place among hundreds of eclectic vehicles at their Lane Motor Museum.
“I love the unique engineering of the Davis and have always liked streamlined
cars,” said Jeff Lane.
Behind the glitzy plastic and chrome wheel of the Divan, there is plenty of
room. The wide bench seat is comfy. The painted dash is plain but handsome, with
chrome-rimmed gauges directly in front of the driver. The engine—a nonoriginal
four-cylinder from a Henry J—emits a charming burble as it starts.
The dainty wand for the column-mounted shifter feels light and clicks into its
gears with ease. On the busy streets of Nashville, the ride is comfortable, the
Y-yoke front suspension and solid rear axle effectively soak up bumps and the
car keeps up with traffic—no doubt slowed somewhat by drivers craning their
necks to check out the Divan. Most important, worries that the Divan could feel
tippy prove to be unfounded. On city streets, the lone front wheel endows the
2400-pound car with London cab-like maneuverability.
As peculiar as the Divan might appear, its composed road manners hint that with
a bit less boasting and a lot more funding, there may have been room on American
roads for this idiosyncratic three-wheeler.
fossil_digger Report This Comment
Date: February 23, 2007 02:49PM
wow, i've never seen 1-o-these. thanks.
Anonymous Report This Comment
Date: February 23, 2007 05:07PM
Aaaah! Reminds me of my old Bond Minicar...had only a tiny single-cylinder
2-stroke engine but, on full lock, could pivot on a rear wheel. Fantastic for
tight parking spaces.
See it at [web.ukonline.co.uk