By on November 4, 2014

radio mic. Shutterstock user radioshoot

Sajeev writes:

I don’t know what Tom Magliozzi thought of our little Piston Slap creation, sadly we never met.  So I write to remember an inspirational person who did great things: Mr. Magliozzi made the undesirable job of fixing a car into an info-tainment legacy.

NPR wrote a wonderful article, and one point about this MIT graduate really hit home…

He was on his way to work when he had a near-fatal accident with a tractor-trailer. He pulled off the road and decided to do something different with his life.

“I quit my job,” he said. “I became a bum. I spent two years sitting in Harvard Square drinking coffee. I invented the concept of the do-it-yourself auto repair shop, and I met my lovely wife.”

His epiphany eventually turned into Car Talk, the show we know and love.  And his situation was mine, I came up with the Autoblogosphere’s Automotive Self Help concept as an unemployed MBA (by choice, I dislike panic attacks) desperately seeking a new mission.  My only income was as a high school drum instructor, laughable since it covered the gas bill on the only functioning vehicle I had. (That’s it.) Good times they were not, but seeds were planted…and damn, I miss that 5.0 Explorer.

Here’s a complete fictionalization of how Piston Slap was created with the help of TTAC’s founder, Robert Farago:

SM: Hey Robert!  ZOMG SON I HAZ an idea to harness the extreme power of automotive message forums, the all knowing presence of Google Search, leverage the knowledge of our Best and Brightest and create something like Car Talk but with TTAC’s signature spizzarkle.  What do you think?

RF: (stops cleaning gun) Sound great dude, but you need to give it a name before we run with it.

SM:  Well it has to be funny, yet crude.  And the more you see it, the less funny and more visceral it gets. (Listing names)…and how about Piston Slap?

RF: Sure, if it works for you. I like it. Okay, write it up and let’s see what happens.

I never considered getting paid for Piston Slap, much less making it the biggest part of my autojourno career.  And yes, the Slap Happy bits that drive you nuts (Panther Love, LS-swap everything, Sanjeev the Jerk) came elsewhere in this series’ five year tenure. So what have I (we?) learned from Mr. Tom Magliozzi?

You will accomplish amazing things with the right people around and no unnecessary boundaries…and hopefully it’ll make you laugh. A LOT.

While Car Talk had no direct influence on me and Piston Slap, the similarities are clear. Most importantly, he had family/friends/customers/fans that supported his epiphany and let it blossom. He had a great brother who supported his love of cars, and I too know that feeling. So enough about why Mr. Magliozzi is important to me, it’s off to you…Best and Brightest.

[Image: Shutterstock user radioshoot]

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58 Comments on “Super Piston Slap: RIP Tom Magliozzi...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    He will truly be missed, everyone enjoyed his witty informative writing about everything cars. RIP

  • avatar
    VoGo

    Nice tribute, Sajeev,
    I don’t know how many perfectly good hours I wasted listening to Click and Clack, but it wasn’t nearly enough. The Magliozzis had a special ability to teach you something without you even realizing it, without the whiff of condescension.

    We could all learn a lot from them, and not just about cars.

    • 0 avatar

      I live in Our Fair City, and hang out at coffee houses, so it was inevitable I would run into the Magliozzi brothers (and their sister). The first time I encountered Taughm (his preferred spelling) I had no idea who it was. He and his friend, Peter, were hanging out outside the Café Paradiso in Harvard Sq., smoking their beloved cigars. I photograph smokers, so I asked them if I could photograph them. They said, Sure! (Smoking to them was part of “Italian Yoga”).

      Two months later, I met Taughm and Ray at the New England Motor Press xmas party. Didn’t connect Taughm with the smoker outside the Paradiso. But 3 weeks later, I was sitting in the Paradiso when Taughm came in, and I realized at once that this was one of the Magliozzi Bros, and the smoker I’d photographed. We became friends.

      One time I was walking down Mt. Auburn St., and I spotted Taughm’s late ‘70s Fiat Spider, parked. I looked inside, and there was Taughm’s cigar on the console. Taughm loved the photo I took of it.

