WHEEL­STO­RIES

The vet­eran mo­tor­ing journo who landed the high­est of ac­co­lades

Wheels (Australia) - - Showroom - MICHAEL STAHL

ON AUS­TRALIA DAY 2018, an Aus­tralian mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ist was of­fi­cially recog­nised – and for once, not just in a speed-cam­era photo. Pedr Davis, 88, was awarded the Or­der of Aus­tralia Medal for ser­vices to jour­nal­ism and the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, in a ca­reer whose Aus­tralian chap­ter be­gan with Wheels in our maiden year of 1953.

Davis was born in Lon­don in 1929. His fa­ther was a gen­eral news­pa­per jour­nal­ist, and young Pedr showed a flair for writ­ing, sell­ing short fic­tion pieces to the lo­cal news­pa­per from age 16.

Ob­sessed with cars and mo­tor­cy­cles, he se­cured an en­gi­neer­ing ap­pren­tice­ship at the Austin Mo­tor Com­pany. “Austin em­ployed 42,000 peo­ple at the time, but I knew noth­ing about big cor­po­ra­tions. Early on I thought, ‘Well, gee whiz, I ought to meet the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, let him know I’m aboard.’ So I went and banged on the door …”

Thus did Davis ex­change pleas­antries with Leonard Lord. “Min­utes later, I was called to the ap­pren­tices of­fice and got an in­dus­trial-sized bol­lock­ing! How­ever, Lord never for­got me. I was picked for all sorts of things, in­clud­ing start­ing a staff mag­a­zine called Torque.”

While still an ap­pren­tice, Pedr was sent with a team test­ing cars in East Africa. Be­tween writ­ing en­gi­neer­ing re­ports, he started fil­ing weekly sto­ries for The Mo­tor mag­a­zine. “I got what seemed an enor­mous amount of money for writ­ing this stuff. I was earn­ing about £12 a week for a full-time en­gi­neer­ing job,” Davis says, “but I found I could write an ar­ti­cle in half a day and get £12 or £15 for it.”

Another Austin as­sign­ment in 1953 sent Davis to Syd­ney where, at a party, he met Wheels found­ing edi­tor, Athol Yeo­mans. Chat­ting about new-fan­gled au­to­matic trans­mis­sions, Yeo­mans tagged Davis to write a tech­ni­cal col­umn. Davis was also soon writ­ing for the op­po­si­tion, Mod­ern Mo­tor, un­der the noms de plume Peter Llewellyn and Brian Austin.

Also on that first Syd­ney visit, Davis met Dolores, for whom he would re­turn per­ma­nently from Eng­land in 1956. They mar­ried in Jan­uary 1958.

Davis’ jour­nal­ism ex­panded into book au­thor­ing and then pub­lish­ing (Mar­que Pub­lish­ing). Reg­u­lar ABC TV ap­pear­ances made him the face of mo­tor­ing. He be­gan syn­di­cat­ing his mo­tor­ing columns, build­ing up to a net­work of 120 news­pa­pers.

Con­cur­rently, Davis es­tab­lished the au­to­mo­tive statis­tics business that’s to­day known as Vfacts. “Larke-hoskins, a ma­jor dis­trib­u­tor, wanted anal­y­sis of how many ve­hi­cles their op­po­si­tion were sell­ing, and in par­tic­u­lar against their dealers in dif­fer­ent ar­eas … They said how it should be done and named a fig­ure. I said I could do it for that money if I were free to sell the same in­for­ma­tion to other dealers and dis­trib­u­tors.”

That business, Au­to­mo­tive Sur­veys, grew to em­ploy 43 peo­ple. But pres­sure to re­lo­cate to Mel­bourne from Syd­ney prompted its sale to Mel­bourne-based ADAPS.

Davis has never stopped writ­ing, in­clud­ing books rang­ing from sin­gle-mar­que his­to­ries to an ac­claimed bi­og­ra­phy of Sir Charles Kings­ford-smith. He has also owned and re­stored a num­ber of cars, in­clud­ing a Roll­sroyce Sil­ver Dawn, MG TD and a 1926 Bu­gatti Type 40 Grand Sport.

And how does he feel about that OAM? “It came as a big sur­prise. I know peo­ple who got awards and rightly so be­cause they did al­tru­is­tic things. I don’t think I ever did any­thing like that – I was just earn­ing my liv­ing. It seems to me quite sur­pris­ing to re­ceive an award for earn­ing your liv­ing. But there you are, I did.”

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