Dallas to L.A. in a Dodge A100 that we had to rebuild first

A100 Van Road Trip dinosaur museum
Matt Grayson

If you’ve been following along with our stories, you may remember Jeff Milburn, a stunt driver we interviewed who was in the epic film Ford v Ferrari. Jeff, knowing I’m a van guy, called me up one day and said he had a problem. His dad had this 1965 Dodge A100 that he had shipped out from California a while back, and it had been sitting half apart for the last six years in his warehouse. He wanted it out of there and asked me if I knew anyone who might want it.

When he told me the price I was definitely interested. After some haggling and some Honey-Do’s, we struck a deal that I couldn’t resist. So now I had gotten myself in a little pickle. This van came with enough parts to put it back together and also enough extra parts to put two more of ’em back on the road, according to Jeff. How in the hell was I gonna handle this? Knowing Jeff has one of the nicest personal shops in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, I asked him if he would mind if I came out there with a buddy, and we’d try to slam that van back together and drive it back to Los Angeles. He said it sounded like a bitchin’ idea, and we could even crash in one of the buildings he has across the street from the shop while we were doing it.

This whole deal was really starting to come together. After hanging up with Jeff, I thought “Sh*t! We’re in the middle of this pandemic, and the world’s falling apart. Who the hell is gonna think this is a good idea?” So I called my buddy Adam and said, “Hey dude, I just bought this ’65 A100 in Dallas that Milburn had. Wanna fly out with me, put this thing back together, and sleep on the shop floor until we’re done? Then pile in it and drive it the 1500 miles back to Los Angeles?” He was in immediately.

Sleeping bag in garage beside covered car
Matt Grayson

Reality was setting in. This was happening. I sourced airfare and started coordinating the adventure we had before us. On October 16, 2020, at 1:30 p.m., we boarded Southwest flight #0148 outta Burbank, California, east bound and down for Dallas, Texas, with backpacks and sleeping bags on us, and that was it. The rest we were gonna have to figure out. When we got to Dallas, Milburn grabbed us from Love Field, and we all headed straight to his shop to see what we had gotten ourselves into. Lucky for us, Milburn had towed that van over to his place from his dad’s a couple days earlier. We were able to get in town and dive right in.

A100 Van front under roof
Matt Grayson

We got to his shop, dropped our gear, and went right to putting a plan together. First thing’s first. All the parts in the deal were piled inside the van. So we started gutting the van, making and sorting parts into piles. After that we could really see how apart this van was. It also helped us to see what we had and what we were still going to need so that we could make the journey back across the desert to Los Angeles. Now, fortunate for us, Milburn’s a Mopar guy. If you know Mopar guys, they’re kinda fanatical about their Mopar stuff. Jeff being no exception to that claim, he pretty much had three of everything we were gonna need, in stock at his shop and on the shelf. So with the exception of having to order a new carb and things like a battery and fluids, he had the majority of the parts within arms reach.

Sleeping bag in garage of covered classic cars
Matt Grayson

So here we are, sleeping on a concrete shop floor, working from dawn on each day putting this old Dodge van back together—replacing or repairing what it needed and all the time having to figure out how it all went back together. Ya see, when you take it apart and then put it back together, you kinda have an idea and remember what needs to be done. When you get it in boxes of parts, it tends to soak up a little more time sortin’ and sifting. Figuring out what’s what and what goes where. One of the things that saved us quite a bit of time was the fact that the chassis on this van had been done already. When I say done, what I mean is the brakes, rear end, fuel system, suspension, steering—pretty much the whole underside of the van had been gone through and was fresh. She was fresh down to the stickers still being on the new tires. That left us dealing with putting the ol’ slant-six back together, all the wiring, throttle assembly from pedal to carb, etc.—checking it all twice and just throwing whatever parts it needed at it.

As we got going on reassembling this van, it crossed our minds that we were gonna need some tools along with us for the drive back. What tools, you ask? Well, we asked ourselves the same question. We figured pretty much every tool we used to put it back together should be in our kit, if possible. So our first stop was at Lowe’s to look for a Craftsman set. Anyone else notice they’re not the same quality tools since Sears? Anyways, we procured a set of sockets and wrenches along with a full set of screwdrivers, paid the cashier, and headed back to Milburn’s shop.

A100 Van front three-quarter
Matt Grayson

This is the part of this story when I need to stop and thank “Oliver Peck” for loaning us one of his mini vans while we were in town on this mission. At first we had the cheapest rental car we could find for running errands, but it was still adding up quick. Oliver had stopped by Milburn’s shop to drop off some parts for one of his projects that Milburn was working on. He was also checking out how we were doin’ on putting this ol’ A100 back together. That’s when he just offered the use of one of his mini vans to help save dough for the trip back. That’s just the kinda good dude he is. Always down to help. Thanks again, Oliver.

So we got back from our Lowe’s run and started to figure out what we were still missing, tool wise. Milburn told us about a really good swap meet in Grand Prairie, Texas, across from Yello Belly Drag Strip, that would likely have exactly what we were still looking for at a fraction of the cost. He was right. The next day we headed out there and scored pretty much every missing tool on our list, along with a few other things we could use, like mechanics wire and a half role of duct tape for 25 cents. When you’re on the road like this and it’s self-funded, every cent you save helps. It all adds up.

