Don't Drive Like My Brother
September 5, 2019 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Car Talk's Long Goodbye: an interview with Ray Magliozzi, former cohost of the NPR mainstay Car Talk, on the show's history, its legacy, and his relationship with his departed brother. And for dessert, a podcast interview with Ray on the brothers' surprisingly conflicted feelings about cars and car culture.
posted by showbiz_liz (49 comments total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not crying, you're crying:

The show’s most frequent listener these days might in fact be Ray himself. He said he still listens to the show “all the time,” mostly to hear his brother’s voice and remind himself about times they had together. To remind himself of the jokes they shared. To remind himself of the good times.

“I love to hear his laugh, and I love to hear his take on things,” Ray said. “It’s a rare opportunity that I’ve had to still communicate with my brother that most people don’t get.”

posted by showbiz_liz at 2:10 PM on September 5 [67 favorites]

I was at best an incidental Car Talk listener, and yet the relationship there was unmistakable and now I'm crying, you're crying, we're all crying.

"And what I have is looking back on all those great Christmases, birthday parties, and backyard barbecues, and all those kinds of things that we did together that were just so much fun.

“And all the stupid stuff,” Ray said.

posted by Lyn Never at 2:28 PM on September 5 [12 favorites]

Such a good cry.
posted by Qubit at 2:35 PM on September 5 [1 favorite]

One former co-worker of mine was (and maybe still is) Ray Magliozzi's next door neighbor. Another co-worker from a different job used to date the daughter of one of their other siblings and got to have a memorable Thanksgiving dinner with them (this would have been in the late 1990s). My wife spoke with Ray one time on the phone when her boss's car was ready to be picked up from Good Times Garage. Those are my "near-miss" brushes with them, and I'm sure other Boston-area MeFites have similar stories.

I remember the very first time I ever listened to Car Talk, and we loved to listen to them in the car on a Saturday morning. By the time Tom had passed away and the show had gone into perpetual reruns, we'd given up on NPR in general, but it was always an entertaining listen.
posted by briank at 2:38 PM on September 5 [6 favorites]

> how Ray and his brother and co-host Tom Magliozzi actually thought, which was less like your local mechanic and more like an engineer.

How do they think mechanics think?!
posted by kenko at 2:43 PM on September 5 [15 favorites]

Like prospective boat owners, to steal a running gag from the Tappets.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:55 PM on September 5 [39 favorites]

These guys were worth listening to for their camaraderie and to hear for-real LOLs. Hearing real laughter is so so good. As long as a show’s hosts aren’t actual bad guys laughing at other’s expense, I don’t care what the content is. When the laughs sound forced or canned it’s time to swap it out. Thanks to the Tappets for decades of levity.
posted by drowsy at 3:25 PM on September 5 [14 favorites]

The show’s most frequent listener these days might in fact be Ray himself. He said he still listens to the show “all the time,” mostly to hear his brother’s voice and remind himself about times they had together. To remind himself of the jokes they shared. To remind himself of the good times.

“I love to hear his laugh, and I love to hear his take on things,” Ray said. “It’s a rare opportunity that I’ve had to still communicate with my brother that most people don’t get.”

It's not quite the same thing, and nowhere near the same scale, but a good friend of mine and I have been doing a podcast where we talk in depth about music, and in a recent stretch of depression I've really been conscious of what a lucky thing it is to have 20 hours of recorded audio of me just having fun talking with a friend. It's a great thing to be able to listen to. I can just imagine what a boon it must be for Ray.
posted by COBRA! at 3:30 PM on September 5 [33 favorites]

So wonderful. Thank you for posting!

For a long time I thought Car Talk was just a little old show and I enjoyed listening to it in part because I thought it was so nice that my local NPR station had it on every week even though it was clearly not popular by any means. And they were so self-effacing! I felt a little benevolent donating a couple times during their block on fundraising drives. Imagine my shock when I found out it was one of their most popular shows!

Which, of course, since in hindsight the same things I loved about those goofuses are universally appealing. It just seemed unlikely a show about cars could hold the attention of that many people. Some of their humor wasn’t to my taste — the jokes about mother-in-laws or stupid boyfriends, etc — but they told the jokes with such kindness and never seemed thrown by unusual family dynamics. I loved their relationship and hate to think of how much Ray misses Tom.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:06 PM on September 5 [7 favorites]

I only know of Car Talk because a) my long-time friend Kelly used to tell me about it and b) they appeared in Cars as the owners of Lightning McQueen's sponsor, Rust-Eze. But what I know now, having read that article, is that I should go back and listen to everything I can find.
posted by hanov3r at 4:14 PM on September 5 [4 favorites]

