Restoring the Davis Divan 3-wheeler

The staff of the Petersen went to incredible lengths to restore a car that is unique in design and a part of Los Angeles’ automotive history. The 1948 Davis Divan was one of 17 that were designed and built in a hangar at the Van Nuys Airport. The car was the epitome of post-War aerospace engineering and was built with repurposed aircraft aluminum.


After World War 2, Los Angeles based entrepreneur, Gary Davis, was determined to capitalize on the post-war economic boom with his vision of a futuristic roadster based on the design of Indy car legend Frank Kurtis. Divan had an interesting list of requirements for his car such as: 4 abreast seating, fully concealed retractable headlights, three wheels, and built in jacks. The three wheels were intended to give the car a tight turning radius for maneuvering narrow city streets.

The story of the Davis Divan did not end well. In 1948, Gary Davis had traveled across the USA with his prototype to sell the idea to dealerships. After securing 1.2 million dollars in pre orders and investment, Divan rushed to get his car into production. Large amounts of money were spent on machinery and employees were hired to work in 72 hour shifts. In early 1949, investors were eager to see a return and dealerships were waiting for their orders. By the end of 1949, Divan was embroiled in several lawsuits alleging fraud and embezzlement. The assets of The Davis Motor Company were liquidated to pay off debts and Gary Davis was sent to a work camp in Castaic, California.


The Petersen received this Davis Divan from a body shop in Colorado that had perched it on a pole. Although the car arrived in poor condition, a crowdfunding effort began among museum patrons to restore this unique piece of history to its original condition. Using the technical knowledge of collections manager, Dana Williams and chief curator, Leslie Kendall, the Divan was restored to showroom condition. The car is part of the Petersen’s permanent collection and is on display on the “History” floor of museum.