In ’59 Dauphine, trip may lit­er­ally be Alaska or bust

Me­chanic got widely de­rided car for $200

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Pa­trick Beach

The Re­nault Dauphine wasn’t a car. It was a punch line.

Take it away, Time mag­a­zine, which named the thing one of the 50 worst cars of all time:

“It was, in fact, a rick­ety, paperthin scan­dal of a car that, if you stood be­side it, you could ac­tu­ally hear rust­ing. Its most salient fea­ture was its slow­ness, a rate of ac­cel­er­a­tion you could mea­sure with a cal­en­dar.”

And right now, Jonathan Bur­nette of Austin has his punch line pointed to­ward Alaska. Good luck with that, guy. He’s plan­ning to leave Tues­day. And be­cause Bur­nette will be busy driv­ing, the Dauphine will be post­ing up­dates as technology al­lows on Face­book. You can try search­ing for “Dauphine Destiny,” then click­ing on “Alaska Re­nault Trip” un­der “Likes and In­ter­ests.”

Not that driv­ing to Alaska is as big a deal as it used to be. The roads are bet­ter — whereas in by­gone days they barely ex­isted in places — and tech­no­log­i­cally, cars are bet­ter, more com­fort­able and more re­li­able. Two things re­main un­changed. It’s still, strictly speak­ing, a long, long way. And say what you will about traf­fic in Austin, but: no bears.

This does not de­ter Bur­nette, a sin­gle man of 48. And to un­der­stand why, you need to know a cou­ple of things about him. First,

Con­tin­ued from A he’s a me­chanic with decades of ex­pe­ri­ence who’s spe­cial­ized in work­ing on im­ports of a cer­tain vin­tage with quirks and char­ac­ter. In ad­di­tion to his 1959 Re­nault, for which he paid $200, he has a Ma­tra Bon­net, a turbo diesel Re­nault Fuego and two oth­ers in the yard of his house off North La­mar Boule­vard. He ac­cu­mu­lates these things the way some peo­ple adopt old dogs with three legs. (He vig­or­ously de­fends the honor of the ’65 Chevro­let Cor­vair, the model made in­fa­mous in Ralph Nader’s book “Un­safe at Any Speed.”)

And if you be­lieve in destiny, he is quite pos­si­bly fated for all this. His late fa­ther, Lawrence, who taught in­dus­trial arts for many years at McCal­lum High School, came home with a brand-new Re­nault R10 on Hal­loween 1968.

“I blame it on him,” Bur­nette says.

(Fun fact: The Dauphine was orig­i­nally to be named the Corvette. The name Re­nault set­tled on is the fe­male form of “dauphin,” a French royal ti­tle.)

An­other thing you need to know about Bur­nette is that he’s a pretty easy­go­ing guy who’s done lots of long road trips and isn’t wed­ded to mod­ern niceties like au­to­matic trans­mis­sions and air con­di­tion­ing.

“It doesn’t have AC, but that’s only go­ing to be a prob­lem for one day,” he says. “I’m go­ing to start out early in the morn­ing, and I’m not go­ing to stop un­til it’s cool.” (He’s go­ing to try to make it to Colorado Springs, Colo., some 850 miles away, the first day. The turn­around in Alaska will come af­ter he vis­its De­nali Na­tional Park, Fair­banks and An­chor­age. He ex­pects the whole jour­ney to take about a month.)

So you might think it’s a lit­tle nutty to take a car that rolled off the line the same year that Cas­tro top­pled Batista. Bur­nette has heard it all: “Peo­ple say, ‘You’re crazy.’ I’m like, ‘Eh. It’ll go.’”

Rodolfo Gon­za­lez AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Jonathan Bur­nette, 48, plans to head out Tues­day in his 1959 Re­nault Dauphine on a trip to Alaska. He ex­pects it will take about a month.

Rodolfo Gon­za­lez

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