After leaving the swap meet, we split from Milburn and headed to Hurst, Texas, to meet up with our buddy Miguel Veliz. He and a bunch of the guys from “Texas Boogie Vans” had put together a little Show ’n’ Swap over off Pipeline Road. By this point, we pretty much knew what parts we did and didn’t need. What better opportunity to make a little side cash for the trip back than to sell off some of the parts we knew we weren’t gonna need? We were there from noon ’til about 4:30 p.m. getting deluxe sunburns, sippin’ some suds, and meeting all the fine folks who came to check out this little get together. We even had some curious passers-by who stopped in to see what was happening. It was a damn fine time.

A100 Van rolling heavy side profile
Matt Grayson

For the next three days, we wrenched nonstop from dawn to dusk until finally at the end of the day on October 21, she felt tight and right. We had ripped her around the neighborhood, nothing fell off, everything was working like it should. Hell, we even sorta had gauges. Yep, we were as ready as we were gonna be for the 1500-mile shakedown run from Dallas to Los Angeles. What could go wrong? At 8 p.m. we drove the ’65 A100 down to Fuel City for their famous tacos with the van topped off and fully loaded. The tacos were fantastic, but the Lot Lizard who approached us wasn’t. We finished our tacos, said goodbye, threw this thing in gear and hit the highway. We figured if we made it the first 100 miles, we were gonna be OK. That first night we made it 250 miles to Colorado City, Texas. We could have gone farther on that stretch, but we were battling high winds as soon as we got out of the city. They were pushing that little cargo van all over the road, and it was getting pretty hairy. We saw a Super 8 sign in the distance, took the next off-ramp, and got a room for the night. Success!

A100 Van front three-quarter
Matt Grayson

The next morning, October 22, we were back on the road. We topped off the oil, ATF and guzzolene, grabbed a gear and got ’er going. That little 225 slant-six ran pretty happily between 60–65 mph from what we could hear and see on the tach we put on it. So that’s how fast we trucked along. Going that fast, cross country, is pretty much like the slow blur that was traveling during the Reagan years of the 1980s. You know, back when the speed limit was 55 mph. Sammy Hagar couldn’t drive that fast, but you bet your britches we did. We put about 550 miles behind us by the end of day two, which landed us in Lordsburg, New Mexico. Now, normally that drive would take the average Joe around 8.5 hours. But for us it was really more like 11–12 hours or so. And that was just fine because, honestly, we were still surprised we were making it at all.

A100 Van interior radio speedometer
Matt Grayson

Friday, October 23, started at the diner across from our motel. We went over there to put together a plan for the day and grab some breakfast after checking the fluids in the van. We knew we were about 275 miles from Phoenix, which was our next stop. We had to stop there for a couple reasons. One was that I had to grab some parts I had at a buddy’s house. Two was another Phoenix friend wanted to buy the extra 8 3/4 rear end that came along in the pile of extra parts we got with the van. So it was an easy day of driving to see some old friends and make a little dough on the road, which we desperately needed by this point.

We rolled into Phoenix just in time for happy hour, which was perfect for us because that meant cheap eats. We met up with our friends at their local watering hole, grabbed a picnic table outside, and munched down on the local cuisine. After eating our way right through happy hour, Adam was feeling rejuvenated and suggested we just get back on the road and cannonball. I was feeling the flip side of that coin and my food comma was kicking in. I told him if he wanted to take the wheel and was cool if I slept for a few hours while he drove, well, then let’s hit it. And that’s what we did.

At 9 p.m., we hopped on the I-10 and started the last leg of our journey. The home stretch. We filled up one last time before that long desolate section of desert road, made sure our Jerry Can was full (just in case), and went for it. We took that last stretch kinda easy. The winds were gusting pretty good all night, pushing us all over the road, so we kept it around 55–60 the whole time. Last thing we needed to do was get pushed off the road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. So we figured slow and steady was going to win this race.

A100 Van rear three-quarter open desert highway three lanes
Matt Grayson

At 8:30 a.m. on October 24, we pulled into the parking lot of Cabazon, California, to see the world-famous dinosaurs. We had done it. We were back in our stomping grounds. This ol’ slant-six,1965 Dodge A100 had pulled it off. After sitting half apart in a warehouse in Dallas for the last six years, this little engine that could, did. As I stepped back to take a photo of the van with the giant T-Rex, I remember hearing Milburn say, “You guys won’t make it outta Dallas in that thing,” laughing the whole time. Well we just did that and more.

We hopped back on the I-10 and stopped in Pasadena to celebrate with In-N-Out Burgers and shakes and ultimately rolled into my house at Shadow Hills, California, at  high noon on October 24, 2020. We had been gone exactly seven days, 22 hours, and 30 minutes on one of the funnest adventures of my life. And we saved a 1965 Dodge A100 while we were at it.

Let’s do it again!

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