All road trips eventually come to an end. On Saturday, The Best of Car Talk will air on WBUR for the final time.
Car Talk launched as a local show on WBUR in 1977, with brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi of Cambridge behind the microphones. A decade later, the show went national and became an enormous and enduring hit for NPR.
Through it all, the Magliozzis offered callers and listeners their advice as auto mechanics and — more remarkably — provided an endless supply of warm-hearted wit, curiosity, goofiness and laughter.
Now, almost seven years after the death of Tom Magliozzi at the age of 77, his little brother Ray joined WBUR’s Weekend Edition to reflect on the Car Talk era.
Below are highlights from the conversation, which has been lightly edited.
Extended Interview Highlights
On Car Talk and its early days:
We didn’t know anything about doing anything on radio! For the first three, four, five months, we’d see the ‘On Air’ light come on, and we would ask the engineer, ‘So, are we on now?’ And he must have said, ‘Oh, my God, they are the two stupidest guys on the planet!’ And after a while, you know, we knew we were doing something wrong, but it became fun to do it. And we just did it every week!
On the Magliozzi brothers in their youth, and whether they were class clowns:
I think Tommy was, more than me. But I like to joke around. I love to laugh. And I don’t know how much other families have this, but we had laughter at our table.
You sit down to a meal — there was always somebody poking at somebody and eliciting a laugh or telling a story that was like, ‘That really happened?’ And I just assumed that every family was like that. And then I found out that most families are not! I had no idea. When you’re 10 years old, how can you possibly know? And then a friend invites you over for dinner. It’s like, ‘Oh, geez, people don’t talk to each other!’ Or you can just sense that tension in the room. But we’d never had that in our house. The talk at the dinner table was always light and fun. And we were very lucky to grow up in a happy and safe household. We all loved being together, and we just enjoyed each other’s company. Overall, I’d say it was great. And I consider myself very lucky that I’ve had that my whole life and still do.
On how it felt to host Car Talk with his brother:
I’ll tell you one thing, it was never work, either. I mean, Tom and I would come in — often we rode in in the same car — and we’d be laughing all the way in. We’d do the show, and we’d laugh all the way home! It was always fun.
And then we had lunch to look forward to! We’d have bagels before the show, and then once we finished the show we’d go and have lunch! I mean, come on!
Podcasts of “The Best of Car Talk” will be released twice a week, starting Oct. 1. In celebration of the show’s more than 30-year-long run on the air, WBUR’s Cityspace will host an event, both in-person and online, on Thursday, Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. Get tickets here.
Tommy and I did everything together, and people couldn’t fathom that either. ‘So you guys get along?’ Oh my God, yeah!
It was a great run we had. And the truth is, you know, I consider myself very, very lucky to have had Tommy as long as I had him. And I wish he was still here. But I can look back at all the fun things we did and not feel at all like I got cheated, you know? Really. I mean, it’s like, ‘What a wonderful time we had!”
On the show’s appeal:
You know, Tom and I have always been who we are. So the show is completely unrehearsed, unvarnished and — what’s the other word? Unprofessional. You know, it was completely amateurish. And I think people listened to a large extent to see how many mistakes we’d make in a given hour.
[In the early days] we decided that whoever called, if they had a question that was too nerdy or too gearheady, we would steer them in a different direction. Somebody would ask, ‘How do I replace the spider gears in my differential on my Dodge pickup truck?” And Tom would say, ‘What the hell are you doing that for? What are you, out of your mind? You’re never going to get that truck to run again!’ And we would laugh, and so would the caller. And I think that freed up people who were listening to call and ask what people might perceive as a stupid question.
On using discussions about cars as a delivery mechanism for talking about life and relationships:
Because sooner or later it all comes back, doesn’t it? I mean, people’s lives are so intertwined with their cars that it’s hard to separate the two, especially when you get familial relations involved.
For example, a woman would call and say, ‘Well, my father-in-law says that I have to warm the car up for 20 minutes.’ And, you know, I think the first time or two we got that [type of] call we were very diplomatic. And then after a while we said, ‘He’s an idiot! You know, you don’t have to tell him he’s an idiot. But if he’s listening, he knows he’s an idiot. Nobody warms up a car for 20 minutes unless you live in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan! In which case, yeah, you might want to warm the car up in the dead of winter. But no, get in the car, start it up and drive it away and and forget about it!’ And then the conversation would turn to ‘Well, how do we get out of this?’ And then we’d say, ‘Buy the Best Of Car Talk’ tape, and give it to him for Christmas, and he can hear over and over again what a dope he is!’
And so that’s what Car Talk became: dispelling myths — and solving family issues. And we had the most fun doing that. We really did. Once in a while, we’d come up with a brilliant answer to an automotive query. Once in a while! But in any case, it was always entertaining, at least for my brother, because no matter what the answer was, he laughed.
What worked great is when we didn’t have a ready answer for the car problem, we could always go into this area of your personal life and discuss that. ‘Well, why don’t you get along with your brother-in-law, and what’s his problem?’ And then people would often open up because they’d start laughing, and we would laugh. It was a way of getting people to talk about what else is going on in their lives.
In Italian, they would call me a “ficcanaso,” which means you’re sticking your nose in! So, yeah, I am sticking my nose into other people’s business. That’s what we did on Car Talk for, you know, 100 years, and it seemed to work!
On what surprised him the most about the Car Talk experience:
What took them so long to get rid of us? What the heck were they thinking? To this day, it still baffles me. What’s incredible is that I would run into people who were 80 years old, and they would say, ‘Oh, I’ve been listening to your show for 30 years.’ And people will say, ‘I’m 27 years old, and I’ve been listening since I was 7.’ And I think the little kids liked it because my brother laughed like an idiot, and he laughed at everything. And his laugh was contagious.
On his tips for moving through the world with friendly exuberance:
I just have always felt that my mission in life is to make other people happy. And you have a choice. You can make other people miserable, or you make other people happy. And if you have a chance to make other people happy, that’s a lot more fun. It really is. And if you can make other people’s lives a little better, why not give it a try?
I got a fortune cookie with a little aphorism, and it said, ‘Things work out best for those of us who make the best of the way things work out.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s profound!’ Because most people don’t think that way. Things go wrong all the time in life. And you’ve got to turn around and make the most of it. And you only got one shot at this, I think. I don’t know, but I think you got one shot at it. And there’s no sense in being unhappy and miserable if you don’t have to be. Put yourself in a situation where you can have fun and love the people that you’re with!
On his sage advice, now that the broadcast version of The Best Of Car Talk is riding off into the sunset:
Don’t take anything too seriously. Laugh when you can, have a good time and enjoy the people around you because you know, it’s a short trip. And here’s the message: thanks for listening!
You know, whoever thought that the show would have lasted as long as it did, with two buffoons making fun of one another, laughing at each other’s jokes, or worse, laughing at their own jokes! I mean, no one laughed at his own joke better than Tommy. He’d say something stupid and laugh like hell. So, again, I would have to say to people who listened, thanks! They made our job easy, and they made our job fun.