At first, I had the impulse to begin this story explaining why I enjoyed Car Talk as a kid even though I didn’t know anything about cars. But to even supply an explanation is to violate the spirit of what made the radio show special. As long as you found the task of identifying and solving problems inherently fulfilling, no matter the object or concept in question, then Car Talk was for you.
So for longtime listeners, it perhaps won’t come as a surprise that one of the show’s co-hosts didn’t actually like cars. In fact, he had a very conflicted relationship with them.
During an interview with the The War On Cars—a New York City-based podcast that mostly focuses on reducing car usage in urban areas—Car Talk co-host Ray Magliozzi had this to say about his brother and co-host Tom’s (who died in 2014) attitude towards cars:
It was kind of odd that we did the show together for so many years, but he hated the idea of cars consuming our lives, our money, clogging up the streets, polluting the air, all the things that you hate, too.
My brother hated cars. And yet he—for years and years, I tried to convince him that if he didn’t live in Cambridge and wasn’t able to get around with public transportation or by walking, he’d have to have a car that was reliable.
After explaining Tom had a beater to drive short distances that “wouldn’t have even made it to the state line” and that Tom didn’t understand why anyone would need anything better, Ray added:
But he was against cars because of all the things they do to our lives and to our world. And I agree on all of those points.
In The War On Cars interview, Ray goes on to talk about his distaste for gas-guzzling SUVs—which will definitely not be news to Car Talk listeners—and why he thinks gas prices should be steadily raised to $7 a gallon like in Europe, both inherently reasonable policy positions for someone to have, even someone who enjoys driving.
Road & Track’s Bob Sorokanich pointed out that these opinions are deeply consistent with their on-air personas:
Sorokanich’s entire thread is worth reading because it highlights how one can be a car enthusiast without being a zealot, a key distinction that’s getting lost in much of American discourse. These radio hosts acknowledged that cars had become a fundamental means of transportation in our society, for better and worse. And while enthusiast culture is something so many people rally around, it becomes necessary to also recognize—and work to fix—the problems cars have created as well.
Here’s how Sorokanich ended his thread, which I’m still thinking about a day later:
I miss it, too.