I'm gonna save this read for when I won't get the cries as I remember listening to these guys with my parents and hearing their laughter so beautifully resonant and by "their" I mean the brothers' and Mom's and Dad's and oh no
posted by Caxton1476 at 4:15 PM on September 5 [21 favorites]

I am a native of Cambridge, Mass, and also spent my young and wild days there. Before I knew what Car Talk was, I had several cars worked on at the actual Good News Garage, always honest and fair. They kept my 1972 Plymouth Sebring running longer than it had a right to. They were hilarious on the air, and you learned a lot about cars if you paid attention. Old school cool.
posted by spitbull at 4:24 PM on September 5 [22 favorites]

Their "new" shows of recycled content are still in my podcast rotation every week. It's usually my shower and wake up on Saturday morning. Still so good.
posted by deezil at 4:25 PM on September 5 [6 favorites]

Listened to them for years and years. Dad loved their jokes while I loved their Systems Thinking and the great trouble-shooting logic.
posted by wenestvedt at 4:30 PM on September 5 [5 favorites]

My favorite Car Talk segment is "Stump the Chumps", because I think it takes a big person to face up to the fact that your advice is likely wrong (after all they're diagnosing cars based solely on oral testimony from people who mostly don't know anything about cars), and Tom and Ray handled that with good grace and cheer on nearly every call.

I also liked when they took calls from couples arguing about the proper way to stop at a red light, or fill up their gas tank. Especially pre-internet it was always an interesting look into how other people were raised differently.
posted by muddgirl at 5:01 PM on September 5 [20 favorites]

They clearly had so much fun together...

And they felt like honest car mechanics, which is a bit of an oxymoron.
posted by Windopaene at 5:07 PM on September 5

They could be a little cringy occasionally, like when they made fun of Aroop Gupta's name for five minutes, and the laughter seemed a bit forced, and just there to fill the time, towards the end but they were a pretty lovable and funny pair for many years.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:10 PM on September 5

I actually didn't read their take on Arup Gupta as "making fun", more like a good-natured appreciation. Yes, it did go on a little long, but the read I was getting was more like "that's such a cool sound!" as opposed to "that's such a weird name!"

Mr. Gupta seems to agree - he apparently wrote back in to Car Talk some years later to catch the gang up.

Back when they announced that they were retiring from live broadcasts, I posted a suggestion that I'm still upset never happened - I had the bright idea that the guys on Top Gear should have them on the show for their "Star In A Reasonably-Priced Car" segment, because "imagine Jeremy Clarkson trying to get a word in edgewise while Bob and Ray just sit there laughing."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:28 PM on September 5 [21 favorites]

Cambridge, (Our Fair City), MA

You mean...
posted by Windopaene at 5:29 PM on September 5 [10 favorites]

My dad listened to pretty much only NPR when I was growing up, and as I kid I was most entertained by Click and Clack, despite not learning for some time what a tappet was. I never realized the age difference in the brothers was a large as that. Thanks for posting this!

One little tidbit from one episode sticks with me, and I actually think of it fairly frequently. A guy had called in and the brakes on his daughter's car kept wearing out too fast, but he was mechanically inclined and checked all the things, but they just kept wearing out. The brother's asked, "Is your daughter's hair wet when she leaves in the morning?"

Which seems entirely off topic, until you think about it, and was the point they were making--if your hair is wet when you leave the house, you are probably late, and when you are late, you drive like you are late. Which wears out brakes.

Just a great way way to illustrate creative problem solving, that sometimes you might not be having the problem you think you are.
posted by HycoSpeed at 5:30 PM on September 5 [42 favorites]

> Dad loved their jokes while I loved their Systems Thinking and the great trouble-shooting logic.

Everything I know about handling bug reports and negotiating QA issues was learned from Car Talk. They might've clowned a lot but when it was time to talk business, they were excellent at asking the right questions of the callers and had the keenest bullshit filters, but without ever sounding like they were ganging up on a caller.
posted by ardgedee at 5:32 PM on September 5 [20 favorites]

Decades ago I had a car that would run just fine for days, weeks or months and then suddenly cut out like it had run out of gas. I'd coast off to the side of the road and try to start it. It would crank and crank but never start. Wait ten or twenty minutes and it would start right up and work fine for days, weeks, or months until it would happen again. I took it into the shop a half a dozen times and made several boat payments but the problem was never diagnosed or fixed (but yay!, lots of brand-new parts).

Fast forward some 20 years and someone calls in with the exact same problem. They immediately recognize it as a bit of debris (rust flakes or something) in the gas tank that swirl around harmlessly until suddenly sucked up against the gas intake. The flakes stay in place until the fuel pump suction bleeds off and then start swirling again. I'm dead certain that's what was happening to me, though it's impossible to verify now.