      The Magliozzis were the same in real life as on the show. Taughm told the story of how he came home from a trip, and Ray picked him up at the airport. When they got to the car, Ray told him to put his bags in the back seat. He opened the door, and Monique, Ray’s wife, who had been lying down on the back seat, pied him.

      Taughm loved to sit outside at cafes with his friends. It’s amazing how many people he encountered outside in Harvard Sq and the North End, who didn’t have any idea who he was and never learned.

    • 0 avatar
      ect

      I agree wholeheartedly.

      Even my wife, who is generally as disinterested in cars as one can be, loved Car Talk.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Love you bro. Keep up the great work. Also, why does my C5 make this whooshing noise every time I let off the throttle?

  • avatar

    It was the only thing I listened to on NPR. It got tougher towards the end, but back in the 90s/early 2000s you would get some great old heaps with issues that they made an enjoyable diagnosis out of. Indeed, rest in peace.

  • avatar
    Dr.Nick

    I know I’m a bad person, but the amount of jocular, supposedly amusing hot air you had to wait through before you heard anything about cars on Car Talk made it a tough listen for me.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Car Talk: Radio :: Top Gear: Television

      Yeah, both are “about cars” but they are really entertainment shows with a little bit of car knowledge dropped in. That’s a feature not a flaw.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Yes, after the first couple of years the point of the show was more entertainment than education, with all things automotive as a very loose organizing principle. But that never diminished its value for me.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I guess up here in Canada we never got the broadcast. Though I have heard of the guy. I understand, he passed away from complications of A.D.. When was the last time he did the show?

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      2012. It’s also been available as a podcast for years (and still is).

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      2012. I think it was either October or November.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Many (most? all?) NPR stations re-run Car Talk broadcasts in their original time slot. The NPR station on Sirus radio also carries the re-runs.

      It is a pity that NPR could not/would not find new hosts to carry on the show instead of repeating old episodes. NPR’s on air talent is becoming almost geriatric; Diane Rheme still hosts an NPR syndicated show and she can barely speak anymore.

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        Diane Rehm is no spring chicken, and I see your point, but her vocal issues are due to a medical condition she developed many years ago.

        I’m not sure anyone could really duplicate what Tom and Ray do — their show was 90% personality and about 10% cars.

        NPR has a lot of younger talent waiting in the wings, but they’re not as prominent — in part because I think they’re moving away from “named” shows. E.g., “Here and Now,” which went from a local, one-hour show to a national, two-hour program, added a younger co-host when it made the transition.

  • avatar
    sproc

    Love these guys! Their show was one of a kind, and Tom will be missed.

    I always particularly enjoyed and learned from “Stump the Chumps.” A diagnosis is so much better with feedback. I think a fitting tribute would be to do more revisits of previous Piston Slap letters.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    Adam Corolla is another national broadcast commentator, but I can’t compare him and his crew to Car Talk because I haven’t listened nearly enough to him to be fair to him.

    But, comparing local(New England) radio hosts who do programs about cars, Junior Damato and the AAA columnist Mr. Paul, they’ve been left in the dust, and perhaps spun backwards by the the Magliozzi brothers Ray and the now late Tom since day one.

    What separated Car Talk from the other guys locally is that Car Talk was funny, never put you to sleep listening, and when they gave advice or tried to diagnose a problem with a callers car (“Kathy with a K, could you drive your car a little closer to the radio- we want to look at something”), when they were serious, the advice or diagnosis was usually what a technician actually working on the car would suspect themselves.

    Since I live near Car Talk Plaza/ the offices of Dewey, Cheatum, and Howe in Cambridge, I had seen them in public several times: Once with a press car from Honda, and another when Tommy was riding on the subway away from their offices.

    In Boston, they’ve been rebroadcasting old shows of their’s since the last live show nearly two years ago. Aside from making the topic of cars more interesting to the public, they were credited with converting their listeners who tuned in to listeners to other shows on NPR. For those outside the area who don’t know of Car Talk, there may be an interview on the news show 60 Minutes with Steve Kroft and the brothers on YouTube.

    • 0 avatar
      snakebit

      I just learned that the NPR show Fresh Air devoted their whole hour to a tribute today to Tom Magliozzi.

      Ronnie, I don’t know what to advise you about your aversion to Car Talk. I liked their show, but can’t stomach Jeremy Clarkson. Like a few streets, I guess I’m One Way.

  • avatar
    bball40dtw

    My father talked to them about my Audi 5000 in the late 90s/early 00s. They had some pointers, but were even more concerned with why someone would purchase a 14 year old Audi 5000. It was good advice.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      (scratches head)… Why would someone buy a 14 year old Audi 5000?

      • 0 avatar
        bball40dtw

        Because turbo five cylinder engine with quattro and a 5-speed.

        • 0 avatar
          raresleeper

          @bball: Hell’s yes. Spot on.

          (If so equipped!)

          • 0 avatar

            I live in Our Fair City, and hang out at coffee houses, so it was inevitable I would run into the Magliozzi brothers (and their sister). The first time I encountered Taughm (his preferred spelling) I had no idea who it was. He and his friend, Peter, were hanging out outside the Café Paradiso in Harvard Sq., smoking their beloved cigars. I photograph smokers, so I asked them if I could photograph them. They said, Sure! (Smoking to them was part of “Italian Yoga”).

            Two months later, I met Taughm and Ray at the New England Motor Press xmas party. Didn’t connect Taughm with the smoker outside the Paradiso. But 3 weeks later, I was sitting in the Paradiso when Taughm came in, and I realized at once that this was one of the Magliozzi Bros, and the smoker I’d photographed. We became friends.

            One time I was walking down Mt. Auburn St., and I spotted Taughm’s late ‘70s Fiat Spider, parked. I looked inside, and there was Taughm’s cigar on the console. Taughm loved the photo I took of it.

            The Magliozzis were the same in real life as on the show. Taughm told the story of how he came home from a trip, and Ray picked him up at the airport. When they got to the car, Ray told him to put his bags in the back seat. He opened the door, and Monique, Ray’s wife, who had been lying down on the back seat, pied him.

            Taughm loved to sit outside at cafes with his friends. It’s amazing how many people he encountered outside in Harvard Sq and the North End, who didn’t have any idea who he was and never learned.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Pfft regular five cylinder with FWD and auto, FTW!

          • 0 avatar
            raresleeper

            Wha…..?

            No, no.

            And no. Lol

            You have approximately ten minutes to explain the atrocities you’ve brought forth.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            The atrocity was that I chose a 5000S at the age of 16 as my first car!

          • 0 avatar
            raresleeper

            My atrocities were far worse, Sir

            For my first set of wheels, I succumbed to the usage of a J-Body (86 Sunbird GT hatchback, NON-TURBO).

            A turd it was. But for $300- meh, I could’ve done worse, I suppose.

            Then again, probably not.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Let’s see mine was an 87, purchased in 01, 122K miles, and I think I paid $1900. Light blue on navy velour, original owner. Excellent condition save for a cracked headlamp lense which had been siliconed (no leaks) and needing a new water pump immediately (which the owner lied about).

            Had the original order sheet as well, $23,000 in 1986.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            Automotive atrocities of my youth? Only one, my third car I was 19, a 1971 Corvette LS5 454 365 hp I paid $5000 for it, cost me double by the time I was through with it, not to mention a year of college paying for what I had brought forth

  • avatar
    zamoti

    I have many happy memories of lazy Saturday mornings (pre-children) sitting around swilling coffee and cackling along with their crappy jokes as my wife sat in dismay.
    Though it probably wasn’t the reason I decided to tear the head off of a Mazda 2.0 and *attempt* to fix it on my own I do believe it gave me the requred false bravado one needed to attempt such a job with nothing more than a 101 piece Craftsman socket set and a crappy Chilton’s guide in the pre-web forum days. I only had to do the job two or three times before I ended up taking it to a real shop to have them put the camshaft in the correct way.
    Ahh good times, Car Talk, ample free time, copius amounts of coffee and swearing at a Ford Probe in the warm California sun.

