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Cars of Futures Past- The Davis Divan

Robert Emslie January 7, 2014 Cars You Should Know 17 Comments

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The demand for automobiles in post-war America far exceeded the capacity of the then current auto makers to fill. Add to that the fact that the war time shift to military manufacturing had left almost all makers with only pre-war designs to sell, and the environment was ripe for entrepreneurs to come in and offer something fresh. One of those was the three-wheel Davis Divan which if the film following the jump is to be believed was once the future of the automobile.

You might note that, much like the Tucker, neither the Davis, the weirdo airplane-style car, nor Beuhrig’s equally aviation inspired roadster ever really made it into the future. Davis’ creation – initially purchased from race car builder Frank Kurtis – actually ended up exactly like Tucker, in the courts. Still, from the video it sure looks like it might turned out differently.

Originally built as an around-town car for his then-boss at the Joel Thorne Machine Shop in Burbank, CA, Kurtis’ three wheeler used the engine and rear axle from a Ford V8/60. The single front wheel was inspired by that of a Lockheed P38, which it just so happened was built a couple blocks over from Thorne’s shop.

Kurtis sold the car, which he dubbed the Californian, to Glenn Gordon Davis, a used car salesman who saw opportunity in the massively growing post-war American car market, and the cheap manufacturing space made available by all the now idled aircraft factories. The original Davis prototypes were powered by a variety of engines, from Continental and Hercules, and with its aerodynamic all-aluminum bodywork it was claimed that it could hit triple digits.

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It was also said to be pretty efficient, offering four-abreast seating and a claimed 50 miles to the gallon. As you can see in the video, it also looked like a cinch to park and could run rings around pretty much any other car. In reality, the car’s handling is as frightening as you might expect of a single-leading three-wheeler. Three extremely odd Jeep-like prototypes were also built, as Davis attempted to secure a Military contract, but by then things were not going in his favor.

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Starting a car company, even in a seller’s market, is a costly affair and while Davis seemed sincere in his attempt, the company’s finances began to unravel before series production could get under way. Backers demanded their money returned and workers at the shuttered factory sued the company for back wages. In the end, Davis was convicted of more than 20 counts of fraud and served two years in California State Prison. 

The green Davis Divan in the shots above was present at the 2011 Dana Point Concours d’Elegance where it garnered a lot of attention. The Peterson Automotive Museum is also in possession of a white over blue Divan, and in total there were 16 cars built – 11 Divans, 2 prototypes, and 3 Jeep prototypes. Davis, upon his release from prison, went on to design – of all things – carnival ride bumper cars.

Video source: YouTube

Images: ©2014 Hooniverse/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved.