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It's been a bad 2014 for automobile icons 2014.11.26

By RICH FOLEY

This hasn’t been a good year for some of the quirky personalities in the automobile world. I wrote earlier this year about Andy Granatelli, longtime head of STP Corporation and auto racing sponsor and team owner. Always wanting to be number one, Andy started a sad year early by passing away on Dec. 29, 2013, at the age of 90.

Most recently, on Nov. 3, Tom Magliozzi, Click (or maybe he was Clack, it was never made clear) of the Tappet Brothers from NPR’s “Car Talk” radio program, died at age 77.

Magliozzi earned a degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in economics, politics, and engineering in 1958.  At first, Tom held a traditional job as an engineer until having what he called his “defining moment.”

Driving a tiny MG, Tom was nearly hit by a semi-truck on his way to work. He said later it would have been “pathetic” if he had died spending his life as an engineer. He continued on to work, went to see his boss, and quit on the spot. After telling this story on their radio show, brother Ray said, “Most people would have bought a bigger car.”

The two brothers then went into the car repair business, later adding a program on a local public radio station, talking about car repair (and practically everything else). Eventually, their radio gig became part of “Weekend Edition Sunday” on NPR. 

Not long after, the brothers had to ask NPR to stop mentioning the name of their garage as they couldn’t keep up with the boom in business. Nine months after joining NPR, the brothers had their own show. Even though they stopped taping new shows in 2012, reruns still draw an audience of 3.2 million.

Sometimes they gave good advice, other times they just had a good time. Saying “Car Talk” was about cars was sort of like saying “Moby Dick” was about fishing. Often the brothers talked about Ray’s ancient Dodge Dart, or there might be an out-of-this-world phone call, like the time astronaut John Grunsfeld, aboard the Russian space station Mir, called in for advice.

Ray Lambrecht also died this year, passing away at age 96 on Sept. 22. Don’t worry if you don’t recognize the name, I’d never heard of him myself until last year. Lambrecht ran a very small Chevrolet dealership in the small northeast Nebraska town of Pierce from 1946 to 1996. His business practices made him one-of-a-kind.

Lambrecht sold new Chevrolets only, feeling that new cars were safer than used. Because of that belief, he refused to resell trade-ins. He owned a farm outside of Pierce where he parked them. The total eventually came to over 500 vehicles.

Over time, trees and brush hid most of the cars from view. “If you flew over in a helicopter, you might be able to see some of them around the edges,” Pierce County Sheriff Rick Eberhardt told the New York Times.

In July, 2013, the trees were cleared to free the cars for an auction which was held later last year. Many cars had been vandalized, most of those stripped of chrome and radiators. Many more were victims of the elements or animals looking for a new home.

Lambrecht also held onto a few dozen cars that he personally liked and decided to keep, or just couldn’t find a buyer for before the new models came out. Those were kept indoors in somewhat better condition.

Also kept indoors was the dealership adding machine. Lambrecht had to buy a computer in the 1980s in order to communicate with General Motors, but Mrs. Lambrecht kept using an adding machine to keep handwritten business ledgers. The cash register the Lambrechts bought in 1946 was still in use in 1996 when they closed the doors and went home. In 2013, the auctioneers found things exactly as they had been left—just with 17 years of accumulated dust.

During the auction (which was televised on the History Channel), a 1958 Chevrolet  pickup with just one mile, but a broken windshield and partially collapsed roof, sold for $147,000.  A 1972 Chevy pickup had only three miles, but was missing its radiator, chrome, glove box and door panels. It was rusted, all the way through in spots. There was a large dent in the bed and “mosslike” growths on the paint and glass. It went for $11,550. An absolutely filthy 1963 Corvair with 17 miles, but faded paint and rust in the engine compartment sold for $44,100.

I wonder what Mr. Lambrecht thought about those used car prices?