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!
Writer d'Elegance Brougham Landau.
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