    RIP Tommy thanks for all the fun, and I shall indeed not drive like my brother.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    If you have a few minutes to kill, it’s worth reading the commencement speech that Tom and Ray gave at MIT in 1999:

    http://newsoffice.mit.edu/1999/clickclackspeech

    RIP, Tom. And I promise I won’t drive like your brother.

  • avatar
    LeeK

    What was wonderful about Car Talk, a show I religiously listened to each week (and now through podcasts) for twenty five years, is that it morphed into an entertainment show about cars and life in general rather than focusing on the hard technical issues that they originally focused on. My non-automotively-inclined wife could listen to it with me and laugh along as they dispensed marital advice, observations on neanderthal mechanic behavior, and commiserated with callers who tried to repair cars (for as little money as possible) that really should have been junked instead. Tom’s infectious laugh made it all the more enjoyable (“Cream Rinse?!”, “Melissa Peterson you little twirp!”) and his contributions to NPR and what is often a very cynical world of automotive discussion will be sorely missed.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    One of my favorite running gags was about how the only time sitting in traffic didn’t suck was if you were behind the wheel of a Jaguar XJS V12 convertible, because no where you were going was as nice as the inside of a Jaguar XJS V12 convertible, so you didn’t mind not getting there.

    Listened to this show sharing laughs with my dad 1000 times, and he isn’t really a car guy, but the show was enjoyable for everyone.

  • avatar

    I live in Our Fair City, and hang out in coffee houses, so it was inevitable I would run into the Magliozzi bros. The first time I ran into one of them, I didn’t’ have any idea who it was. I have a bad habit of photographing smokers, and Taughm (his preferred spelling) and his friend Peter were sitting outside the Cafe Paradiso on a chilly autumn day, smoking their beloved cigars. I asked them if I could photograph them, and they said, Sure!

  • avatar
    Roader

    Always factor in the timing and size of your mechanic’s boat payment when estimating cost of repair.

    RIP, Tom.

  • avatar

    I live in Our Fair City, and hang out at coffee houses, so it was inevitable I would run into the Magliozzi brothers (and their sister). The first time I encountered Taughm (his preferred spelling) I had no idea who it was. He and his friend, Peter, were hanging out outside the Café Paradiso in Harvard Sq., smoking their beloved cigars. I photograph smokers, so I asked them if I could photograph them. They said, Sure! (Smoking to them was part of “Italian Yoga”).

    Two months later, I met Taughm and Ray at the New England Motor Press xmas party. Didn’t connect Taughm with the smoker outside the Paradiso. But 3 weeks later, I was sitting in the Paradiso when Taughm came in, and I realized at once that this was one of the Magliozzi Bros, and the smoker I’d photographed. We became friends.

    One time I was walking down Mt. Auburn St., and I spotted Taughm’s late ‘70s Fiat Spider, parked. I looked inside, and there was Taughm’s cigar on the console. Taughm loved the photo I took of it.

    The Magliozzis were the same in real life as on the show. Taughm told the story of how he came home from a trip, and Ray picked him up at the airport. When they got to the car, Ray told him to put his bags in the back seat. He opened the door, and Monique, Ray’s wife, who had been lying down on the back seat, pied him.

    Taughm loved to sit outside at cafes with his friends. It’s amazing how many people he encountered outside in Harvard Sq and the North End, who didn’t have any idea who he was and never learned.

  • avatar

    Though I respect the brothers’ ability to market themselves, I could never listen to them for more than a few minutes. Their shtick got tiresome quickly. From the perspective of a car enthusiast, a look at the comments to that NPR post shows that the Magliozzis’ primary success was figuring out how to sell a radio show about cars to an audience that doesn’t like cars. Car Talk was a car show primarily for people who don’t like cars.

