The history of the automobile is rife with its share of well-intentioned dreamers, underfunded geniuses, hair-brained showmen, and downright shady characters, all looking to cash in on the next great trend in motoring. Depending on how one interprets the story of the Davis Divan, Gary Davis of Van Nuys, California, fell somewhere between the latter two categories. In the mid-1940s, Davis had acquired a one-off, three-wheeled custom called the Californian, which the brilliant Frank Kurtis designed for the wealthy playboy racer Joel Thorne. While Kurtis was known for his successful race cars, the Californian was not one of his more successful designs. Nevertheless, Davis used the Californian as inspiration for a new automobile which he boldly touted as the economy car of the future.
Davis took the basic layout of the Kurtis design and made it considerably wider and longer. At 15 ½ feet long, it was huge for a three-wheeled economy car! The body, allegedly inspired by aircraft design, looked straight from a Sci-fi comic book with wraparound bumpers, hidden headlamps, and a smooth, aerodynamic appearance. While Davis claimed the aluminum body had aircraft influences, some suggest the looks landed somewhere between a shoe and a steam iron. Davis touted that five passengers could sit across the bench seat, which, depending on the size of the passengers, was a gross overestimation. Mechanically, the Davis Divan (the name taken from the word for a couch or bed) featured a 2.2-liter Hercules inline-four, though a few cars used a 2.4-liter Continental unit. Aside from the single-wheel front end, the chassis was fairly conventional, with a live rear axle suspended by leaf springs. Davis famously exaggerated the car’s capabilities, claiming 35-50mpg, a top speed of 116 mph, and – curiously – the ability to perform a sharp U-turn at 55mph. In reality, the softly-sprung Divan would lift the inside rear wheel on sharp turns, indicating a much higher speed on the speedometer!
The Davis Divan was not a fundamentally flawed design despite the apparent shortcomings. However, Gary Davis’s dubious promotional tactics doomed the project from the onset. He made unproven claims to investors, customers, and dealers, who gave Davis over a million dollars in deposits and dealer franchise fees. Meanwhile, Davis had no intention of putting the car into production, even firing his production manager for spending money on the parts needed to fill orders! When the house of cards fell, Gary Davis ultimately wound up in jail on a fraud conviction and was barred from doing business in the automobile industry again.
When the dust settled, about sixteen running vehicles were built – two prototype Divans, eleven “production” Divans, and three incredibly strange 3-wheel military Jeeps. Rather than being liquidated or destroyed when the company folded, they were given to creditors – an admittedly paltry return on investment! Yet remarkably, the Davis Divan has become somewhat of a “cult classic” over the years, and the fates of all sixteen are documented by the enthusiastic Davis Registry.
Davis Divan #10 is believed to have been originally painted bright coral with an ivory top and early in its life – perhaps before it left the factory, was resprayed in a two-tone green livery. After the liquidation of the factory to creditors, it went into private hands. The first owner is not documented, though the file contains correspondence from a Davis dealer with Mr. Charles Hiller Jr., who had inquired about purchasing one in 1948, and it is possible he put a deposit down. Also included is the extremely rare original brochure sent by the dealer to Mr. Hiller.
At some point before the 1970s, #10 was used as a promo vehicle by Truly Nolen of Scottsdale, Arizona, a pest control company known for its brightly decorated black and yellow classic cars adorned with mouse ears and tails. It may have been an undignified role for the Davis, but it also must have looked pretty charming as the Truly Nolen mouse.
The car eventually wound up in Kansas in the 1960s, passing through a couple of owners before finding a long-term custodian in 1970. That owner fondly recalls driving the car in the early 70s, joking that riding in the softly-sprung Davis was “like riding in a bowl of Jell-O.” The car stayed with that same owner from 1970 through 2009, and at the time he sold it, it was a well-preserved but tired car in need of restoration.
Since 2009, Davis Divan #10 has been treated to a complete nut-and-bolt restoration finished to world-class concours standards, with no expense spared. It is without question the best example of a Davis Divan extant, strikingly finished in black with a silver hard top. It looks the part of the futuristic Motorama jet-age dream car, adorned with crisp whitewall tires, impeccably restored brightwork, and a beautifully trimmed interior with black leatherette and sparkling silver Rayon inserts.
This Davis Divan truly delights in the details. The aluminum body is superbly restored, is impeccably straight, and features proper pushbutton door handles, wraparound bumpers, and the correct Plymouth taillights. New glass has been made, including the curved windscreen, using custom molds made at considerable expense. Under the hood, the humble Hercules inline-four is exquisitely detailed in the correct shade of green and adorned with authentically plated hardware and impeccably refinished ancillaries.
Very few of the 13 known cars have been completely restored, and none have received such lavish treatment as car #10 has. This is a one-off opportunity to acquire the very best example of the delightfully oddball Davis Divan, which is ready to bring a whimsical flair to serious concours events worldwide.
Offers welcome and trades considered