Now there’s only Click.
Or maybe just Clack.
I never knew which of the Tappet brothers Tom Magliozzi was. I’m not even sure he did. In some sense, it didn’t matter. Precision was never the point of “Car Talk,” the irreverent, unfailingly funny and hugely popular show that Tom and his brother, Ray, hosted on NPR for 25 years. Instead, the siblings focused on humor and took the seemingly technical subject of car care – and repair, and despair – and made it universally appealing.
With their shared thick Boston accents, rip-roaring snorts and infectious laughs, you were never quite sure which one you were hearing. You only knew you couldn’t have one Tappet brother without the other.
But now you do.
Tom Magliozzi died Monday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 77.
When the news of his death hit Twitter, a lot of longtime listeners found themselves asking, “Was he the bald one or the one with the beard?”
He was the one with the beard. He was the one who seemed a little wilder, a little less responsible. He was the one with the giant laugh. He was the one who always seemed to owe his exasperated younger brother a few dollars on a bet that he hadn’t yet paid off.
If you listened to “Car Talk” to hear talk about cars, you were never disappointed. But the show regularly veered off course as Tom and Ray pondered the spelling of women’s names, reminisced about cities they once lived in, explored philosophical quandaries and squabbled good-naturedly over decades-old family disputes. They chortled hard and often, especially at their own jokes.
The show was not for everyone, but for those it was for, it was essential. The format was pretty basic. Listeners called in to ask about bewildering problems with their vehicles. I can’t swear to it, but I think I heard all these questions asked:
My car was submerged in a lake for two weeks. Will I be able to get it to run again?
The glove compartment of my Volvo is filled with acorns. How did they get there?
Is there any reason you shouldn’t be allowed to drive your car in reverse, as long as you’re going with the traffic?
Eventually, Tom and Ray would provide an answer. But it was the meandering, merry journey the brothers took to reach it that made the show such a delight. They liked to play the role of blue-collar Boston bumpkins, even though they both had degrees from MIT. And for all their Ray and Tom foolery, they were fascinated by, and very knowledgeable about, the mechanical functioning and structural design of cars. Their gift was translating that knowledge into joy and humor, often at their own expense.
In a 1999 Washington Post profile of the brothers, Tom talked about buying his dream car: a 1952 MG-TD. Pieces of the car kept falling off.
“I belong to an MG club, but it’s more like a support group,” he said.
“Car Talk” ended its triumphant run in 2012. It was one of the most popular programs on public radio, despite airing on Saturday mornings – typically one of the lowest-rated periods. Reruns of the show still air regularly on NPR stations across the country.
Every episode of “Car Talk” ended with Tom and Ray imploring listeners with a final bit of advice. “Don’t drive like my brother,” they each joked.
OK, we won’t. But thanks so much for the ride.