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Written by Double Dragon
Thursday, 20 January 2011 14:07

1962 DODGE Custom 880- Stuart Cross


Story and photographs copyright D.S. Brown, except for bottom two photographs of 880 after repaint which are copyright Stuart Cross. Images from owner's manual and chassis service manual copyright Chrysler.

One of the standard cliches in road movies is the scene where the car dies outside a desert town in the middle of nowhere. The travelers don't have enough cash to fix the car and hitchhike their way to the next adventure. Whatever happens to those cars abandoned half way through a road trip out in the desert?

Stuart Cross, the current owner of this Dodge Custom 880 knows the fate of one such car. Stuart discovered this Dodge abandoned behind a garage along Interstate 10 in Arizona. The garage kept the car when the owner couldn't pay to fix it back in 1989, just like the movies.


From 1962 until 1989 the Custom 880 was a ONE FAMILY car. From 1989 until 2007 it was in the limbo of the burning desert sands. The station owner said the Dodge was registered to Jesse Michaels, the lead singer of a punk band called Operation Ivy who was given the car by his grandmother. The old Dodge began decaying about the same time that Operation Ivy disbanded. Some of the members of this band later formed a group called Rancid. Somewhere around the same time that Rancid was making it big, Jesse eventually formed a new band. Meanwhile back in the desert, the drive train was pulled from the old Dodge.


Over twenty years went by while the car slowly deteriorated behind that garage. The Operation Ivy story hasn't been confirmed for certain, but this much is known: the car was a punk band's touring car given to the lead singer by his grandmother, and it broke down in Arizona. An old yardstick found in the trunk was made and distributed in California, supporting the story of the car's origin in California.

 62 dodge custom 880 desert

Prior to the sad decline, the Dodge carried band members and their equipment from gig to gig locally as well as weathering long road trips on tours. The Dodge was named Black Betty and was spray painted black. No modifications were made to the car aside from the homemade paint job and holes cut for an aftermarket stereo. The car was in essentially factory condition with only necessary replacement items changed.

62 dodge custom 880 steering

Here's the owner's manual explanation of that weathered old dash.


The Chryslers from this era used pushbutton transmissions. It proved too unfamiliar and 'futuristic' for buyers and after a few years Chrysler reverted to typical lever style selectors. In the early 2000s a similar problem emerged when the new continuously variable automatic transmissions appeared. The lack of any familiar, discernible shift point distressed drivers. A repeat of the 1960s push-button transmission selector scenario of being 'ahead of its time'.



Funnily, one of the unique features of Stuart's car is that it is a two door, not the typical four door commonly encountered body style for this car. A Rancid song refers to touring around the country in the Operation Ivy band car, but the writer describes it as a 'four door'. Maybe the line just worked better for the song, or perhaps a trick of memory.

Another possibility is that a punk band that emulated Operation Ivy was touring in this car when it broke down in Arizona, which is an alternate explanation for the Operation Ivy front plate. What is known for sure is that the timeline fits well for this to be Jesse Michael's car. Operation Ivy toured in late 1988 and early 1989 which is when this car was abandoned on that fateful road trip.

/62 dodge custom 880 side

Stuart's 880 marks the first year for the model, which was a midyear model brought hastily to market in January of 1962. Prior to the unveiling of the 1962 cars, the product planners at Chrysler were worried by rumors that Chevrolet was downsizing their Impala. Chrysler hurriedly shrunk the full size Dodges in time for the fall, 1961 release of the new 1962 cars. The downsized Dodges became associated in the media releases with the new intermediate sized Mercury Meteor. Dodge was left with no full size car, just a new intermediate car that couldn't compete with the Impala. The Impala was now even bigger than previously. The rumor that triggered all of this was partly correct: Chevrolet released a new small car: the Chevy II.


The ad above says it all: the Custom 880 is a BIG car. In a mad rush, Chrysler grafted the nose from the 1961 Polara onto the back end of the current Newport to create an instant full size Dodge named the Custom 880. 17,500 of these cars were sold, but the two door was not a common sight. Below is the Stuart's VIN with the significant sequence numbers removed. The first digit 6= Dodge Custom 880, the 1= 880 model, the 2= 1962, the 3= Jefferson, MI factory build location.


Stuart's two door Dodge Custom 880 was shipped from Jefferson to a car dealership in the Berkeley, CA area where it was bought new by the grandmother of the lead singer of the band. The Dodge was originally either white or pale blue turquoise. The grandmother who gave her grandson the car probably gave away the car several years prior to 1988.


The Dodge has a substantial amount of bondo in the rockers which points to a band member style repair. Grannies usually have metal work done by a professional shop. The salt air in the San Francisco bay area can rot out cars. The severity is determined by proximity to the ocean. Berkeley is pretty far from the salt sprays so it's hard to know why the car rusted this badly.

62 dodge custom 880 lights

After the car broke down on tour at that small garage along Interstate 10 in Arizona it sat intact for years before the original 361 two barrel engine and transmission were pulled from the car. The pushbuttons for the transmission are missing from their pod in the dash. The 8 3/4 inch 2.93:1 rear axle is still in place. Eventually, the chickens moved into the interior and made it their personal home. Sandstorms and sun worked away at the car, too.


Stuart rescued the car for $200.00 and has slowly worked to get it back on the road. The photos show pretty much exactly the way the car was found behind the garage, with the exception of the old black paint being stripped off the side panels and removal of trim to facilitate bodywork. The odometer sits at 76,482 miles, but it's anyone's guess how many times it has been round the dial.


Stuart's mother, Dolly has a 1967 383 out of a Newport which will be used to get the car running again. Funnily, the chickens didn't actually ruin the interior. Either the interior was well made or they were a considerate group of chickens. The parts for this car are hard to find and it needs quite a bit of work. Luckily Dolly is an experienced metal worker and is guiding the process of rejuvenation.  


I love the graphics on those sixties manuals. This manual was essential reading as the car came back to life. Below is an old 1962 Sun Electric spec sheet distributed to garages as a mechanic's 'cheat sheet'. It provides all the essential information for servicing any model of car in a condensed form.



62 dodge custom 880 painted

Today the Dodge is still out in the desert, but is slowly coming back to life. On July 15, 2010 for the first time in decades the 880 moved under her own power again. A set of correct wheel covers and a repaint have the car looking pretty good again. Stuart installed a set of 1967 Fury seats and has driven the Dodge, although the brakes are still a bit iffy. The car will have to be titled to Stuart eventually and this will end the Dodge 880s long tenure as a ONE FAMILY car, but for now it is still technically a ONE FAMILY car with the last registration tracing all the way back to that fateful day the car broke down in the desert.

62 dodge custom 880 stu and dog

The band members of Operation Ivy have moved onto new things. It's a pretty sure bet that somewhere a road trip is ending because some car broke down in the desert. Right now some car is being tucked away behind a garage as these words are being written, and twenty years from now someone like Stuart will discover it. As long as there are road trip movies they will be sure to include a scene of a car breaking down in the desert.


Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 July 2013 22:14 )