Welcome to this month’s edition of Ask a Gearhead, our Q&A series with enthusiasts and influencers in the automotive space. Last month we spoke with the lovely Rachel Mills, and this month we are pleased to feature Dana Williamson!
Dana is the Conservator at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, where he is in charge of the maintenance, preservation, and upkeep of the museum’s 300 or so cars and motorcycles. Dana is a real-life Renaissance man who was driving tractors at age six and designing boat hulls at MIT by his twenties. He has spent time racing motorcycles, racing cars, restoring vintage Corvettes, and flying WWII aircraft as a stunt pilot. If motors are involved, Dana has probably done it. Oh, and that car he’s leaning against in the photo above? That’s a 1957 Jaguar XKSS, formerly owned by Steve McQueen.
Dana is the car world’s version of The Most Interesting Man in the World, but don’t take our word for it. Take a ride with Dana and chat with him yourself! Enter our contest with the Petersen Automotive Museum for the chance to win an exclusive ride-along experience with Dana in an iconic car. Dana will tour contest winners around Los Angeles in gems like a 1956 Continental, 1994 Bugatti EB110, and more! And stay tuned for more special events with the Petersen Museum coming soon.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAMILY CAR GROWING UP?
The first family car I remember was when we were a one-car family. My dad had a 1951 Studebaker Starlight Coupe, and as little kids my sister and I used to call it “the rocket car,” because you know, it has that bullet nose that came out the front. So we always thought our dad was driving us around in a rocket ship. As we got older, my mother started to drive a 1957 Plymouth four-door. That was probably was the car I spent the most time in, playing license plate games with my sister in the back.
WORST THING YOU’VE EVER DRIVEN?
My first car was a two-tone, two-door 1959 Chevy Biscayne. It had these huge horizontal fins on the back and a massive trunk. I drove that thing to high school when everyone else was driving sports cars and four-wheel drive Jeeps and things like that, and I’d pull up in this big boat that was nothing but a mass of metal. It was an ugly car and it handled really poorly. Now, it’s pretty cool because of the fins and those squinty taillights, but back then, it wasn’t yet old enough to be a classic.
IF YOU COULD OWN JUST ONE CAR FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
To be perfectly honest with you, it would be the car that I drive now. I daily drive a 1973 Land Rover 88 Series 3. It’s got several sets of Hella lights on the front, a roof rack, spare tires all over the place, and a huge winch on the front. Every time I get into that car to drive to work it puts a huge smile on my face. It’s a joy to drive and it takes me anywhere. It’s just my kind of car.
FAVORITE ROAD TRIP?
When I was just a kid, my mother loaded up our station wagon, and put my surfboard up top. And of course, I had very little opportunity to surf living in New England. She drove me down the East Coast all the way to Florida and back so I could surf on any of the beaches on the way. To this day I remember it as the coolest thing for a young East Coast guy to finally do big surf. For me, 1-3 feet was big surf, so surfing down the coast was the best.
YOU’RE DIRECTING FAST & FURIOUS 9, WHAT’S THE HERO CAR?
Well, Tesla’s new Roadster is ridiculous. They said the zero-60 time is under two seconds, I mean come on. Put a couple winglets on that and you’d have a car that flies.
WHAT WOULD BE THE BEST ANIMAL TO RIDE IF IT WERE SCALED UP TO THE SIZE OF A HORSE?
I’ve had my Maltese dog since he was born, and his name is Max. Wherever I go, he sticks with me like Velcro. If he was the size of a horse, with his personality, I’d have full confidence that I could ride anywhere as fast as I wanted and he’d take full care of me. He’s that good of a dog.
IS IT ACCEPTABLE TO WEAR FLIP FLIOPS WHILE DRIVING? WHAT IS YOUR PREFERRED FOOTWEAR IN THE CAR?
No I don’t think flip flops are acceptable at all. When I’m in the car and I’m driving, I take it seriously. Maybe that’s just from my racing background, but I like to drive whatever I’m driving to its optimum. You just don’t have total control with flip flops. Me, I’m a loafer guy.
WHAT DO YOU KEEP IN YOUR CAR AT ALL TIMES, JUST IN CASE?
Well when you’re driving an old English car you have to be prepared for anything, so I keep everything in the Land Rover. But my wife makes me keep a little earthquake kit. It has a crank, so in case everything goes out you can generate your own power, and a flashlight and all sorts of gadgets. She was here in LA through the last couple of big earthquakes, and she once got stranded with her car north of Malibu. So that’s the impetus behind that.
WHAT’S YOUR MARIO KART CHARACTER?
I’ve never played Mario Kart. I guess, since it’s called Mario Kart, there must be a Mario. And if they named it after him, he must be a pretty important guy. So I’ll go with Mario.
WHO WOULD PLAY YOU IN THE BIOPIC OF YOUR LIFE? AND WHAT IS IT CALLED?
I’d say Kurt Russell. And we’ll call it “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles 2.” That covers my three main interests.
IF YOU HAD AN ICE CREAM TRUCK, WHAT SONG WOULD YOU PLAY FROM THE SPEAKER?
If I had an ice cream truck, it would be an old International Metro and serve gelati. I’d probably play Bocelli — “Time to Say Goodbye.” It’s in Italian, so maybe people wouldn’t understand it, but I think it would get them in the mood for gelati.
WHAT IS THE SINGLE, VERY LAST CAR YOU RENTED?
The last car I did rent was a Ford Fusion in Oakland. And to be honest with you, I quite enjoyed driving around in Oakland with a Fusion.
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