Jonathan Burnette drives a Renault Dauphine, which has been ranked one of the worst vehicle models ever by auto experts. Those who know Burnette say he has the skills to make any needed repairs.
Not to hammer this point like a piece of sheet metal, but remember the vehicle we’re talking about here. The “Car Talk” guys on National Public Radio, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, named the Dauphine the ninthworst car ever, marveling that it was “unencumbered by the engineering process.”
Burnette more or less works freelance these days, but Patrick Whale, his former boss at Revolution Motors, calls him “an amazing mechanic” whose tools will probably be used on other stranded motorists’ cars on the epic journey more than on his own.
The guy’s mechanical skills are known well outside of Austin, although he won’t bring it up
“If you own a Renault in the United States, somebody will tell you to see Jonathan at some point or another,” says Keith Morton, who’s known Burnette for 22 years and now lives in Seattle.
“Anybody who goes to him keeps going back to him because he’s honest. And he’s got a real sense of adventure. He’ll make it. One way or another, he’ll make it.”
It’s not as if he hasn’t faced a challenge before. When Burnette was 16, he drove to California via Colorado in a 1961 Renault Caravelle with a girlfriend, recalls his younger brother David. The couple went through a mountain pass where there was no road. At the time, Burnette’s Caravelle was one of two vehicles known to have accomplished that feat. Then he knocked a hole in the car’s transmission, drove to San Francisco and replaced it. Remember: He was 16 years old.
“He has a creative mind,” David says. “He’s one of these people that can think of something and go build it. I’ve always been jealous of that. There’s a bunch of stuff on that car (the Dauphine) that Watch a video and view more photos of Jonathan Burnette and his 959 Renault Dauphine with this story online. he built. He didn’t have it, so he built it. He’s one of the most talented people I know. I’m not surprised he’s doing this.”
And that, really, is what this whole thing is about.
Burnette is a little scornful of our throwaway society and is dismayed that people seem to think they need, as he puts it, “400 buttons on their radio.” Although he will have a CD player. There’s only so much scenery a motorist can take in.
He’s already been promised fresh Alaskan salmon from a fellow Renault enthusiast, and this trip is already overdue: Two summers back he was planning to make the drive, and about two weeks before his planned departure, a Mitsubishi Galant turned in front of him and wrecked the Dauphine. (He notes that the Galant was totaled.)
It’s time to go, for maybe no better reason than he can. He can drive to Alaska in a 50-year-old, $200 car much of the world regards as a joke. He prefers to think of it as a conversation starter.