Orange County, 1989: The Dodge A100 That Started It All

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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orange county 1989 the dodge a100 that started it all

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!

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.

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  • Lilpoindexter Lilpoindexter on Dec 16, 2010

    Anteaters are THE SH!T !!!

  • Nikita Nikita on Dec 17, 2010

    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.

  • Carsofchaos The bike lanes aren't even close to carrying "more than the car lanes replaced". You clearly don't drive in Midtown Manhattan on a daily like I do.
  • Carsofchaos The problem with congestion, dear friends, is not the cars per se. I drive into the city daily and the problem is this:Your average street in the area used to be 4 lanes. Now it is a bus lane, a bike lane (now you're down to two lanes), then you have delivery trucks double parking, along with the Uber and Lyft drivers also double parking. So your 4 lane avenue is now a 1.5 lane avenue. Do you now see the problem? Congestion pricing will fix none of these things....what it WILL do is fund persion plans.
  • FreedMike Many F150s I encounter are autonomously driven...and by that I mean they're driving themselves because the dips**ts at the wheel are paying attention to everything else but the road.
  • Tassos A "small car", TIM????????????This is the GLE. Have you even ever SEEN the huge thing at a dealer's??? NOT even the GLC,and Merc has TWO classes even SMALLER than the C (The A and the B, you guessed it? You must be a GENIUS!).THe E is a "MIDSIZED" crossover, NOT A SMALL ONE BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION, oh CLUELESS one.I AM SICK AND TIRED OF THE NONSENSE you post here every god damned day.And I BET you will never even CORRECT your NONSENSE, much less APOLOGIZE for your cluelessness and unprofessionalism.
  • Stuki Moi "How do you take a small crossover and make it better?Slap the AMG badge on it and give it the AMG treatment."No, you don't.In fact, that is specifically what you do NOT do.Huge, frail wheels, and postage stamp sidewalls, do nothing but make overly tall cuvs tramline and judder. And render them even less useful across the few surfaces where they could conceivably have an advantage over more properly dimensioned cars. And: Small cuvs have pitiful enough fuel range as it is, even with more sensible engines.Instead, to make a small CUV better, you 1)make it a lower slung wagon. And only then give it the AMG treatment. AMG'ing, makes sense for the E class. And these days with larger cars, even the C class. For the S class, it never made sense, aside from the sheer aural visceralness of the last NA V8. The E-class is the center of AMG. Even the C-class, rarely touches the M3.Or 2) You give it the Raptor/Baja treatment. Massive, hypersophisticated suspension travel allowing landing meaningful jumps. As well as driving up and down wide enough stairs if desired. That's a kind of driving for which a taller stance, and IFS/IRS, makes sense.Attempting to turn a CUV into some sort of a laptime wonder, makes about as much sense as putting an America's Cup rig atop a ten deck cruiseship.