Trusty old Dodge in it for long haul with adventure across America

Was that a strange noise – No it is just fine. The 1951 Dodge proved reliable travelling across Amer

Was that a strange noise – No it is just fine. The 1951 Dodge proved reliable travelling across America apart from tyres and a dodgy dynamo at journey’s end. Picture: Barry Shackcloth - Credit: supplied

Barry Shackcloth bought a 1951 Dodge with fellow students and travelled across America for a spell of California Dreamin'.

The car that I first owned – or actually part owned – was a 1951 Dodge four-door sedan.

It happened in June 1962 when I was part of a group of students who had just completed a degree course at the University of Southampton. Eight of us decided that we would take advantage of a cheap student flight to New York, and from there make our way to California where we would get jobs to pave our way.

New York was horrendous in June, the humidity being a killer with there being no breeze between the (new to us) skyscrapers. We couldn't wait to leave so set out in groups of two to any part of New York where we thought we could buy a cheap car. I and a colleague went to Queens, and there on an undistinguished car plot was the Dodge.

We wanted a simple American car with enough room for six people and a manual gearbox, which we thought would be more reliable than an old automatic transmission. It had to be cheap and reliable.

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The salesman gave us the spiel, saying it was old but reliable and had a manual column gearchange. It had bench seats with room for six and drove fine. The price was 150 dollars.

We went back to see the others, and they had had no success at all, and so the next day returned to Queens and purchased the car. While the price was good (about £50 in those days), basic insurance cost us about three times the price of the car.

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We hired a U-haul roof box to put on top to take some of our luggage, and set off to California with the car fully loaded with six people and all our belongings. The roads were busy but of a freeway standard and easy to drive on. It wasn't long before we heard a rhythmic thumping from the rear. We pulled into a gas station and found that a rear tyre was on its last legs. We had to purchase a replacement.

On the whole trip, which took about 12 days, tyres were our only real problem – all of them had to be replaced at various times along the way.

In California (Laguna Beach) we met up with our other colleagues – who had taken Greyhound buses to cross America – and rented an apartment, eventually working at a local Deny's fast-food outlet. The Dodge was in constant use doing more than 100 miles a day, as we all worked different shifts, often (somehow) carrying eight people.

We returned to New York in the Dodge in September taking in some amazing parts of the states including Yosemite Park, San Francisco, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls.

In the last 500 miles to New York, the car grumbled and the dynamo packed up. We were not going to replace it so soldiered on, having to charge the battery at various times. We took the car back to the car lot in Queens where we had purchased it in June. They were frankly amazed at what we had done saying that they had sold other cars that had broken down trying to leave Queens. We sold the car back to the dealer for 50 dollars

The Dodge was a fabulous workhorse – we travelled across the States and back and covered some 12,000 miles in three months. This for 100 dollars and five tyres.

Tell us about your first car and the adventures and scrapes you had – email your motoring memories with a picture of the car to or post it to Andy Russell, motoring editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE.

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