Davis Divan

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I'm not quite sure why, but this car sort of just works.

Maybe it's the pastel paint schemes, the sleek bodywork, or the space-age idea that maybe—just maybe—our cars should be shaped like rockets.

Compared to many of the Car of the Day vehicles, the Divan is actually well-documented and there are several sources for information. 

Many say that the Divan was conceived when, in 1945, car salesman Gary Davis saw—and later acquired—a one-off three-wheeled roadster built by Frank Kurtis (Kurtis Kraft) for millionaire race car driver and airplane designer Joel Thorne.

As an aside, modern-day male celebrities like Justin Bieber don't seem too terrible next to their 1950s counterparts. Dying less than a month after James Dean, Thorne crashed his airplane into a Hollywood apartment building, killing himself and eight residents. Witnesses say he was "stunting."

OK, back to the Davis—a vehicle its advertising called, "The car America asked for," a "3-wheel engineering triumph," and "…cat quick in traffic."

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Gary Davis was first and foremost a salesman. In fact, if someone—anyone—else had designed a four-wheeled car for him to sell, this would have turned out differently.

Even with a rudimentary plans and grand sales claims he managed to raise more than a million dollars from dealers who signed on to sell the car and investors, which led to prototype production. Money poured in after people read about his designs in Life and Business Week.

Designed to be stronger, more economical, and streamlined, surviving footage shows that, yes, the Divan would have appeared to be light years ahead of a conventional car.

Passengers would have to be quite chummy, but four-across seating was a novel idea. So was its largely aluminum/zinc bodywork.

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The front wheel's suspension was lifted from the design of aircraft landing gear—a yoke with two springs—which apparently gave it great stability. There were built-in hydraulic jacks at each corner. Multiple engines—ranging from small four-cylinders from Hercules and Continental to a flathead Ford V8—were tried in the car.

It's difficult to separate actual engineering from sales claims, like how the car could supposedly execute a full-lock U-turn at 55 mph. (If the Petersen wants to try with theirs, I'm sure the dash cam video will get a bazillion YouTube hits.)

All of those investors, though, eventually started knocking. Even into 1948, Davis' employees hadn't been paid. A last-ditch effort to complete Divans for investors led to a mad scramble as dealership investors and the authorities moved in. 

Davis was charged in November 1949 of 28 counts of grand theft and fraud for the mishandling of $2 million in franchise fees. Convicted in January 1951, he served two years in a California prison camp.

Some dealers still believed in the design, and sent a Davis to England where it was to be updated for series production by—yes—Reliant, makers of the three-wheeled Robin. Reliant was already well into production of their three-wheeled designs at that point, and it's anyone's guess if the Divan influenced their engineering or R&D.

According to the Davis Registry, after prison Gary Davis found work: designing Dodge-em bumper cars and the Start-O-Car amusement ride. But of course.

Sixteen Davis models were completed in all, including three vehicles for the military—the Davis 494.

But that's a story for another day…

Sources / Recommended Reading