Playing out in the woods is typical for an 11-year-old boy. Learning how to drive isn’t normally part of those endeavors, but Ezra Dyer was left alone deep inside the Maine wilderness with his 10-year-old brother and a 1982 Subaru wagon.
“The car was either un-drivable or not street legal,” Dyer said.
Today, Dyer is an automotive journalist who writes news and reviews for Automobile Magazine, The New York Times, Delta Sky Magazine and Men’s Journal. He also produces videos for Yahoo! Autos and has a regular humor column in The Improper Bostonian, along with the occasional freelance article here and there.
The Subaru in the woods belonged to Dyer’s parents who couldn’t sell the rusted-out old wagon for even $500. They decided to let the boys drive it around their property. “Their speed limiter was to not teach us how to shift into second,” Dyer said. “I eventually figured out that if you push the pedal and push the lever to go into first, you could push the pedal and pull the lever to go into second.”
Years later, with the help of Subaru of America, his brother and a Bobcat track loader, Dyer would turn that property into a mini rally circuit, reliving his childhood in a new Subaru wagon.
Dyer grew up in Jefferson, Maine, a town of just a few thousand and no cable television. At the age of 15, Dyer purchased his first car, a 1985 IROC-Z Camaro, from a local priest. “In Maine at the time, you could get a full driver’s license at 15,” Dyer said. “The IROC had far too much power for a 15 year old.”
After graduating high school, Dyer studied English at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. There, he wrote for The Colby Echo, the weekly college newspaper.
“That paper had very little oversight,” Dyer said. “I could pretty much write about whatever.” Dyer eventually started a weekly column about cars.
Dyer didn’t intend to become an automotive journalist. “I think as a kid growing up I would have loved to do that,” he said. “The only thing I’m halfway decent at is writing. That’s why I studied English”
After graduating and moving to Boston, Dyer began writing for The Improper Bostonian, where he still has a column. One week, he turned his humor column into a car column because he wanted to write about something different.
At age 23 and living in Boston, Dyer heard about the demise of the manufacturing of the Camaro at the end of 2002. He wrote to Automobile Magazine and suggested they have him write about it.
Executive editor Mark Gilles called Dyer to turn him down. Dyer’s response was to send the article in anyway, a story about his personal ’85 IROC. That article, titled “For Those About to ‘Roc, I Salute You,” appeared in the December 2001 issue of Automobile.
Automobile Magazine editor-in-chief Jean Jennings said there was one sentence that got the article published:”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.”
In a 2005 issue of Automobile Magazine, Jennings praised Dyer.
“Ezra Dyer was heaven-sent.” Jennings said. “Actually, Ezra Dyer came from Boston, which, if you’ve ever driven there, is more like hell.”
Dyer’s first press car was a 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, a 405 horsepower, bright-blue sports car from Kentucky.
Years later, he challenged Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a race in the infield at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a story in Esquire. Earnhardt Jr. was to drive a Chevrolet Cobalt SS while Dyer drove at newer model Corvette Z06, only one of three built at the time. The point of the race was to prove that the Z06 was a “great equalizer,” negating the talents of a professional driver. Dyer won, albeit with a 300-horsepower advantage.
Dyer’s daily ride changes from week to week as press cars come and go from his home in North Carolina. Last week, he was testing both a Lincoln MKZ and a Jaguar XJR, though he said it is unusual to have two cars at once.
His wife Heather transports their two children around in a Lincoln MKT. Dyer does own a Ford Bronco that, unusually, has a Power Stroke diesel under the hood. The installation of that engine was featured in Automobile Magazine.
Dyer doesn’t know what the best car he has ever driven might be, but he can name a type of car. “The genre of car I think is the coolest is the mid-engine V8 cars like the Ferrari 458 or the McLaren 12C,” Dyer said. “Those mid-engine 2-seat cars are just loud, fast and crazy looking.”
On the other hand, Dyer enjoys a bad car every once in a while. “I’m always pleased when I find something bad,” he said. “It’s easier to be funny.”
The worst vehicle Dyer ever drove was a rented Ford RV he used for a friend’s bachelor party. He described it as “evil driving,” saying expansion joints on the highway would cause it to “start corkscrewing.”
“At least you could fit a few guys inside,” Dyer said.
Dyer isn’t afraid to be critical in his articles, calling out bad cars when he drives them. “The thing you wrestle with is remembering the humans,” he said. “A lot of people worked on this. At the end of the day you have to write what you write.
“I’m not worried about what the Nissan people think me,” he said, referring to his critical review of the Nissan Versa Note in The New York Times. “I love the Nissan GTR.”
Dyer wrote a critical review of the Lotus Evora in The New York Times, despite his friendship with a Lotus PR manager.
“I received a response that was longer than my article,” he said. “There was no dead pedal! You design this whole car from scratch, put in some useless back seats that push everything forward and leave no place for your left foot and still wonder why people prefer the Porsche!”
“I don’t think I’m afraid to be negative,” Dyer said. “My editors might.”
He did say that he hasn’t driven a BMW since he hinted that the BMW M6 he drove might have been a “cheater.” “I took it to a dyno and it measured 577 horsepower,” Dyer said. The M6 is only rated at a maximum of 575 horsepower, and a percentage of that is lost through the drivetrain. A typical loss would be around 15 percent.
While he never accused anyone of being purposely misleading, saying that a car’s horsepower can vary under certain conditions, Dyer said he does believe the cars journalists get are “top notch.”
Dyer said his assignments vary by publication. “Sometimes, I come up with my own,” he said. “It’s important to think about logistics.” So Dyer wrote an article about finding the perfect po’ boy sandwich. “If you think of a fun story it translates to something interesting.”
The article was featured in Automobile’s “Ultimate Fantasies” issue. “Everyone else’s idea seemed crazy,” he said. “Mine was just a road trip to New Orleans in an Aston Martin.” Other articles were about driving a Ferrari in Italy and your personal vehicle on the Autobahn in Germany.
Dyer’s favorite road trip was taking an ICON FJ40 Land Cruiser through Colorado over the course of a week with his wife.
“ICON said go have fun and have an outdoors adventure,” Dyer said. “We were staying at these cool places, fly fishing, camping and hiking. We even saw Ice Cube in concert.” The article, titled “Straight Outta Aspen,” was featured in Popular Mechanics.