Those guys were great.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:01 PM on September 5 [16 favorites]

I also find it endearing that sheep love Car Talk.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:06 PM on September 5 [6 favorites]

“T.S., Eliot,” or a public-radio friendly way of saying “tough shit”
posted by doctornemo at 6:15 PM on September 5 [6 favorites]

WNYC has the Tom Magliozzi memorial epsiode online.
posted by blob at 6:40 PM on September 5 [5 favorites]

Funny, years before I ever heard the radio show, I knew them from my first job at the local paper. As a jack-of-all-trades newbie, I had to report and edit and crop pix and type agate and lay out some of the paper's inside pages. And one standard feature in the Sunday paper was the Car Talk column with Tom and Ray.

I was supposed to always cut it down to fit in one true single column, but I'd get creative. I'd start it over two columns before shrinking it to one, or slop it to another page. One time I reset the page to a layout of five wider columns so my one column could hold more words.

I just couldn't bear to cut it because there was hardly ever a wasted word or unfunny phrase. They were just so good.
posted by martin q blank at 7:24 PM on September 5 [25 favorites]

I took my car there once. Tom was sleeping on a bench style seat that had been pulled from some car. Ray couldn't help me with my radiator, they didn't do them. But he did point out I needed new tires, showing me where the steel belt was sticking out of my sidewall. It was my first car and I didn't really think about tires wearing out. Dude maybe saved my life.
posted by hypnogogue at 9:25 PM on September 5 [20 favorites]

I read the first comment, started crying, and now I've read all the comments, and I'm still crying D;

My brush with Car Talk was when I heard a re-run where they mentioned their good friend Stan Zdonik, who was (besides a bluegrass fan, I think) a pretty decent bowler. I was taking a course from Stan Zdonik around that time and excitedly sent the clip to all my TAs and classmates; apparently that clip bubbles up in class every few years.

A favorite crossover: Car talk on Arthur.
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:45 PM on September 5 [5 favorites]

Oh my god the 'sheep love car talk' letter mentions the Zune!
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:48 PM on September 5 [2 favorites]

Apparently I need to replace my cabin air filter...
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 10:09 PM on September 5 [3 favorites]

Car Talk was my gateway show to NPR. One day, hanging out with my very punk-influenced friends, everything stopped because they said "Car Talk" was on. And instead of listening to whatever 80's hardcore band, we were listening to Click and Clack. I was like, "What the fuck is NPR?" and there it was, nestled in along all the other college radio stations in town on the left side of the dial.
posted by not_on_display at 11:43 PM on September 5 [13 favorites]

For those who are interested, the entire Ray Magliozzi interview with The War On Cars Podcast is now up.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:40 AM on September 6 [4 favorites]

Caveat Reador: I got an attempted malware install while reading this article. Thankfully, I don't run flash. I'm surprised, really. I thought that Jalopnik's network would have better ad screening than that.
posted by sydnius at 3:21 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this. Between these guys and prairie home companion and michael Feldman. Man the weekend memories. I've never listened to the goodbye tom episode. Not sure i want to.
posted by chasles at 4:55 AM on September 6 [4 favorites]

In about 2002, there was a Car Talk fundraising special where the brothers were visited by the ghosts of Public Radio Past, Present, and Future. (Also their unappreciated lackey Bob Edwards Cratchitt brought them their tea at nineteen minutes past the hour.) The ghost of Public Radio Future took them to a dystopia where the only show left on NPR was a version of Car Talk where two robots told the same joke over and over and cackled at themselves.

I thought about that special many times after the show entered reruns. I always thought they should have played it two or three weeks in a row to see if anyone noticed. I was sad about the switch from advice that I could apply to cars that I was currently driving to advice about the choke chain pulloff in a new Datsun.

But wow, what a pair of great guys.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:11 AM on September 6 [4 favorites]

I used to listen to Car talk every week, and I hate cars. It's just so nice to listen to two people who clearly love each other have a great time solving problems.
posted by Automocar at 7:11 AM on September 6 [9 favorites]

I read this the other day on the train to work, and it caught be off guard. I only knew of Car Talk because my dad listened to it religiously. He wasn’t a car guy, definitely not good at repairing things, but he loved the show, and looking back, you could see how it had rubbed off on him, a weird sort of Boston-ish accent that would pop up from time to time, often when making jokes, whole chunks of his sense of humor, honestly, seem to have grown onto him through his regular listening. My dad would have loved this article.

Reading about them, about Ray talking about how it is without Tom, and thinking of my dad, and suddenly, I was trying not to cry on the train. Sure, time makes the pain hurt less, until out of nowhere, it all comes roaring back and you miss them all over again.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:28 AM on September 6 [10 favorites]

My dad was a professional engineer and a home mechanic, and he did most of his own work on his cars. And we lived in Massachusetts in the 60s/70s/80s, so he listened to Car Talk from the early days, back when it was more about helping home mechanics figure out how to fix their own cars and less general car-related advice.

