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'Car Talk's' Tom: A Biography

Tom Magliozzi (Richard Howard)closemore
Tom Magliozzi (Richard Howard)

This biography of Tom Magliozzi, who died Monday at age 77, is courtesy of Car Talk.

Tom Magliozzi (Richard Howard)
Tom Magliozzi (Richard Howard)

Tom Magliozzi was a co-host of the Peabody Award-winning program Car Talk on National Public Radio. He and his brother Ray, better known as "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers," took their names from the clickety-clack sound made by aging autos. Car Talk is currently heard each week by over 3 million listeners on over 660 public radio stations.

Tom was born on June 28, 1937, in East Cambridge, Massachusetts. According to Tom, his childhood block was the best neighborhood on the planet. (His ex-wife insisted that if he had had a normal (i.e., abusive) childhood, he wouldn't have been plagued with his continual bouts of joy and raucous laughter.) He went to the Gannett School, the Wellington School and then Cambridge High and Latin. From there, Tom always claimed, it was a downhill slide once he entered MIT.

After graduating from MIT, he did six months of active duty to fulfill his Army Reserve requirement. Tom was stationed in Fort Dix, New Jersey, India Company, Fourth Training Regiment. He had "fond" memories of his good pals Sgt. McNeeley and Sgt. Torres. Pvt. Magliozzi was always in trouble because, well, he couldn't shut up. He had kitchen patrol once a week and claimed to have peeled 6,000 pounds of potatoes in one shift.

Tom then entered the corporate world, first working for Sylvania's semiconductor division and then for the Foxboro Company in Foxborough, Mass. He was the Far East administrator, visiting places such as Taiwan, Singapore and the Philippines. When he was promoted to be the company's long-range planner, Tom declared this the best job ever. "I spent my days with my feet on the desk, contemplating the future. I also discovered the secret of multiple offices. Whenever they couldn't find me, they'd say, 'Oh, he must be in his other office.'"

One day, while commuting to work in his little MGA, Tom nearly met his end under a tractor-trailer. He promptly drove to work, walked into his boss's office and quit. "If I had bought the farm out there on Route 128, wouldn't I be bent at all the LIFE that I had missed?" he said.

The next few years were spent hanging around Harvard Square sipping coffee. In 1972, Tom and his younger brother Ray had the brilliant idea to open up Hacker's Haven, a do-it-yourself garage in Cambridge, Mass., which rented space and tools to clients fixing their own cars. But as hippies turned into yuppies and car repair became more complicated, Hacker's Haven became the Good News Garage, a conventional car-repair service.

In 1977, Tom accepted an invitation to the studios of WBUR to discuss car repair with a panel of other mechanics. Turns out, Tom was the only mechanic dumb enough to show up. Tom gave out many wrong answers, and misled many callers — but did so with such finesse that he was invited back the following week. He brought Ray along and soon the brothers were given their own weekly program, Car Talk, which quickly attracted a large local following.

After several years of doing Car Talk pro bono, as they say, the brothers finally steeled up their nerves and asked WBUR for $25 a week. "To our shock and amazement, they agreed to it on the spot," said Tom. "At that moment, we realized that we had obviously asked for too little. We kicked ourselves all the way home. This did, however, mean that we could buy doughnuts and coffee each week."

Ten years later, in Oct. 31, 1987, Car Talk premiered on National Public Radio. The program was honored with a Peabody Award in 1992. A syndicated newspaper column, a popular website and many media appearances followed, including cameos in the Pixar film "Cars" (2006), where Tom appeared as a 1963 Dodge Dart convertible, a reference to one of his most beloved cars.

In addition to grease monkey and coffee aficionado, Tom's resume also included college professor and marketing consultant.

Tom was proud to say he spent his entire life in Cambridge, in his fair city.

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