Ezra Dyer was heaven-sent. Actually, Ezra Dyer came from Boston, which, if you’ve ever driven there, is more like hell. He wrote us a letter back in 2001 suggesting that we might like him to write about the demise of the Camaro and the Firebird. He was twenty-three years old, and no one had ever heard of him. Still, his letter was clever enough to pique our interest. When executive editor Mark Gillies called him to let him down gently, Dyer instead sent a small piece about his first car, a 1985 Camaro IROC Z28 (“For Those About to ‘Roc, I Salute You,” December 2001). He bought it from a Catholic priest, and, as he remembers, “it arrived with his vanity plate: CHRISTN. My next car was a gray-market BMW 323i B6 Alpina with the 3.0-liter Bavaria engine. By the time I sold that thing, I was so desperate to get rid of it that I took a personal check from a stranger in a McDonald’s parking lot. The check cleared.”
First, you should know that this unsolicited-manuscript thing rarely works. In fact, it’s happened only twice before in nineteen years. (One was a piece about a Porsche found in a barn, written by a college student named Dave Plank, and it won the Ken Purdy Award, automotive journalism’s highest honor. The second was something sent in by someone named Jamie Kitman, and you all know how that turned out.) Second, Gillies doesn’t make gentle phone calls to the thousands of hopefuls who write each year. Just one. To Dyer. And it didn’t stick. Because when we read Dyer’s IROC story, it contained this sentence: “Justified or not, the general public associates IROC ownership with a vast panoply of unsavory behavioral traits, from storing leftover Spaghetti-Os in empty Cool Whip containers to passing out with a lip full of Skoal and waking up with tobacco juice in your mullet.” Brilliant, evocative, sensitive prose, that.
Dyer learned his chops reading car magazines. He was exactly eight when Automobile Magazine blew onto the scene. “I might not have been reading it when I was eight,” he admits, “but I do have a copy of the mag from 1989, when I was twelve. In your column in that particular issue, you wrote about a kid my age who sent you a letter saying he wanted to be an auto writer. I was pissed I didn’t think of that. Being a procrastinator, I waited until I was twenty-three to send you a letter saying I wanted to be an auto writer.” He read every car magazine he could get his hands on and remembers visiting France at the age of eleven when an issue of Motor Trend was the only thing he had in English to read for a month. “I bought Henry Manney’s book after he died, even though I felt like I didn’t understand most of his jokes. In college in 1998, I read P. J. O’Rourke’s article in Automobile about driving Land Rovers in India. I still remember some of the jokes.”
He learned to drive early, in his parents’ 1981 Subaru station wagon. They’d moved to Maine and, after a futile attempt to sell the aging car for $500, let ten-year-old Ezra and his nine-year-old brother drive it around in the woods. “They rode shotgun with us for a while, but when all we wanted to do was drive all day, they didn’t want to be bothered and just let us take it out ourselves. Their plan to limit our speed was to not teach us how to shift into second gear. The poor Subie spent a summer at 6000 rpm and then died in a manner I’ve never seen before or since. It didn’t blow up, it just gradually lost power until it would no longer move. Even then, it would start, but it didn’t have the berries to budge.”
As a humor columnist for the Improper Bostonian, he has been hypnotized out of having road rage and has appeared onstage with the Flaming Lips. He machine-gunned a 1984 Cadillac Eldorado for his first Automobile Magazine feature (“They Shoot Cars, Don’t They?” February 2003) and never looked back. This month, you can find Dyer’s loopy humor beginning on page 94, as he chronicles his drag-racing exploits in a Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG.
Write like Ezra Dyer, boys and girls, and you can work here, too.