My dad's gone now, and so is Tom Magliozzi, but I'm grateful to them for the years of advice, and for the soundtrack to helping Dad replace the water pump on a 1980 Dodge Omni (twice, because the first time we put it in upside down).

Thanks for the post.
posted by suelac at 8:56 AM on September 6 [9 favorites]

Such a nice read. Tom and Ray are unforgettable people. I distinctly remember the first time I heard Car Talk, in the back seat of my parent's Volvo back in the late 80s. I think my parents accidentally put on NPR as they weren't listeners back then. Car Talk sucked us all in, but we didn't pay attention to what time they aired so it was often that we caught the show on our way somewhere and end up either driving around aimlessly or sitting in the car to finish out the show before getting out, all of us laughing and in good spirits. Good memories in an otherwise crappy childhood.

I was a long time listener, never a caller, and I haven't listened since they stopped. I don't particularly want to experience nostalgia, which is why I haven't listened to the rebroadcasts, but their relationship and laughter used to brighten up my whole Saturday so it might be nice to revisit.
posted by vivzan at 10:24 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]

Working as a web developer on was my first job out of college in 1997. I didn't really understand how popular the show was and we had other clients besides Tom & Ray, so it wasn't much of a big deal at first. But Tommy took a huge interest in the site—he was really ahead of his time in that way—and sometimes he'd get excited about something and call me or the other developer directly and he was exactly like he was on air: a call that should've taken 5 minutes would take half an hour because he'd interrupt you or himself with jokes and then spend an even longer amount of time laughing at said joke and it would be equal parts exasperating and entertaining.

Tommy could be irascible and flighty but he always made me feel special. I learned a ton at the job just because when he asked for something, you really wanted to make him happy, and when you'd show him your working prototype or fix a bug he reported, he'd crack up laughing and tell you you were a genius and in that moment, you'd believe him.
posted by nev at 10:26 AM on September 6 [36 favorites]

But Tommy took a huge interest in the site—he was really ahead of his time in that way—and sometimes he'd get excited about something and call me or the other developer directly and he was exactly like he was on air.

This isn't surprising. Tom got his undergraduate degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management, a PhD from Boston University School of Management and then spent eight years teaching as a professor of marketing. Of course he would be very interested in every aspect of setting up a commercial web site.
posted by JackFlash at 10:42 AM on September 6 [3 favorites]

Seeing both of them interact, such as awkwardly giving an interview on 60 Minutes is one of the purest things I know. I'm not going to listen to the memorial episode as I've work I need to do today and I can't do that as a blubbering mess.
posted by endotoxin at 11:00 AM on September 6 [1 favorite]

The War on Cars podcast interview is so great.
posted by larrybob at 11:54 AM on September 6 [2 favorites]

Oh, my, pass the tissues.

Thank you so much for posting this. I didn't realize how much I missed those guys.

I haven't been truly happy with my Saturday morning NPR line-up in ages—not a fan of Splendid Table or part of the target market for Ask Me Another. So, I'm going to fill those gaps with Car Talk.

I hope Ray knows that he's not listening alone.
posted by she's not there at 12:01 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]

I'm just glad I can still listen to these guys whenever I want.
posted by freakazoid at 12:51 PM on September 6 [2 favorites]

My parents were among the least mechanically-inclined people I've ever met, but I still grew up listening to Car Talk, mostly off the strength of their NPR addiction and the friendly good humor and love of the Car Talk guys. The above-quoted part where he talks about listening to his brother was so pure and affecting.
posted by protocoach at 1:09 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]

About 20 years ago, on the second date with a perfectly nice man, I learned he drove a Saab convertible. At the time, I knew two things about Saab's - 1. they were good cars, albeit, pricey to maintain, and 2. some Car Talk joke I've since forgotten poking fun at "beret-wearing" Saab owners that I regret to admit made it impossible to take the guy seriously.

I am continually surprised that Fiat manages to stay in business given Tom and Ray's take on the brand.
posted by she's not there at 4:31 PM on September 6

Fiat owns Chrysler now. Which means either the joke's on Tom and Ray, or something else.

(Really, those jokes would be completely appropriate for hundreds of 1970s and 80s cars, from British sports cars to various domestic subcompacts. It was a pretty dismal time for cars, generally.)
posted by ardgedee at 5:15 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]

I used to download their shows onto my iPod shuffle to listen to on my daily walks (btw, fuck you iTunes, for making it as unintuitive as possible) and frequently would burst out laughing because their laughter was so contagious.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:45 PM on September 6

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