The 1966 Dodge A100 Hell Project was on hold for much of last year, getting stuck in Front Axle Rebuild Limbo for a while. I scored a bunch of junkyard parts in February, and the van came back home a few weeks back. Now, for the first time since it was parked in 1998 with a spun rod bearing, it’s a properly drivable machine. I took it on its first plywood run earlier this week!
The thing about my ’66 Dodge A100 van project that makes it a challenge is that I’m going for an early 1970s customization job, not the far easier late 1970s routine. My van won’t have Aztecs On Mars airbrush murals or a wood-burning stove (not that there’s anything wrong with those things), but it does have a telephone-handset-style 23-channel CB radio, (faux) Cragar S/S wheels, and now it has a Watergate-burglary-era cheap aftermarket tachometer.
The A100 Hell Project really isn’t very hellish, since the van is rust-free and still has most of its tough-to-find trim parts. However, the list of really irritating minor problems that must be solved to bring a project vehicle up to real-world-enjoyable status is always long. One of the most maddening was the busted window latch on one of the right-side windows. Chrysler changed the design on this latch— which probably cost about 14 cents per unit new— in the late 1960s, which means they’re very rare in junkyards, and nobody seems to be selling them on eBay. Snow and rain were getting in, the window clattered while driving, and anyone who wanted to rummage in the van for crack-exchangeable valuables could reach right in and pop the side door lock. What to do?
Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed was published in 1965. For the 1967 model year, cars and light trucks sold in the United States were required to have a dual-circuit brake system, so that a single hydraulic leak anywhere in the system would not result in total brake failure. Real drivers knew that they could come to a complete, safe stop using the emergency brake— that’s right, for emergencies— but that wasn’t enough for the feds. They rammed dual-circuit brakes down the throats of the American public, adding at least several dozen dollars to the cost of a new car. My Dodge van is a ’66 model, which means it was the last year for the single-circuit brakes that gave our forefathers their moral strength (though not as much strength as their forefathers, who relied on mechanical brake actuation instead of hydraulics), and a lifetime steeped in Naderite propaganda has convinced me that I’m better off with some margin of hydraulic safety. Upgrade time!
These days, we’ve got endless choices in plush, comfy trucks. Back when my 1966 Dodge A100 project van was built, the top trim level of the A100 was the Sportsman Custom, and that was one of your few luxury-truck choices at the time. Naturally, I insisted on a Sportsman Custom when I went shopping for a vintage flat-nose van. With the Sportsman Custom, you got such creature comforts as ashtrays, an AM radio, and— best of all— a steel step that popped out when you opened the side doors. The one on my van wasn’t exactly working when I bought it, but some [s]bashing with a sledgehammer[/s] careful adjustment and [s]hosing down with Liquid Wrench[/s] judicious lubrication fixed it right up!
It just occurred to me that my own A100 Hell Project hasn’t been featured on Whatever I’m Calling The Series Of Photographs Of Old Street-Parked Vehicles These Days. It’s a total nightmare to drive in the snow (particularly for a snow-country n00b like me), but it looks pretty good with the white stuff.
Since I’ve got ungodly quantities of top-shelf booze thanks to my other job, I figured I’d celebrate my 900th birthday by having a party and pouring said booze down my guests’ throats. A couple of them went overboard on the gift department, including one who made me a coupon for free brake work on my Dodge A100 Hell Project.
When we last saw the A100 Hell Project, I’d junkyard-engineered a new gas pedal as part of my “get this thing on the road as quickly and cheaply as possible” initiative. The lack of headlights, due to a corroded-by-12-idle-years switch, was the next big annoyance I needed to tackle.