— by Chuck Koch
Eric Dahlquist, a founding member of Motor Press Guild, died unexpectedly on December 24 from complications following open heart surgery. He was 79.
Eric, president of Vista Group, the automotive public relations agency he started in the 1970s, had served on the MPG board of directors for some 18 years, finally retiring from the board in 2010. He nevertheless remained active in the organization, most notably and reliably as a judge in the Dean Batchelor Award program.
He was born in 1937 in Lockport, New York, outside Buffalo, where his father was an electrician at the Niagara Falls power station. Eric inherited his father’s fascination with all things mechanical, and grew up a member of the area’s active hot rodding scene. While attending the University of Buffalo in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Eric helped pay college expenses by serving as a stringer for Hot Rod magazine, covering drag racing and car builders throughout western New York. After graduating from the university with a major in history, he was hired as a staff writer for Hot Rod and moved to Los Angeles in 1964. Ray Brock, Jim McFarland, and Tom Medley, and other Hot Rod icons of the day, taught him the ropes of magazine publishing. He soon became the magazine’s technical editor.
In 1968, Eric moved over to the staff of sister publication Motor Trend, where he joined the likes of Walt Woron, Julian Schmidt, and Bill Sanders. They widened his horizon’s beyond the drag strip and NASCAR to all things automotive. He adapted quickly and was named editor of Motor Trend the following year. He was now as comfortable talking with Rudolph Uhlenhaut of Mercedes, Bunkie Knudsen, John DeLorean, or Lee Iacocca as he was Ronny Sox, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, Richard Petty and Junior Johnson. Among his many editorial accomplishments, he was proud that he was one of two automotive journalists, the other being Joe Oldham of Popular Mechanics, to have tested every Detroit performance car during that most exciting time of the American automobile industry: the muscle car era
He left Motor Trend in 1975 to begin what was then Vista Publishing to concentrate on specialized publications and freelance writing. By 1977 Vista segued into public relations when Pontiac Motor Division asked Eric to represent them on the West Coast. GMC Truck followed as a client in 1978, and this led other automotive companies to seek his services.
At one time or another, Vista Group represented every automotive division of General Motors as well as Mercedes-Benz, BF Goodrich, W. R. Grace Co., and both Petersen Publishing and Argus Publishers, among many others. In addition to normal press relations, Eric led Vista Group into performing motion picture and television product placement, product planning, marketing, sales promotion, and special projects services for a whole host of automotive business clients. During the 1980s, Vista Group grew to be the largest PR agency in the U.S. dealing exclusively with the automobile industry.
Eric remained active in the automotive industry until a year ago. Early this year he was diagnosed with a heart condition and was undergoing tests to determine a course of treatment. Before treatment could commence, he suffered an episode in June that necessitated immediate open heart surgery, from which he never fully recovered. Still, from his hospital bed in October, he was making plans, as he had done for years, to help judge the book category of the 2016 MPG Awards until saner minds and doctors intervened.
Eric is survived by his wife, Vicki, sons Eric, Scott, Karl, and Ian, daughters Jennifer and Lily, stepchildren Ricky and Eshelle, and nine grandchildren. He will be buried in Buffalo with his mother and father. A memorial service and celebration of Eric’s life will take place on January 14, 2017, 11 a.m., at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church, 13370 Valleyheart Dr., Sherman Oaks, CA 91423.