You may have seen pictures of them. During the middle part of the last century, some really odd-ball cars began to appear. Although most of them never made it off the pages of enthusiast magazines, many of them were over-the-top eccentric. And some of them even made the transition into actual prototypes. In this article, we will look at one of these eccentric cars and the story behind it.
When World War II ended in 1945, a new era began. Millions of soldiers and civilians came home to settle down and soon the demand for new automobiles exploded. This is due to two main factors. First, during the war, the public were forced to keep their old 1930s-era cars running because there weren’t any new cars to buy. Second, the “Baby Boom” officially began when all the soldiers started families. And these families that needed to be mobile in order to work in the cities and live in suburbia.
It was during this time that several dozen oddball independent companies sprang up. Knowing that car-starved Americans would buy just about anything with wheels and an engine, a slew of entrepreneurs tried to satisfy that need by building their own cars. According to Len Stoler Porsche of Ownings Mills, a local Porsche dealer in Ownings Mills, MD, some of the cars actually made it into production, most notably the Henry J, Crosley and King Midget. Others never got past a single prototype.
1948 Davis Divan
It was this wacky environment that spawned our feature car, a 1948 Davis Divan. The Divan was a three wheeler with only a single front wheel. The father of the Davis was Joel Thorne, an eccentric millionaire from Southern California who was active on national racing circuits.
In late 1945, Thorne met Glenn Gordon Davis, a self-proclaimed industrial designer. Once he found out about the Davis Divan, he immediately hatched a plan to peddle the car to Hollywood types as a novelty car, and convinced Thorne to make him an authorized dealer.
Davis had unparalleled ability to market things. He soon convinced Business Week to do a feature on the car. Next, Life magazine featured the Davis in a photo feature on booming post-war California. He also managed to get it shown in a major movie theater newsreel.
Demand was established
All the hype resulted in Davis being barraged with mail from would-be buyers-and investors and soon the checks started pouring in. The first running prototype built by the Davis Motorcar Co. was displayed in November 1947 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and a Davis Divan participated at the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, California, on New Year’s Day 1948.
Despite the influx of funding, the fledgling automaker was burning through cash. Well into 1948, the employees still hadn’t been paid. Then the Los Angeles County district attorney was investigating complaints from dealers who had paid Davis up front for franchises. In November 1949, the California District Attorney obtained a warrant and seized both the company’s and Davis’s personal financial records.
Davis was ultimately charged with 28 counts of grand theft and fraud for mishandling an estimated $2 million in franchise fees. When the case went to trial in late 1950, Deputy District Attorney Mark Brandler argued that Davis had never intended to build cars at all, but was using the fees to buy a house, furnishings and luxury cars for himself, all the while paying himself $1,000 a week in salary. Davis was convicted in January 1951, served two years in prison.