“All they do is laugh,” my wife would say when I’d tune the FM radio to our local NPR station on Saturday mornings.
Between the laughs, though, the Car Talk guys were full of wisdom, intellect and creativity. Sometimes they would talk about cars, but mostly the Magliozzi brothers’ show was about people: how we get along with each other and make our way through this complex world. That sounds heavy, but Tom Magliozzi, who died yesterday at age 77, and his younger brother Ray, always kept it light-hearted and fun.
The part of the show dedicated to automobiles was brilliant, too. Tom and Ray empowered car owners to turn a wrench themselves, something that we at the NAPA Know How Blog love to see. They never assumed that everyone could afford – or even wanted – to take their vehicle into a mechanic’s shop for repair. When callers had complex problems that baffled one or more professional technicians, Tom and Ray invited them to “Stump the Chumps.” They’d provide a diagnosis and ask the caller to report back on whether or not they were correct. Often, one or both would nail it, despite never having inspected the actual vehicle. That’s as impressive as it is inspiring for mechanics everywhere, amateur or professional.
The Car Talk guys may have called themselves chumps, but the show revealed that they were anything but. Their kindness and intelligence was part of every episode. Tom, owner of a beloved if not perfect 1963 Dodge Dart, understood that our connections to a particular vehicle could transcend its monetary value. He and his brother would help callers keep their old heaps safely functional because those callers loved their old cars. Owning a special car makes people happy, and happiness is more important than convenience or image.
Self-deprecation was always a part of the Car Talk formula, and it revealed Tom’s humility. Here’s a guy with multiple degrees from prestigious institutions who placed true value on not thinking too much.
“‘Smarter’ is no good. That’s the wrong direction,” Tom told the graduating class of 1999 at the MIT commencement ceremony. Instead, he told them to be “unencumbered by the thought process.” When you do this, he said, “life slows down. Being unencumbered by the thought process allows you to identify and see and hear defining moments in your life, things that will change your life.”
In fact, Tom was a great intellect, but his magnetic personality made him approachable and gracious. And his infectious laugh disarmed callers as much as it entertained listeners.
Our hearts go out to Tom’s Car Talk family, to Ray and to the Magliozzi family. We’ll miss you, old friend. Thanks for all the great times.
As a tribute to his brother, Ray asked NPR to continue running Car Talk, although the show has officially ended.Find your local NPR station here, or listen toCar Talk Classics at CarTalk.com. You can read Ray’s obituary of Tom Magliozzi and leave a message in the guestbook.
Nick Palermo is a freelance automotive writer and NAPA Know How blogger. Since becoming an auto news and reviews contributor at AutoTrader.com in 2011, he has broadened his coverage of the automotive industry to include topics like new car technology, antiques and classics, DIY maintenance and repair, industry news and motorsports. A committed advocate for automotive media professionals, Nick is a member of the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association.