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by Ray Alexander; also see Dodge B-vans
At the end of the model year I purchased the van from Stanley Dodge in National City. I wanted a 1972 because the 1973 trucks would have a lot more smog equipment on them and I was a non-believer in the stuff that was bolted on in those years.
The primary purpose that the van would serve was transportation and hauling my motorcycles to the desert for race events. The van was orange, with a 318 engine, power steering and brakes, a 727 automatic transmission, and a 3.21:1 differential.
As I drove home from making the deal, I wondered had I made a mistake. The van is acoustically somewhat akin to a large trash can, with its metal walls and roof, and the noise when driving was unpleasant. Since I would also be sleeping in the van I set out to panel the inside and carpet the floor. Behind the paneling I put R-19 insulation and under the carpet I put ¾” plywood, the good stuff. This dampened a lot of the noise. (The engines in these vans, to save space, were partly in the passenger compartment, in a large covered area between the seats.)
I had the dealer put in an after market air-conditioner, ARA brand, fitting because that is my initials. Very soon I had to change the radiator to keep the engine cool (the factory specified a larger radiator when air conditioning was installed). The first race that I went to I knew that I had made a mistake; the van would not maintain 70 MPH going up Tejon Pass. However, coming back from that race I smiled as I passed through the smog in Riverside in perfect comfort. Had I been in my old El Camino, my eyes would have been burning to the point of tears.
The van came with a very small single exhaust system and at 60,000 miles it burned a valve. I did the valve job and put on a 2 ½” dual exhaust system.
At about 90,000 miles I purchased and installed a 360 CID engine with 30,000 miles on it. Still not enough power even with the 4 barrel carburetor. I ran this engine to near the 200,000 mile mark before rebuilding it.
I did this engine exchange from the bottom and that is not the way to go. Neither is the recommended procedure of taking the engine out the front. In my opinion the easiest way is to remove the passenger’s seat and take the engine through the passenger door. The engine needs to be chained tightly to the hoist boom in order to get enough height to clear the floor pan.
The engine was definitely ready for a refresh. I put in an Isky cam with the biggest grind that would idle smoothly. Now that the valves actually open I have some power. I decided to refresh the engine and transmission every 100,000 miles. I always have at least one bearing worn through to the bronze. [Readers, keep in mind this van sees somewhat unusually strenuous use!]
Too many broken bones and broken marriages caused me to give up desert racing. Then I took up fishing and just to be sure it is a challenge I do all of my fishing in Baja on the Sea of Cortez. So now the van is usually loaded and pulling either a boat or a very large ATV, a Polaris 700cc twin.
Some years ago there was an ad campaign for those pesky Toyotas where the owner told how many miles he or she had accumulated. The top mileage that I remember was about 360,000 miles. I took a picture of the van where it turned 500,000 miles and that was on the Alaskan Highway just a couple of miles from the turnoff to the Cassair Highway.
I bent the differential housing while pulling stumps. They are not as strong as they look. I eventually changed to a 3.55:1 Sure Grip differential.
Some where near 600,000 miles the dipstick tube developed a hole. That bathed the entire right side of the van in oil.
I have had tail light bulbs last so long that the solder wears off the contact and the spring in the socket can’t make the electrical connection.
On one occasion the diaphragm in the fuel pump broke and this filled the crankcase with gasoline.
The electrical contacts for bringing power through the firewall from the fuseable link and the ground return have failed. I am sure that the return side failed first.
Baja roads wore the threads out in the upper control arm letting the ball joint move about freely. That was exciting!
I have put in an untold number of stereo systems with condensation from the A/C eventually getting to them. I now have one mounted on the ceiling.
The weirdest problem that I had was with the original ballast resistor. It had a tang on each end to position the wire wound resistor. The bottom tang broke and this allowed the wire to contact the frame when braking. Eventually this wore through the paint and after heavy braking the engine would go into a death shudder. The resistor shorting essentially turned the ignition off momentarily, then it would swing away and the motor would fire again. Once it started the resistor always won by completely killing the engine. The engine would immediately restart and be fine until the next quicker than normal stop was necessary. It took a while to run that one down.
The turn signal mechanism gives more that its fair share of problems. You can no longer buy the part from a dealer.
At just over 990,000 miles, I worked through a problem that is new to me — a cast iron head developing a porous hole between the water jacket and the compression chamber. I also just installed a 1968 Charger gas cap on the van.
In June of 2006 I bought a new SRT8 Dodge Charger. This is an awesome vehicle.
I achieved the million mile mark on June 10, 2007. I was coming back from fishing in Arkansas but while I was most of the way there I went on to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I was coming out of Prescott on US 89 heading toward Wilhoit, Arizona when the odometer went around for the tenth time.
My camera battery was very low so I did not get a good picture of the odometer at zero. I did get a good picture at 990,500 (near the top of this page).
Editor’s note: we first heard from Ray in 2002 at the 200,000 Mile Club. Ray sent us a packet full of supporting evidence for his million mile claim including the original copy of his official inspection statement.
More Articles by Ray Alexander
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