As far as Glen Gordon “Gary” Davis was concerned, the car of the future had three wheels and features inspired by aircraft, like disc brakes, hidden headlights and built-in jacks.
The year was 1947 and Davis, a used car salesman, came up with the concept for the Davis Divan, a design based on a roadster built by Frank Kurtis, who would eventually become an Indianapolis 500 race car designer.
Based in Van Nuys, Calif., Davis had his employees working feverishly to construct prototypes of the Divans in order to fill the orders Davis was collecting from local dealerships eager to get their hands on the futuristic automobile.
More than 300 dealership sales and $ 1.2 million later, and despite having his employees work through some nights, those vehicles never made it into mass production. Only 13 pre-production Divans were completed. Of those, 12 still exist today.
One of those vehicles is currently sitting at M-44 Auto Body, LLC, an oddball relic of a strange and widely unknown story.
Bruce Feuerstein, owner, and manager of Johnson-Feuerstein Funeral Home in Belding, co-owns the car, which is thought to be the 13th prototype, along with Tom Wilson, an Ypsilanti resident.
“He (Davis) went around selling the concept and got dealers and all this recruited for this Davis car,” he said. “It had three wheels, an all-aluminum body could seat four people and it just turned on a dime.”
According to Feuerstein, Davis touted the car as one that would “never need to go to the body shop because if you hit someone, the way it is with the bumper, you’ll go on and nobody will get hurt.”
“It was absolute lies,” Feuerstein said.
Feuerstein is in the hobby of collecting rare cars and has owned a number of vehicles from a number of different decades through the years. At the moment, he owns a 1948 Cadillac as well as the Davis car.
According to Feuerstein, dealerships were easily taken in by the Davis car because they were “car starved” after WWII and were eager for new concepts.
As part of his plan to sell the concept to different dealerships in and around California, Davis produced promotional videos of the vehicle, which Feuerstein said is a scam in its own way as well.
“(Wilson) got to talk to Davis’ daughter, who still lives in California, and she had all his archives and all this stuff,” he said.
In those archives, it shows a test track built near the airport hangar at Van Nuys that was previously used for aircraft assembly and was the home for Davis Divan production.
“In one episode, you see a red Davis car going around and the next car is a yellow car and then a brown car and black car and then a white car. He was quick painting the same car so as (you) look, you think, ‘Man, he’s really doing stuff,’” he said. “From a distance, it looked like a totally different car.”
The 13 pre-production Divan cars were not the only models manufactured by the Davis Motorcar Company. There were three prototypes of similarly three-wheeled vehicles manufactured as Jeep utility vehicles, meant to be marketed to the U.S. Army in place of the utility vehicles they were already using.
“He flew it out to the Everdeen proving grounds and had it tested against a four-wheel drive Jeep,” he said, motioning to a picture of the utility vehicles. “This thing got stuck in the sand.”
Eventually, Davis’ investors took the matter to the courts to sue Davis for breach of contract. Several months later, his employees did the same as Davis didn’t pay the money he promised; double the pay after production if they worked for free during pre-production.
Davis was convicted on 20 counts of fraud and eight counts of grand theft in 1951. He was taken to a minimum security prison where he served two years time. After he was released, he worked on several new concepts.
If the Divan body style looks familiar, it’s because you’ve probably seen it at an amusement park. He created Dodge ‘Em bumper cars and sold them to parks across the country, before eventually succumbing to emphysema in 1973.
Wilson found the Divan he and Feuerstein now co-own in a junkyard in Toledo, Ohio, collecting dust.
Wilson has kept tabs on the other Davis cars throughout the years and has a registry of each of the pre-production vehicles, a prototype and the vehicles they were trying to market to the military.
Fred Clark, the owner of M-44 Auto Body, said he and his crew have been working on the vehicle for the past year and a half, totaling 323 man hours into the restoration.
Clark said he’s happy with how far the car has come in that time, especially the way it looks now that it has a fresh coat of paint.
“It’s got airplane brakes on it and the hot rod guys want them,” he said.
Clark said he’s heard the Divan brake system alone is worth roughly $ 15,000.
“It kind of dawned onto us that Bruce had picked a really nice oddball car,” he said. “He has all these oddball cars and we’re all thinking ‘What the (heck)? Why wouldn’t you buy something with four wheels on it?’”
Clark said his part is pretty much done, but that they will continue to help Bruce in any way they can while he continues to get this restored.