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Vrrroom With a View

NPR's ''Car Talk'' guys -- We chat with the Tappet Brothers about Donnas, mechanics, and Indy

Tom and Ray Magliozzi are not your average gearheads. For one thing, they both graduated from MIT. For another, they dispense mechanical wisdom to about a million listeners nationwide each week on their one-hour public radio call-in show, ''Car Talk,'' which recently spawned a book of the same name. Tom, 53, and Ray, 41, call themselves the Tappet Brothers, Click and Clack, after those funny sounds your car makes when something's wrong. In thick-as-chowder Boston accents, they joke, disagree, and contemplate the finer points of man and machine in the late 20th century.

Q: What does a person's car say about the driver?
Ray: A BMW driver is always taken as the example because it's such a beautiful stereotype. If it's a man, which it usually is, he's wearing suspenders and a bow tie, he works on Wall Street, and he drives on the sidewalk. Anything to get ahead.

Tom: Another powerful stereotype was noticed by my brilliant wife. It's the Donna syndrome. Anytime you see a Camaro or a Firebird, especially red, driven by a female, that female is nine times out of 10 named Donna.

R: Or should have been named Donna. It was a mix-up at birth in the hospital.

Q: Why do mechanics have such a bad reputation?
T: Are you trying to get us murdered? Wait a minute. We don't have to worry. This is going to be in print, right? Mechanics can't read. Again, we're dealing with stereotypes, but stereotypes don't fall from the sky. Mechanics are considered to be incompetent — which many of them are. And they're considered to be sleazeballs — which all of them are.

R: They're not all sleazeballs!

T: They're not?

R: They didn't start out that way.

T: Most mechanics are men and men are all wrapped up in this machismo. They can't admit they're wrong. Rather than admit they put the wrong part in, they try to cover by making up things. Just like when people call us and ask us questions that we don't know the answers to. If more women were fixing cars, there would be more honesty and probably more competence, because we know women are more intelligent...

R: More sensitivity, more understanding, and the bathrooms would be cleaner!

Q: What kind of advice would you give someone buying a car?
R: The mistake people make in buying a car...is buying one. Buying that car is like smoking your first cigarette.

T: I'm basically a believer in not spending a lot of money on a car and in making it last forever.

R: I get rid of my car every year. You should buy the cheapest car that you can tolerate and replace it as often as you can.

Q: The Indy 500 is coming up. Do you guys watch car racing?
T: No, I think car racing is real stupid.

R: I don't watch; I turn the picture off and listen to the sound.

T: What's interesting to me is those big-foot things.

Q: Monster trucks?
R: Now that's entertainment! That's as good as wrestling!

Originally posted May 24, 1991 Published in issue #67 May 24, 1991 Order article reprints
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