To be frank, I didn’t relish the thought of leaving the office a bit early last Thursday to put on a tux in 85-degree weather, and schlep to a downtown Detroit casino/hotel to attend the Automotive Hall of Fame 2018 Induction & Awards Gala Ceremony.
There would be no Formula 1 drivers, exotic car designers or genius engineers tonight, but instead Toyota Motor Company founder Kiichiro Toyoda, Multimatic and Magna International founder Frank Stronach, AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson, and “Car Talk” hosts Tom & Ray Magliozzi.
[The Hall of Fame’s 2018 Distinguished Service Citation went to General Motors executive Steve Kiefer, who established the Kiefer Foundation after his 18-year-old son, Mitchel, was killed in a crash caused by a texting driver.]
An august group of men, but not exactly an enthusiast’s dream. And it was hot. Anyway, Volkswagen of America invited a few other auto journalists and myself to their table at the ceremony, which as it turns out was next to Drew and Alex Magliozzis’. They accepted the honor for their fathers, Ray Magliozzi and the late Tom Magliozzi, respectively, riffing on their parents’ shtick in arguing over which was “Click” and which was “Clack.”
As one of the 4 million regular “Car Talk” listeners over the 25 years their show was on NPR, I admit I was looking forward most to this acceptance speech. After the ceremony, I told Alex and Drew how I spoke to their fathers on the phone some 30 years ago, freelancing a story on the then-newly national show for San Diego station KPBS’s On Air magazine.
“Car Talk” producer Doug Berman at first allowed me something like 15 minutes, on a weekday, to interview them by phone. Then he cut the time to 10 minutes, then eight minutes, and then only on a Saturday evening (Boston time) when they were in the WBUR studio to do the show.
Click & Clack just laughed for half of the eight minutes. The other four minutes, I tried to figure out whom to quote—was that Tom, or Ray, just now?
“Yes,” they’d answer in unison.
In a video produced for the ceremony, Ray Magliozzi said he thought the show’s contribution was to make people feel comfortable about going to the repair shop. But his nephew, Alex, took this thought much deeper.
“I think what made it special is it wasn’t a show about cars, it was a show about people and relationships, and they used cars to get people to talk about their innermost feelings. There’s a real intersection between cars and life in this country,” and Click and Clack brought that to radio.
Akio Toyoda also used video, making his grandfather’s induction as entertaining as the Magliozzis’. The grandson was born a few years after Kiichiro Toyoda died, but the short video brought the two together, with Akio playing both parts. Watch the video here.
“You may be surprised to know that Toyotas are made in America, now,” Akio tells his grandfather. It wouldn’t be the only remark tonight to address current politics.
Frank Stronach, the Austrian-born Canadian who founded Multimatic in 1957 and purchased Magna Electronics in 1969 to eventually form Magna International, addressed the growing gap between rich and poor in the U.S.
“I really admire, and I like the United States,” Stronach said. “Especially in the last 10 years, I spent a lot of time here. It’s a great, great country. It’s the last country, I think, where the free enterprise system, maybe, has a chance to survive. Maybe.
“Without free enterprise, we can’t have a free society,” he continued. “But it’s got a major problem. More and more capital is held by fewer and fewer people. That means we have less and less capitalists.”
“In essence I would like to see a law, which would be passed on a national level which will guarantee the workers a percentage of the profits. Because we have to make capitalists out of them. That’s the only way the free enterprise system will survive,” Stronach said.
Mike Jackson, who started his career working for Mercedes-Benz dealerships after he lusted after a 300 SL Gullwing, but had to settle for a used 190 SL, spoke of how he went to Vienna, Austria, to manage a dealership as a young man. His new boss saw Jackson as a green, inexperienced American who knew nothing of the world, so they went for a drive behind the Iron Curtain.
“We spend the next two weeks in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Russian occupation, Communists everywhere. And everything is gray. The people were gray, the sky is gray, the food is gray, the mood is gray,” Jackson said. Subtly referencing the president’s recent Helsinki meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, he continued, “It’s absolutely the most depressing thing I ever saw. Too bad Donald Trump couldn’t make this trip…
“That’s when I realized free enterprise can do the most good for the most people. … Because it can make us equally miserable. It took a German to introduce me and understand the greatness of America.”