EVERY SATURDAY MORNING, two thick Boston accents stream over 500 radio stations in the United States and countless webcasts worldwide. Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, have won throngs of faithful listeners over the years with their program “Car Talk,” an hour-long laugh-fest centered around car maintenance and two endearing personalities. Just in time for the Daffy Car Parade, Ray Magliozzi, one half of this motor mouth duo, met up with N Magazine outside his studios in Harvard Square — the legendary law offices of Dewey, Cheatem, & Howe — to discuss the obsession surrounding old classics and to warn us once again, “Don’t drive like my brotha!”
N: How do you think classic cars are fitting for Nantucketers?
Ray: Well I’d have to guess that people who live on an island kind of like to be a little disconnected and so reconnecting with the distant past is like disconnecting from modern society. Living on an island is a form of escapism and so is gravitating towards old cars. They bring you back to a time in your life when things were simpler and maybe carefree. And if that’s what you guys want to do, go for it! [Laughing] While the rest of us are fighting the hard battle and facing reality on the mainland, you guys are sitting out on Nantucket enjoying. But don’t worry about us mainlanders. That’s alright…we’ll carry the load! [Laughing]
N: Do folks ever call the show with car restoration horror stories?
Ray: Only from the wives! [Laughing] I think cars are part of the male ego and it’s mostly guys who restore cars you’d imagine. It’s often their wives who are at their wits’ end because this project that was promised to take six months has been dragged out for six years and has taken over not only his side of the garage but also her side and now threatens to take over the yard! [Laughing] And none of the guys that are engaged in this will ever admit that these projects have gotten out of hand, because I think that’s the part of it that they like. I can’t speak for women, but guys need hobbies. Guys need stuff to do. Otherwise they’re going to get themselves into trouble! We always say to women callers who complain about their husbands getting in over their heads, “They could be doing a lot worse stuff than this!” They could be out carousing with the boys getting drunk or going to the racetrack or many other things that we won’t mention on a family show! [Laughing]
N: So what drives these guys into the drudgery of restoring an old classic?
Ray: They miss the drudgery of work! [Laughing] Who knows what walks of life these people come from but I suspect from everywhere: retired firemen, retired stock- brokers. If you were accustomed to a routine and all of a sudden you get to the point in life that you have to retire, then you wake up that first morning and ask, “Well what do I do now?” I mean how many times can you really watch the Ellen DeGeneres Show? [Laughing]
N: Does it take a different breed of mechanic to restore an old classic?
Ray: Oh, I think so. A bunch of years ago my brother and I were invited to visit this shop up in the North Shore called Gullwing and they did Mercedes Gullwing restorations. That was their specialty. They did what’s called frame-up restorations. They take the car completely apart—every last nut and bolt—and then reassemble it and wherever possible, improve upon it. They were like a bunch of Swiss watchmakers. The place was quiet. In our garage, guys are throwing tools around, they’re yelling at each other, and the parts aren’t right. These guys were cool, calm, collected. I was watching a fellow put together a transmission. He slid one gear onto the layshaft and didn’t like the way it fit so he took it off and touched up that shaft and put it on again. Now, he didn’t like the way that fit. He spent a half hour fooling around with that shaft. At our shop we’d be like, “Would you put that thing on already?!” [Laughing]
N: If you were judging this Daffodil Festival’s Classic Car Competition, what would you be looking for in a winner?
Ray: Well, the classic thing to look for is attention to detail. I have a friend who is an industrial designer and he told me one day, “The parts you design that you can’t see are just as important as the parts that you can see.” So I guess if I was judging restored cars, I would be looking for things that are more than superficial. I’d be looking for parts that you can’t see from the curbside.
N: What cars from the past do you think should stay in retirement and not be restored?
Ray: Anything that’s been made in the last thirty years! [Laughing] I just don’t see any of the cars that I’ve worked on in my lifetime, except some of the T-Birds and Corvettes, becoming classics. I can’t see anyone lusting after a 1987 Hyundai XL or a Camry or Corolla or any kind of Ford. [Laughing] Maybe some of the newest Mustangs will become classics in thirty years, but I just don’t see someone saying, “Oh, I am going to get one of those and put it in moth balls because in thirty years it’s going to worth a ton of money.” But I’m sure someone will. I mean tomorrow’s classics are being born today and it’s just a matter of having the eye for it, knowing that that car is going to be something in 30 years. Then you just have to live long enough to cash in on it! [Laughing]
N: Is there a particular classic car that you would want?
Ray: I like funky cars. If someone were to offer me a Jaguar XJS V12 or something like that, I wouldn’t be interested. I’d be more inclined to want something like a Volkswagen Thing because it’s fun. I guess I am the kind of person that wouldn’t want to have to worry about someone
touching my car or scratching it.
N: So you think people can go a little overboard with these classic cars?
Ray: I’ll tell you a funny story. My brother and I were at the Detroit Auto Show a couple of years ago and we were doing a special for Nova about cars of the future. While we were there they wanted to take photos of us in front of various displays. One of the cars we wandered over to was the Rolls Royce Silver Cloud. They wanted us to pose in front of it and Tom put his hand on the car. Two guys came running over like we had stolen the Crown Jewels screaming at us, “You can’t touch the car!” I said, “Then how do you get in it?!” [Laughing] So it occurred to me right then that I would never want to own a car or work on a car where you would have to be so worried about it that you couldn’t touch it. After all, it’s just a car!