Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION -

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.

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