    You think the brothers would have ever invited Baruth on their show? Would they have gone on Matt Farah’s podcast without fearing the wrath of their audience?

    • 0 avatar
      friedclams

      Correct, it was not a show for enthusiasts (although they did diagnose cars in great detail, at times). I think it was popular because the guys seemed to be having fun, and because Tom in particular was a rare free spirit who didn’t let anything bother him.

      “Car Talk was a car show primarily for people who don’t like cars.” You say that dismissively as if that were no small achievement, Ronnie!

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel Latini

      They succeeded in creating an environment where people could ask questions without fear of ridicule. Even when the gimmicks were too heavy, they always at least offered basic, sound advice to people who needed help. I’d say that’s pretty impressive.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Having listened to Car Talk for years, I suspect Tom Magliozzi would have suggested taking yourself less seriously.

      A quote of his on the Cartalk website seems appropriate here:

      “Some guy I met said it’s amazing how we use cars on our show as an excuse to discuss everything in the world—energy, psychology, behavior, love, money, economics and finance. The cars themselves are boring as hell.”

      Had you listened to them for more than a few minutes, you might have discovered there was more to the show than “shtick”.

      RIP Tom Magliozzi, the world could use more of your unbridled humor.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      Not a fan either but I liked that it existed. Not like the excerable John Davis and MotorWeek. If that show is funded by taxpayers and donations, why are their reviews universally glowing?

    • 0 avatar
      3Deuce27

      Reg; “would have ever invited Baruth” And why would they have invited Jack?

      And Farah and Brothers would have been a good mix.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I agree with Ronnie, as far as the advice was usually so general that it was almost useless for the advisee (?). But, their perpetual optimism and low brow humor had many non-gearheads listening and, hopefully, also paying attention to their maintenance schedule. The biggest contribution was allowing me to hear something tangentially interesting when on Saturday morning cruises with the wife in search of the perfect cup and the elusive antique. I expect since NPR has become a money generating monolith, low repeat costs will have my grandchildren still hearing it at my age. I honestly cannot decide if this is a curse or a benefit. All will have to admit that were they to hear that laughter on tape they could immediately identify the person. It is definite that he has left many with good memories of his personality. I should be so lucky.

  • avatar
    doublechili

    The guest list at my hypothetical “if you could have dinner with anyone from history” has always included Click and Clack. Just because I would want to have fun.

  • avatar
    70Cougar

    Loved that show. Tom will be missed.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I guess it was close to three decades I had them playing on the radio as I worked on old cars, Motos and trucks in my back yard , always humorous if not always spot on with the advice , I enjoyed them as did my Son ~

    Having the right attitude when doing Automotive repair makes the world of difference and is prolly why after 50 years , I still look forward to picking up my tools every day .

    R.I.P. and THANK YOU Tom .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Driver7

    The great Steve Lang endorsed the Magliozzi brothers’ book “Car Talk” – http://www.amazon.com/Car-Talk-Tom-Magliozzi/dp/0440503647/ – here: https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2007/11/depreciation-kills/
    R.I.P., Tom.

  • avatar
    Dave W

    No Tom sighting, but while driving around Cambridge once my wife and I saw a Colt Vista with a “Save the Skeets” bumper sticker. As it turned in front of us we saw it was Ray driving.

  • avatar
    is_lander

    My fondest memory of Tom, his brother and Car Talk is shared with my eldest son. He was around age 5 at the time. We were driving on the New Jersey Turnpike on a long trip. I happen to find a rerun of Car Talk on the radio which my son had never heard before. Suddenly he blurts out, “Daddy! The Rusteeze guys are on the Radio!” That is how recognizable their voices were. My son picked up on their humor and infectious laughter on Car Talk, and in Disney’s Cars as Lightning McQueen’s rusty sponsors. In both cases, the common link was their tag line, “Don’t drive like my brother!”

  • avatar
    Kevin

    I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder at a podcast or radio program than when I heard Tom say “Kids; get away from cell phones, get away from your computers, and mail someone a fish before it’s too late.”

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