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Celebrity Drive: Adam Savage - 'MythBuster' and Drift Lover

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 2/20/2015 K.S. Wang

Celebrity Drive Adam Savage© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Adam Savage

Quick Stats: Adam Savage, host of Discovery's "MythBusters"
Daily Driver: 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth (Adam's rating: 9 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Other cars: see below
Favorite road trip: San Francisco to Whistler, B.C.
Car he learned to drive in: 1980s Toyota pickup
First car bought: 1978 Volvo 245 DL

Discovery Channel's "MythBusters" turned its attention to drifting for an entire episode in last week's season finale. The myth tested: "Drifting" is faster than "racing."

As one of Discovery's most popular shows, "MythBusters" has had its share of driving segments. With all the driver training Adam Savage -- a special effects designer by trade -- has had for his TV gig, he's become a very well-trained driver on the road.

"A couple years ago I was back east for the winter, and I hit some black ice and started to skid, and I don't think my heart rate went above 60," he says with a laugh. "I just slowly moved back into control. It's like, 'I've done this. I've done this a bunch of times on the show,' so it's no big deal."

The drifting episode concluded with the classic stunt of skidding into a parallel parking spot. "You always see cars drifting into turns in the movies," Savage says. "The movies have a language, and the visual language is that drifting means you're going as fast as you can. We wanted to test whether drifting really is the fastest way to get there."

Celebrity Drive Adam Savage© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Adam Savage

They brought in Formula Drift racer Conrad Grunewald, who trained Savage and co-host Jamie Hyneman how to drift. Savage says he took to it like a duck to water.

"I love, loved drifting, and Conrad is an amazing teacher," he says. "Both Jamie and I are really good at mapping new systems, so over the years, our safety guy, who is a stunt coordinator, has said that he would certify us on any movie set as qualified stunt drivers. We're really good drivers, and every time we do a driving thing on the show, we bring in an expert to show us that technique. We've learned tactical driving from cops, we've learned driving in reverse, drifting, maneuvering. We've driven in high heels. We've driven in trucks and buses. We've gotten a tremendous amount of experience."

Savage found the most surprising thing about drifting is that it's almost entirely about the use of the throttle. "That's not something that you expect," he says. "And the sensitivity you have to have with the throttle in order to drift correctly to get dialed in. I found it one of my favorite techniques I've ever learned."

The show also has a long history of car myths that don't involve driving, beginning with the first episode, in which they strapped rockets to a 1967 Chevrolet Impala in an attempt to replicate a JATO-propelled car myth. (The car failed to take flight.) More recently, the hosts blew up a car in an episode testing scenes from "The A-Team."

"The A-Team put dynamite under a manhole cover, and because the A-team doesn't actually kill people, it was assumed that they did that because it was a nonlethal way of disabling a car," Savage says. "So we took that car with a crash test dummy in it over a manhole cover and a few sticks of dynamite under the manhole cover to see if the guy would survive." The myth was labeled as "plausible."

Back at home, Savage drives what he refers to as his "mid-life crisis car" -- a compact 2014 Fiat 500 Abarth, which he rates a 9. "I'm absolutely in love with it," Savage says.

Savage and his wife had been talking about getting a Fiat 500 L Lounge in 2013, and she surprised him with it as a Christmas gift. "I really liked that car," he says. "I really enjoyed driving it, especially living in San Francisco in the Mission District, where parking is at a crazy premium. The Fiat is like a little secret weapon, and I really dug that. I'm big on small cars."

Celebrity Drive Adam Savage© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Adam Savage Savage had a Mini for several years and liked the Lounge better. But then it was time to upgrade to the Abarth. "My wife bought a really nice BMW, and it had power," he says. "I thought, 'Ooh! I'd like a little more power!' and I went in and traded in the Lounge and upgraded to the Abarth, and I've just been smitten ever since. I completely am besotted with this car. I have it in black, and I managed to get it without any of the stickers on it. I don't need to draw attention to the car, and I love the fact that my midlife crisis car is a mini car."

He's taken the Abarth onto closed courses and has run it through some significant paces, and he finds it very stable when driving it well over the speed limit. "And it's got turbo, so it's really, really fast and really, really responsive," he says. "Unfortunately, Abarth only comes I think in white, red, or black, which I think is a shame because I genuinely love the other colors on the Fiat line."

Savage opted for the manual transmission. "That's how I learned, so I like the stick shift; it brings me back," he says. "And they've added in a feature where when you take your foot off the break and put it on the clutch, it stays in braking mode until you accelerate. On the San Francisco hills, it's pretty much cheating, is what it feels like."

He thinks everyone should learn to drive on a car with a manual transmission. "My kids are just turning 16, and I'm really looking forward to teaching them the real skills of driving a stick so that when they get behind the wheel of an automatic, they're much better drivers," he says. "I just think that everyone should be able to drive both."

There's only one thing Savage doesn't like about his Fiat. "The headrest in the rear seats are completely asinine," he says. "They come down low, and they hit you in the middle of your scapula, below your neck, and then when you raise them for your head, it limits the driver's visibility," he says.

"And they're circular, so they're not that comfy," he continues. "They're clearly an aesthetic choice rather than a comfort choice. The designers were like, 'It's not every day you're going to be driving four people in this car,' which I understand. At the same time, they're terrible."

Savage sees Fiats a lot around his city. "In San Francisco it is crazy common," he says. "In fact, on my street are four Fiats, including three Abarths. In San Francisco it seems to be all Priuses, Teslas, and Fiat 500s. My wife drives a BMW 328i convertible. That's a lovely car, a very wonderful driving car."

1982 Toyota Land Cruiser

Rating: 10
Savage's other car is the less-than-compact 1982 Toyota Land Cruiser BJ42, which he might be selling soon. "I don't do anything with it, and it's just sitting there gathering dust," he says. "There's a bunch of things that need to be lined up to sell it. I've got to put new batteries in it and get it cleaned up and fixed up sometime in the next couple months."

The vintage Land Cruiser was actually Savage's splurge car after becoming a popular TV host. "I don't have the same sort of car jones that a lot of people do, even though I could afford a Tesla or something really fancy," he says.

In terms of drivability in the city, Savage rates it a 4 but otherwise gives it a perfect 10 for looks. "It's one of my favorite designs of a car," he says. "I love its crazy-tall boxiness, and 1982 was the last year they produced this boxy look."

Although Savage bought the Land Cruiser stateside, it originally came from New Zealand. "It's totally legal, and it's not that hard to remap yourself," he says.

Because the driver is on the right side, the car is a bit of a head-turner. "Which makes me feel kind of like a douchebag," he says. Like, 'Come on, I already have a television show; do I need people looking at me?'"

Although the Land Cruiser has its own appeal, fans of the show recognize Savage anyway. "At one point I thought that a cop was trying to pull me over because I saw flashing lights," he says, "and I realized it was a car full of teenagers taking my picture."

He doesn't drive the Land Cruiser much and pays to store it in a lot. "It's only like a 75-horsepower engine," he says. "It's meant for driving in Africa, not for driving around San Francisco. "If I was going to keep it, I would put a new engine in it, but it's very hard to find reliable shops that can do that. And the shops that do that for a living charge a gargantuan amount of money to do it, and it's just not worth it to me."

Celebrity Drive Adam Savage© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Adam Savage

Related Link: Research the 2015 Toyota Land Cruiser

Car he learned to drive in

Savage grew up in Westchester County, New York, and learned how to drive in his dad's manual early-1980s Toyota pickup truck. "It's one of those little tiny pickups that Toyota made, the smallest one of the line," he says. "My dad had one of those the whole time I was growing up. I loved that car. My dad was an artist and did a lot of stuff around the house, repairs, and built our deck. He liked having a car that he could schlep stuff around in."

