Quirky, bumper car-like Davis Divan draws the curious at EyesOn Design

Grosse Pointe Shores — Rare prototypes, gilded and finned coupes and sedans, short-wheelbase British sports cars, tuners, transportation from the Jazz Era and everyday family vehicles combined forces June 21 to make EyesOn Design one of the best in its 29-year history.

The theme of the 2015 concours, which raises funds for vision research through the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology, was House Design – a reference to designers and their teams working within and for the automakers. Their names included GM’s Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell, American Motors’ Dick Teague, Eugene Bordinat and George Walker at Ford, Studebaker’s Raymond Loewy, Chrysler’s Virgil Exner and Jaguar’s Sir William Lyon.

>> Browse a photo gallery from the 2015 EyesOn Design Show.

Glen Gordon Davis’s name may not be as well-known, but the California used-car salesman built a modest automotive empire between 1947 and 1949 and managed to produce 17 aluminum-bodied three-wheel bench-seat cars in Van Nuys based on a design by Frank Kurtis.

Akron, Ohio collector Myron Vernis owns one of the 16 surviving Davis Divans and transported the silver-bodied bullet-shaped vehicle to EyesOn Design at the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House along with his wife Kim’s two-tone 1955 Studebaker Commander.

Vernis said entrepreneur Davis, who solicited investments and developed a dealer network, served time for fraud but, as he was not seen as a threat to society, was released after a couple of years and got back into the business by building bumper cars for amusement park rides.Davis built more than a dozen Divans.

There’s a trick to driving the Divan, Vernis said. With two rear wheels and only one up front, cornering at higher speeds works only “up until it’s too late.”

1971 AMX prototype

According to present owner Mike Spangler of Jefferson, Wis., this 1971 AMX two-seat prototype was built on AMC design chief Dick Teague’s personal AMX. It never went into production, bowing to an AMC Javelin with rear seat and an AMX package. (Jenny King / Special to The Detroit News)

Dick Teague offered his personal AMX to his design team at AMC, and they produced a stunning 1971 two-seater AMX prototype which never made it into production, said Mike Spangler of Jefferson, Wis. Spangler now owns the one-off AMX, which he resurrected to its present-perfect condition.

Teague reportedly gave the ’71 prototype to his son as a high school graduation gift. It made the rounds of ownership and storage until Spangler bought the car for $1,500 in 1984. AMC had decided to quit production of the two-seater AMX and its name later was attached to the larger AMC Javelin.

Another AMC prototype, a handsome 1974 Gremlin XP prototype, also owned by Teague, was parked nearby. It was built as a show car, with larger rear seat windows and rear window, said owner Brian Moyer of Reinholds, Pa. Even though the changes greatly improved the appearance of the little Gremlin, “another design won out,” said Moyer, who has owned the prototype for 21 years. His collection comprises no fewer than 15 Gremlins.

1972 Maverick

Missing a chance to buy this 1972 Ford Maverick at the turn of the century sent present owner Dominic Palazzolo of Chesterfield, Mich. on a 10-year quest that ended in 2011. (Jenny King / Special to The Detroit News)

Dominic Palazzolo of Chesterfield, Mich. bought his spotless 1972 Ford Maverick just four years ago. That was after a long search, said Palazzolo, who when he graduated high school in 1973 longed for a 1972 Maverick Grabber with its smaller bumper and faux air scoops. Palazzolo said he missed a chance to buy a ’72 Grabber coupe sometime around 2001 and had to look 10 years before finding this one online in Roanoke, Va.

“It looked just like this,” he said, referring to the excellent condition of the Maverick with its C-4 automatic transmission with quad clutches and V-8 engine. The interior is original, he said, but Palazzolo “had to” add dual exhausts and an upgraded 302 engine.

1950 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe

This 1950 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe sports dealer-installed blinds across its multi-panel rear window for the comfort for those on the two-person rear seat. (Jenny King / Special to The Detroit News)

The bright-red 1950 Studebaker Champion Starlight Coupe belonging to Harvey and Julie Snitzer of Canton has, with its distinctive styling, had numerous invitations to shows and once, Harvey said, was a last-minute substitute here at EyesOn Design when a friend was unable to attend.

The esteemed Raymond Loewy 1950 Starlight Coupe design combined the interesting four-part wraparound rear window and a bullet nose. Snitzer said the coupe seated three up front and two in the back, shaded in his car’s case by optional blinds available through dealers. The rear-seat outboard armrests open into generous storage bins.

In its 28 years EyesOn Design has raised some $4 million for vision research.

“EyesOn Design is more than a car show,” said Dr. Philip Hessburg, medical director of the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology.

“It is an international celebration of the finest vehicle designs of the past, the present and the future,” said Hessburg, who refers to himself as an “eye guy, not a car guy.”

His goal, he said, is bringing sight to the blind and those with various visual impairments.