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The Original Dodge Power Wagon

Origins of the Dodge Power Wagon

Dodge built many four-wheel-drive trucks starting in 1934, making them suit the Army's whims with one-ton, half-ton, and three-quarter-ton capacities, in a variety of wheelbases and open and closed body styles.

1942 Dodge military trucks

After the war, the former marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen, who returned to their lives as farmers, construction workers, miners, and sportsmen (etc.), sought out Dodge for its ruggedness and nearly unbreakable build quality.

Dodge found itself swamped with requests for the wartime “carryalls” they had built — 226,776 of them. The toughness of the Carryalls, the 6x6 WC62/63s, the T214s, and the T234s, were never in question. The four wheel drive was seen as a high-tech bonus, and to boot, they had a 2,000-pound payload capacity off-road.

Dodge Power Wagon

Dodge engineers got to work on a new civilian truck. The resulting Dodge Power Wagon was not new or original; it evolved through “parts room engineering.”  Dodge engineers seem to have spent as much time seeing what would fit or could be adapted, as they did at the drawing board.  Each component evolved from existing parts. 

1941 dodge pickup

The earliest reference to the Power Wagon was a wartime ad in Collier’s, referring to Dodge’s “Battle Wagon;” it showed a carryall which looked similar to the Power Wagon, but had some major differences.

A much closer relative of the Power Wagon was in a Chrysler factory photo dated July 3, 1945; there were no nameplates on the prototype, so the name may not have been selected yet. However, it is the Power Wagon, without any doubt.

Power Wagon suspension

Dodge finally told the automotive press that the new truck was to be called the “Farm Utility Truck.” Then, on January 2, 1946, Automotive Industries announced that Dodge had introduced the “WDX General Purpose Truck.” A month and a half later, Dodge indicated that the new truck was to be the General Purpose, One Ton Truck. Finally, when sales began in March 1946, with the sales floors being swamped by customers seeking the rugged wartime Dodge, the name had been finalized as Power Wagon.

PowerWagon dashboard

There were identical Fargo and Dodge versions of the trucks. The Power Wagon was exported, as a Dodge and, even up to 1978, as a DeSoto and Fargo.

Dodge (and, in Canada and other markets, Fargo) used the commercial cab launched in 1939, with a 126-inch chassis. This cab was used on military half-ton and ton-and-a-half trucks until 1942, and then on 1946 and 1947 postwar Dodge trucks — all the light trucks and some larger trucks.  It was adapted to sit on the Power Wagon frame, with the floor modified to clear the transmission.

Power Wagon wood strip bed

Beginning in 1939, Job-Rated pickups featured boxes that had wooden planks with steel skid strips, a setup kept into 1985, when the last Utilized pickup was built. The correct way to finish the wood is to paint it black regardless of body color; this may have had as much to do with durability as economics.  The running boards also saw little evolution.  

dodge truck

The mud guards were similar to those chosen by almost all early car and truck makers.  Early V-series Dodge military trucks had the more modern teardrop style fender; but they became clogged with mud in the field, so military trucks quickly changed to the older style.  The Dodge Power Wagon kept the military fenders, in keeping with the “go anywhere four-wheel-drive” image — and the marketing staff probably wanted to remind buyers of the military heritage.

  warning plaques

The rugged front hood styling was adapted from a 2 ton, 4x2 truck built by Dodge for export to China at the end of the war, downsized to fit the Power Wagon chassis. Chinese army truck styling was copied from this Dodge export. 

The four wheel drive system came from the early Dodge designs; the first 4x4 military Dodges had a single speed transfer case, but the half-ton 4.89 differential gearing was weak, so they increased it to 5.83.  As with any engineering decision, they changed it until it was enough to do the job. 

offset 4x4 differential

Israel produced their own version of the Power Wagon, Weapons Carrier, and D-series trucks. The fabled "Nun-Nun," made in Nazareth until the 1980s, were developed into the Abir. External photo link

When the ¾ ton 4x4 was modified into 1½ ton 6x6, the military needed additional gearing, so Dodge added a two-speed transfer.  The military drive line was carried over to the Power Wagon, with the 6x6 transfer case taken but the low range gearing changed from 1.5 to 1.96.  To gain a rear axle with the differential offset for the rear power takeoff (PTO) drive shaft, Dodge used the intermediate (front rear tandem) axle from the 6x6, with the same drive axle part number — solving an engineering issue with a trip to the parts room.

Thanks to the two-way power take off, the front shaft could operate the winch or pumps, while the rear shaft could operate any sort of powered equipment, like a mower or a saw. This saw many applications in civilian use in industry, agriculture, public utilities, state highway, law enforcement, and fire fighting.

Dodge continued to use military non-directional tires.  There were no other high traction tires available back then.

Dodge Power Wagon (1954)

An outstanding feature of the Dodge Power Wagon was the all-steel welded box; early prototypes had one borrowed from a one ton pickup, but the low sides seemed out of place, and it was nowhere near the needed capability.

