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Jay Leno Drives a 1948 Davis Divan Three-Wheeler

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Jay Leno (right) and Peterson Museum curator  Leslie Kendall take a '48 Davin out for a spin

Jay Leno (right) and Peterson Museum curator Leslie Kendall take a ’48 Davin out for a spin

No, that’s not a vintage Elio you’re looking at—it’s one of 12 surviving Davis Divans. Comedian and car enthusiast Jay Leno took the curio out for a spin in the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage.

Petersen Museum curator Leslie Kendall recounts the sad story of the 1948 Davis Divan, but to summarize: during the post-war auto industry boom, lots of American entrepreneurs were looking for a way to create and market their own vehicles. One of them was used car salesman Gary Davis, who created an aerodynamic, futuristic, all-aluminum, three-wheeled convertible which he called the “Divan.” Although he was able to raise $1,200,000 in funds and convince his employees to work for free (with the never-fulfilled promise of extra pay in the future), Davis only ever built 13 Divans, and he ended up serving two years in a minimum security prison for fraud.

Davis insisted for the rest of his life that his roadster had been a legitimate business venture, and it seems plausible that he was being sincere. Leno speculates that Gary Davis may have just belonged to that grand tradition of ambitious automotive designers who are great at dreaming up new cars, but not so great at running a business (see also: Preston Tucker, John DeLorean).

Today, the Divan is a rare and curious relic of American automotive history, with interesting details like hidden headlights, disc brakes, and a single row of bench seating which (allegedly) fits four passengers.

Leno and Kendall take the Divan out for a spin, and it definitely looks to be a unique driving experience. You can go for a ride in the car yourself if you go here and donate a mere $1,000 to the Davis Divan restoration project. (If you’re looking to make a smaller contribution, a $10 donation will earn you a nice bumper sticker).

At the end of the video, Leno invites some of his crew to join him in the Divan, to test Davis’ claim that the car could comfortably seat four. They aren’t too impressed with the three-wheeler’s spaciousness—but then again, Leno & co. aren’t quite as thin as guys in the late 1940s were: