By on December 16, 2010

There’s a reason that I spent decades thinking that, someday, I’d have my very own Dodge A100 project. That reason is this $50 A100, which survived a wild-eyed road trip through the heart of the civil wars in mid-80s El Salvador and Nicaragua. Going through my old 35mm negatives the other day, I found a few portraits with the A100 as backdrop.

I had a college photography class assignment to do some portrait shots, so I talked my friend Chivo into posing with some friends’ vehicles in the UC Irvine Physical Sciences parking lot. Old Cadillacs always look better in black-and-white, I think.

The van was a beat-to-shit Slant Six A100 owned by my friend Lars. Lars was a sculptor and master scavenger who managed to trade a ceramic dog sculpture (valued at 50 bucks) for the van during his freshman year at UCI. Feeling that rent was an unnecessary expense, Lars slept in the Dodge and showered in the community bathrooms at the on-campus Irvine Meadows West RV Park. After the campus cops hassled him for sleeping in a van on campus (being California state property, there’s no law against sleeping in a vehicle, but try telling that to The Man when you’re 100 yards from the Newport Beach city limits in super-upscale Orange County), he obtained a refrigerator box, put it in the van’s cargo area, and slept inside the box.

The Slant Six was unkillable, and Lars and his surfer buddies would sit on the warm engine doghouse after a day at the beach. Tens of thousands of pounds of scrap metal and other sculpture fuel was hauled around Southern California in the A100, and Lars kept it even after he moved into the campus trailer park. In the summer of 1986, he and his girlfriend hopped in the van and headed south. Really south, as in down to the Mexican border, through Mexico, and into Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Panama.

According to Lars, nothing bad happened to him during the trip except for a case of “amoebas” in Honduras and a sidewall puncture courtesy of a giant thorn in Guatemala (the puncture was fixed by an old roadside tire man for a dollar, the tire held up for the rest of the trip, and forever after Lars used this as an example of why you shouldn’t listen to so-called safety “experts” about tire safety). He hauled about a thousand pounds of fist-sized surf-smoothed rocks from Mexico, and the Slant Six never missed a beat. Ever since that time, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a good A100 project, with or without a Slant Six. Now I’ve got one!

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11 Comments on “Orange County, 1989: The Dodge A100 That Started It All...”

  • avatar

    Your friend Lars’ story sounds like it would make an incredible piece here at TTAC. Get in touch with him and do a full-on interview about it. With, of course, the A100 playing a starring role in the story, it would make a killer read.


  • avatar

    I love the 71 Cadillac. I had one and it was a really great car The 472-4bbl was smooth and got 19mpg on the highway at 70mph. Mine was a Sedan deVille, so it was a pilarless 4-door hardtop. Great visibility through tremendous windows and lots of air when they were down.

  • avatar

    Ahh….the slant six A.K.A. “the leaning tower of power” My buddy drove a 65 Fargo three on the tree, across Canada twice.

  • avatar

    I’m digging the two B12 Sentras on either side of the van.  First car I ever drove; an 87 XE.

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t notice that the first time I looked! Sentras as framing elements (if unintentional) FTW!

    • 0 avatar

      And notice the lack of passenger-side external rearview mirror on the Sentra to the right!
      Looking back, almost hard to believe this was an optional feature back then. I remember lots of little pickup trucks being this way, too. Toyota pickups came without passenger side external rearview mirror and rear bumper at one time, as I remember.

  • avatar

    My main memory of these forward-control vans (and it may have been the Econoline equivalent, not the A100) is that they were phone-company (in my area, South Central Bell) utility haulers when I was a kid, then surplussed out and driven around with the paint scheme intact but the Bell System logos removed for years, by small-business owners or people like Lars. I’m thinking they had to be A100s, because Dodge would usually have been the cheapest fleet option.
    In any case, great photos and an intriguing project!

  • avatar

    Fun read!  It reminded me of my exact opposite 2 year love/hate affair with my 66 VW bus.  Ah, the afternoon and midmornings sitting on the side of the road waiting for the engine temp to drop, or starting up in the morning to smoke from the ignition, or seeing my breath in the mornings, often all the way to school…

  • avatar

    Anteaters are THE SH!T !!!

  • avatar

    Its amazing that something as Conestoga Wagon crude as those A-series Dodge trucks could come out of a style and technology obsessed Detroit of the mid-1960’s. I had a ’66 A-100 cargo van. No curved glass, even that 1940’s-style split windshield, leaf springs all around, power nothing, no hydraulic lifters nor spin-on oil filter on the 273ci LA V-8. It took us up and down the whole West Coast, including off-road adventures and never broke down.

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