Looking to do a little scenic drive with your girlfriend and young son… from Belgium to India and back, with a load of hash in secret compartments? What vehicle would you choose? Exactly: Newport!
In my family, we still tell stories of my uncle's legendary weed-smuggling '57 Plymouth, but even Uncle Dirty Duck himself would have been impressed by the tale told by British musician Richie Lane about his father's 1970 road trip in his '68 Newport. Unfortunately, he doesn't have many photos of the car, but the shots we do get include some nice scantily-clad images of dad's Belgian girlfriend, Titi. Here's his story:
The car had been modified to carry cannabis resin in the floor. Which is quite possibly why we had all been brought along, to act as cover. I'm not aware my dad attempted such things on previous or any subsequent trips and he made many such trips, including another back to India later this same year to conclude vintage car deals arranged on our visit in the Chrysler. Doesn't seem a particularly admirable or responsible thing for my late father to have attempted though. If we had been caught - who know what would have become of us. In fact we nearly were, after considerable concern in Pakistan where the cannabis was concealed in the floor. The story goes, according to Titi, that she and my dad became very aware that our movements were being monitored. So my dad took off at night and buried the cannabis in the desert to avoid detection, and we carried on our journey. The people who later purchased the car in Belgium after we got back, were mainly interested in it as well for it's capabilities to carry drugs. That is before they wrecked it anyway. Shame as it was an excellent car with great stamina and marvellous comfort and performance. There were few cars made in Europe that could have withstood the punishment that these journeys handed out. The Peugeot 504 was only in production the previous year, and its 1,800 cc (80 bhp) engine would have been very sluggish next to the Chrysler's potent V8, which was the only saloon made in Europe that would have managed as 1,000s of miles of this journey had roads that were much more like dirt tracks really. A Land-Rover would no doubt have done it as well - and those were used on other trips, but they were slow and very uncomfortable.
We travelled from London to Belgium - Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India. Then back again. Took about 11- 12 weeks. Probably more than 20,000 miles. Khyber Pass was the most exciting location, although amazing scenery in many places. There were quite a number of us in there at certain points of the trip, I was nine and used to sleep on the back parcel shelf! My dad didn't believe in stopping, he would drive all day all night, taking only occasional naps behind the wheel, and do this for 10 - 12 day stretches. You would fall asleep on these journeys and wake up several hours later in completely & totally different scenery with different air even. Were amazing times, best days.
The car needed some quite serious work when it got back to Belgium, the front end was getting lower and lower we had to keep readjusting the head lights, I think the suspension got knackered. After it was repaired, someone took it out on the town got drunk and trashed it quite badly.
A few yrs later ('74 or so), my old man took a Cadillac Fleetwood to Kathmandu, a beautiful dark green sedan. I still remember sitting inside it while a monsoon storm was taking place all around, listening to "461 Ocean Boulevard" on the 8 track. Whenever, I see that Norah Jones video, it makes me wanna cry, y'know the one. I didn't unfortunately go out there with him on that, I had to smuggle money out to him (as an unaccompanied minor) when he had spent out and couldn't afford fuel let alone checking out the hotel. We left the Cadillac there, and took a Land Rover and a 1950s Marguis Deutsch truck (not sure that's the right spelling never tried to write it before), with a Phantom 1 RR tourer on the back that he'd smuggled out, and took it over the Himalayas, through India and across Pakistan to Kararchi where we put it on a boat bound for the UK.
Wow! Sort of puts most of our personal road trips to shame, doesn't it? Richie's father has passed on, sadly, but Titi is still around and may have more photos of this epic- and no doubt harrowing- road trip. When I get 'em, I'll share 'em!