MotorWeek creator John Davis remembers Pat Goss: Co-star, master technician, and friend

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Pat Goss, known by millions for doling out automotive wisdom during his weekly Goss’ Garage segment on the TV show MotorWeek, passed away unexpectedly on Saturday, March 19th, 2022 at his home in West River, Maryland. Goss had been a mainstay of the PBS series since its beginning in 1981, appearing in over 2,000 episodes over the course of 41 seasons.

“Pat was one of the last few remaining technicians that probably knew just about everything about what makes a car tick,” said MotorWeek creator, host, and managing director John Davis during an interview on Sunday. “Most technicians today, they specialize, just like lawyers and doctors … He wasn’t a specialist, but he specialized in everything.”

Davis explained that MotorWeek intends to broadcast the remaining segments featuring Pat Goss that were previously recorded, now with special introductions in his memory.

“He would not want the material he’s already done to not be out there, if it could help somebody.”

Pat Goss MotorWeek
MotorWeek

Davis also said the the crew at Maryland Public Television, where MotorWeek is produced, have already begun working on a special tribute to their colleague that will air on public TV stations starting Saturday, April 23. (Check your local listings for exact times.)

Pat Goss’ involvement with Maryland Public Television actually started several years before MotorWeek, on a 1970s program called Consumer Survival Kit. Here, he taught viewers how to avoid automotive scams and questionable business practices at repair shops. He didn’t make it into the unaired MotorWeek pilot that was produced in 1978, but shortly after, John Davis reached out to Pat Goss and got him onboard before the show’s official launch in 1981.

“I approached him very quickly, because we had to be on the air in a couple of months,” remembered Davis. “And it was only a few weeks later that we were at his Gulf station in Bladensburg, on the hottest day of the summer, taping the first series … And the rest as they say, is history.”

Goss started with the basics, saying, “The one single thing that is most important as far as the life expectancy of your automobile’s engine, is changing the oil.”

Originally credited as the show’s “Automotive Consultant” and later as “Master Technician,” to viewers he was simply known as “Goss.” Almost every episode of the iconic PBS series featured him in a two to five minute segment, teaching viewers about everything from anti-lock brakes to carburetors, paint protectors to alternators, trailer hitches to EV chargers, and anything else automotive. He often eschewed the title “mechanic” preferring instead to refer to people who worked on cars as “technicians.”

Over 41 years, the segment officially became known as Goss’ Garage, and the content evolved. Originally focusing on maintenance that owners could do at home, he covered both general tips and model-specific problems. (Including this alarming segment on 1980s Oldsmobile diesels.) As cars became increasingly complex, Goss shifted from “do it yourself” to what he called “know it yourself” advice, intended to help viewers understand how to identify problems, how to talk to mechanics, and how to avoid getting ripped off when going to a repair shop.

“We had to appeal to a broader audience,” said Davis. “We were on public television … we wanted to get as many people under the tent as possible. So we wanted to talk all facets of car ownership … And that’s where Pat’s segments came in … It wasn’t heavy duty repair all the time.”

Often, MotorWeek producers would shoot all of the segments for the season at once in “block production.” They’d pack a garage with lights, cameras, and cars, and turn Goss loose, shooting 20+ segments over the course of a couple weeks. One particularly memorable episode included setting a car on fire as part of a safety test. Although the subjects were planned in advance, Goss almost never used a script, preferring instead to improvise on the fly.

“The thing that I always was in awe of, was how he could talk so extemporaneously to a camera and do it without a script, without cue cards, and do it take after take,” said Davis. “That is a talent that I certainly don’t have, and I don’t think very many people have.”

Goss did far more than just play a mechanic on TV; off-camera he was something of an automotive prodigy. According to his official bio, Goss opened his first body shop while still in high school. Over the years, he owned and operated various service stations, car dealerships and repair shops. Most recently, he owned Goss’ Garage in Lanham, Maryland, which was in the process of relocating to Annapolis when he passed away.

“At one point,” remembered Davis, “[Goss] told me he subscribed to over 70 automotive journals, so that he could stay up on everything that was new … And he was always looking ahead, and he always kept up with the latest trends in service, technology, and equipment to service cars.”

While Goss enjoyed classic cars and owned plenty of them over the years, he wasn’t overly nostalgic. He had a particular distain for smog-era vehicles, and wasted no time proclaiming that the industry had made great strides in safety, quality, and efficiency during his lifetime. His shop even serviced EV and hybrid customers.

