Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers of National Public Radio's Car Talk, otherwise known as Tom and Ray Magliozzi, are both MIT graduates -- Tom (SB 1958) in economics and Ray (SB 1972) in the humanities.
So who is Click and who is Clack? Says Thomas L. (for Louis, his father's name) Magliozzi: "That's a state secret. Even our mother isn't sure." State secret or not, the Magliozzi brothers have carved an extraordinary niche for themselves with their call-in show, a blend of serious, knowledgeable advice and antic humor, spiked with frequent plugs for Cambridge -- "our fair city" -- and the Boston area, where both continue to live.
They grew up in Cambridge in "the greatest neighborhood on the planet," Tom said. "Kids everywhere. Just hangin' out." As Ray recalled, "My childhood consisted of standing around and watching Tom take his car apart... Tom was 12 years older than me. In fact, he still is..."
After graduation from MIT, Tom spent six months in the Army, much of it on KP duty at Fort Dix, NJ. "One night, from midnight to 6am," he claimed, "I peeled 6,000 pounds of potatoes." Once out of the service, he began piling up credentials, including a master's in engineering management from Northeastern University and a PhD from Boston University; jobs here and abroad in teaching and consulting; and, according to brother Ray, a wealth of experience "hanging out in Harvard Square drinking coffee." Soon he would add "garage mechanic" to his rï¿½sumï¿½.
Ray tells his version of how it happened: "Tom was self-unemployed. He was a bum. I knew the best way to keep him out of trouble was to get him working." By then, Ray was also "self-unemployed."
While at MIT, Ray had taken a year off to work for VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). He met his wife during a training program while, he claimed, "rappelling off of a cliff." After MIT, he became a science teacher in Bennington, VT, which wasn't a good fit. He returned to Boston to "save Thomas from a life of indolence and vagrancy."
Their first venture was Hacker's Heaven, where clients were supposed to work on their own cars with tools and space rented from the Magliozzis. "We thought our idea was brilliant and we'd have wheelbarrows full of money in a couple of weeks," Ray says. But the clients turned out to be klutzes and the Magliozzis ended up doing the work. Thus was born the Good News Garage near the MIT campus, which Ray continues to operate.
These endeavors led to Tom's guest appearance as an auto expert on Boston's NPR station, WBUR. Ray joined him for the next guest appearance. The rest is broadcast history. Car Talk, which won the 1992 Peabody Award for excellence, is now carried on more than 370 stations from Guam to Tuscaloosa, with an estimated audience of more than 2 million. Their biweekly "Click and Clack Talk Cars" column appears in 200 papers across the nation.
The brothers practice what they preach, automotively.
Until its recent demise, Tom drove a 1963 Dodge Dart convertible -- "sleek, black and beautiful." He now has a 1952 MG TD, which the brothers plan to drive to Commencement. Said Ray: "I, on the other hand, drive a thoroughly modern, fuel-efficient 1987 Dodge Colt Vista... a marvel of engineering." Setting up Tom for the last word(s): "not to mention a study in ugliness."
A version of this article appeared in the June 2, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 32).