Even though Savage has become a good driver after all the driving lessons on the show, he was a late bloomer when it came to getting his license. "I didn't have a burning desire to drive at 16, and at 18 I moved into New York City," he says. "You don't ever need to drive in New York City, so I didn't learned to drive until just before I moved out to California when I was 22, 23 years old."

Savage failed the test the first time he took it, which was in his dad's standard pickup truck. "I was doing great until we got to this steep hill just before the end of the test, and on the hill, this huge 18-wheeler pulled up and stopped right behind my car," he says. "I got so flustered the tester had to pull my emergency brake for me, which it turns out is an automatic fail."

The second time he took the test, Savage borrowed a neighbor's car that had an automatic transmission just to make it easier. "What's funny is that it should be difficult," he says of the test. "In the U.S. it's amazing to me that you can get a driver's license with an automatic and then immediately go buy a standard. In England, I guess if you're tested on a standard, you can drive everything. But here it seems a little backward to me. Personally, even though that's how I went and got my license, I think it's crazy that the U.S. doesn't have a separate driver's test for a stick shift."

Celebrity Drive Adam Savage© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Adam Savage

First car bought

When Savage was working as a carpenter and rigger in a theater in San Francisco around 1990, he bought a 1978 Volvo 245 DL station wagon. "And boy do I love that car," he says. "It was a great car to have as your first car. You can fit a 4-by-8 of plywood in the back. You can work on it really easily."

He first learned how to change the oil on the car and later changed the brakes, radiator, and driveshaft. "I had so much fun learning how to work on cars on that car," he says. "I chose the car because they're bulletproof -- Volvos, especially those older models, are renowned for never breaking down if you wanted something reliable."

Savage deliberately chose a station wagon. "I didn't want to help people move," he says. "I really was very specific. I knew I needed a car that could schlep, but I didn't want a pickup, because everyone I knew with a pickup spent every weekend helping their friends move. A nice, big, old, beat-up station wagon would be the thing, and it was. I drove that car into the ground for about four years."

He chose the Volvo also because it was the right amount of bang for the buck. "I had $2,500 bucks to spend and for that amount of money wanting something schleppable, something reliable, something that I could work on," he says. "The Volvo fit all of those metrics really well. It turned out to be a great buy."

Celebrity Drive Adam Savage© Provided by MotorTrend Celebrity Drive Adam Savage

Favorite road trip

Savage's favorite road trip was one he took a couple of years ago during the summer with his family. They drove 4,000 miles in 12 days, from San Francisco to Whistler, British Columbia, and back.

"On our first day out, we were just outside of Eureka, California, crossing over a river, and there were all these people looking over this bridge over the river, and we pulled over and walked out," he says. "It turned out that there was a whale that had gotten lost up the river and was swimming back and forth. There were some marine biologists trying to help it find its way back out to the ocean, and we watched this whole thing unfold for an hour and a half. Completely amazing and surreal."

Savage had never done such a road trip before. "We did it with two kids, two adults, and two dogs, and it was a lot of work," he says. "Our kids at that point were about 13 years old, and we wanted to get in a road trip before they hit their teen years and became jerks. They remember it as a really, really fun and amazing couple of weeks."

He also put limits on their cellphones and iPads. "A key part of road trips is being bored, trying to figure out where to eat, and feeling like you're in the car too long," he says. "It's all part and parcel of that kind of family trip, and we wanted the whole package."

There were no real plans each day, although they knew they would take a western route north and an eastern route back south through eastern Washington down past the Deschutes River in Oregon, where they went white-water rafting at the spur of moment, and then drove past Mount Shasta, back into California.

"We would often drive for a couple of hours before starting to try and use Google Maps to find a place to eat," he says. "We knew in Portland that we were going to stay in the Kimpton Hotel because they're pet-friendly."

They drove from Portland to Vancouver, B.C. "We had heard about this wonderful hotdog stand in Vancouver called Japadog, which was everything that is promised," he says. "But for the most part we were just aimlessly moving our way north."

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