“I think he felt that cars had gotten incredibly complicated and hard to work on, but he really did think that the technology was making cars better,” said Davis.

Pat Goss MotorWeek
MotorWeek

Goss’ media experience wasn’t limited to MotorWeek, either, as he hosted multiple radio programs, authored regular columns for newspapers and car magazines, and even hosted his own web series where he could be a little more candid than he was on PBS. A man with no shortage of strong automotive opinions, he got his fair share of angry mail and YouTube comments, but his convictions never wavered.

I personally had the privilege to work with Pat during my time both as a MotorWeek intern and later, producer. There was always a special feeling to seeing him walk into the TV studio-turned-garage and fill the room with his booming voice as he admonished viewers to check their oil and read their owner’s manuals. On one frightening occasion, I found his voice directed at me, as I failed to properly latch the hood of a new Mustang and was about to force it shut. Goss warned me that the new aluminum hoods were easily bent, and he showed me the proper way to close it. According to a seasoned producer, I was far from the first intern he’d lectured, but my mistake was comparatively small to others he’d witnessed.

In between takes, Goss could be found joking with the crew and swapping stories. Always a quick wit, he loved tricking people with unexpected puns, clever wordplay, and sometimes very real-sounding fake car advice:

“He would spin this yarn,” chuckled Davis, “and at the end of three minutes you’d be looking at him, wide-eyed of course, because he’s just dashed something you’ve believed you entire life.  And he’d look at you and say …’Gotcha!’ And I fell for it. Every. Single. Time. He was so good at convincing; such a good teacher, that he could spin a yarn better than almost anyone else I ever knew, with a straight face. And then he’d break into a big grin and laugh about it.”

Pat Goss MotorWeek
MotorWeek

Despite my embarrassment from the hood faux-pas, I couldn’t help striking up conversations with Goss, asking about his years of experience with thousands of vehicles.

His tastes seemed impossible to nail down, as I saw him pull up to the TV station in a Camry, Camaro, F-150, Lexus, and even several Mercedes products that he was quite fond of. He had seemingly owned at least one of everything at some point in his life, and he had story to go with all of them.

“It was always a deal,” recalled Davis. “He had a lot of friends in the car business, both new and used, and they would often call him, and it would usually be something that was a little unusual … For a while, it seemed like every six months he was driving something different … I lost track a long time ago.”

Surprisingly, Goss told me that one of the cars that left a stronger impression on him was a 1980s Lincoln Continental Mark VII. He said it was one of his favorites at the time, and it even showed up in a few MotorWeek segments.

Goss also had a soft spot for the Maxton Rollerskate kit car that he assembled for a series of segments in 1991. Powered by a rotary engine out of a Mazda RX-7, the tiny fiberglass-bodied car would “go like stink,” he said. MotorWeek gave the car away as a prize after it was finished, and thirty years later Goss had a surprise reunion with it.

Based on sheer volume, Goss’ favorite car had to be the Chevy Corvette. Over the years he’d owned about fifty of them and claimed his favorite was a 1967 Corvette coupe in black, with factory side pipes, factory knockoff wheels, black leather interior, and a 427 V-8.

During my time at MotorWeek, Goss was generous enough to do an interview for my documentary film about the AMC Pacer. We chatted about automotive history, his aforementioned distaste of crude emission control systems, and the handful of American Motors products he’d owned. As we were wrapping up, he recalled a funny story from his time as a car dealer, when he picked up a brown Pacer for $300 at an auto auction. The car was in decent condition, but he could not convince a single customer to even test drive it. The poor car sat on the lot for nearly three years before he finally got sick of looking at it. So he sent it back to the auction where it sold for $138, making it one of the few vehicles he actually took a loss on.

During my conversation with John Davis, he expressed that Pat Goss was truly “irreplaceable,” and after the remaining Goss’ Garage segments are broadcast, the weekly feature that’s been a mainstay of the show since 1981 will be put to rest. No further plans have been announced, but for millions of viewers, it will be hard to imagine a MotorWeek without its master technician. Reflecting on Goss’ impact, Davis said,

“I think he’s left behind a legacy that you don’t need to be afraid of your car. That no matter what goes wrong with it, it’s a machine, and it can be repaired by somebody that knows what they’re doing.”

When asked what he’d learned after 41 years of working together, Davis paused before replying,

“I think he taught me that I didn’t know as much about cars as I thought I did.” Pausing for a laugh, he continued, “He taught me how to be humble about giving information; I’ll tell you that.”

Indeed. And I’ll never close a hood the same way again.

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