In the end, the only completely original piece for the Power Wagon was the box, which Dodge built expressly for the truck — 4.5 feet wide (over four feet between the wheel wells), 20 inches deep, and 8 feet long — larger and deeper than any other available, including the 1939 Dodge TD-21, which also had a 9 foot box. The bed allowed the truck to haul loads far beyond the conservative rating.

prototype Dodge military truck 1939

Pickup box side panels and fenders were made to appear similar to the one ton pickup box, with a center support for the tailgate when it was lowered to help carry any load there.  The truck was intended to haul a lot.  After the War, the conventional one-ton 4x2 truck was built only on the 120-inch wheelbase chassis with a 7 1/2-foot cargo box.

Dodge Power Wagon engines

The 94 hp, flathead-6 powered truck was never going to win any speed contests, but for the towns, fire companies, ranchers, farmers, and others who ordered them, speed was never the issue. They were tough as rocks, cheap to fix, and lasted forever.

Power Wagon fire engine

The Dodge truck engine is not the same as the car engine, even if the displacement is the same. Dodge truck engines were always upgraded to make them suitable for severe usage or conditions. The extent of those upgrades depended upon the intended application. A half ton pick up would be mildly upgraded with items such as chrome piston rings in place of steel rings. For severe service, more rugged components would be built in, moving from valve driven gears to chains, adding stellite sodium valves, a shot-peened crankshaft, and valve rotators. Truck engines were built on totally separate lines.

truck engine

Those old flatheads benefited greatly from modifications. Swapping the old single throat for a two barrel, or adding a second single-throat, boosts horsepower — and especially torque. There is a dual carb set up for twin two barrels, giving a four barrel effect.

Tuned steel headers can add horsepower in the 250 cubic inch six. Opening up the valve passages can be a huge help. There are also all kinds of camshaft grinds, even available today from the major grinders, to lift the horsepower and torque.

Power Wagon fire truck

There are also head upgrades; if you do your own, be careful not to mill it down too much, ruining the combustion chamber.

Power Wagons were engineered for tough military duty (the story goes that development engineers would find a way to make components fail every time the bean counters wanted to save a couple of cents here and there); so other than general rot issues, and perhaps mixing and matching of parts if you're going to keep things correct for a given year, there shouldn't be anything unusual to watch out for. sells just about any part you could possibly need to restore a Power Wagon to its former glory.

Evolution of the Dodge Power Wagon

According to Dodge’s own history, published in 1951, the Power Wagon’s basic goal was to fulfill needs for a small, fast (?), powerful, and rugged vehicle — capable of traveling well on the road, and equally as well off the road. “We styled its appearance to be pleasing, but with rugged design points to showcase the driving units, such as the engine, clutch, transmission, transfer case, front and rear driving axles, which all remain the same as were introduced on the military versions.”

Power Wagon fire truck

Technical upgrades came slowly to the Power Wagon, carefully added, such as in 1949, when the transmission was changed to a heavy duty spur gear four speed. It may sound small, but in 1950, a four blade radiator fan replaced the six blade. One reason for the slow pace of change may have been the equally slow sales after the first few years.

Model year 1951 saw probably more changes than in any year:

  • A new pickup bed
  • Axle capacities increased
  • Optional, stiffer springs
  • New rubber engine, cab and box mountings were added in the front and rear
  • The mounting angle of the transfer case was adjusted to improve the prop-shaft angle
  • 1,600 pound capacity front springs and 3,000 pound rear springs were available as an option; the rear axle capacity was increased from 5,500 pounds to 6,500 pounds and the front axle went from 3,500 to 3,750.
  • Instruments changed from the military style to the civilian type
  • Spark plug covers were changed to give better protection
  • A new fuel pump was added for higher flow
  • A more powerful starter was put on the 217 ci flathead six cylinder engine (a Plymouth-sized six cylinder.)
  • Brakes were changed to the Cyclebond molded tapered linings with anodized brake cylinders.

A new carburetor with a sandwich governor came in 1952; compression was bumped in 1953 (from 6.7 to 7.0:1) and 1954 (7.25:1 with a new 230 cid flathead six and a redesigned manifold and longer-duration cam)

For 1954, the new 230 six was rated for 99 horsepower at 3,600 rpm — very similar to the forthcoming 225 slant six. The transmission was a selective sliding gear manual with three forward gears and one reverse; and the gross vehicle weight was 8,700 lb. Just 5,601 were made in 1954; the base price was $2,307.

1954 dodge power wagon

Model year 1955 finally saw 12-volt electrics and synchromesh transmissions, along with a bump in the compression ratio from 7.25 to 7.6:1. Then, in 1956, power steering was optional; in 1957, power brakes joined the power steering, and key-actuated starting was finally implemented.

In 1958, buyers could specify a 10,000 pound winch or a Leece-Neville alternator (many municipalities ordered them for police and fire vehicles).

The 1960s didn't see major changes to the wartime design: a 251-cube Six arrived in 1961, and even though the brand new slant six of 225 cubic inches was sold across the lower priced brands, it was never used in the Power Wagon. Chrysler-built alternators, of a superior new design, replaced both the generator and the Leece-Neville alternator. Lock-out front hubs came a year later, and a dual master cylinder came in 1967.

Power Wagon

Safety and emissions rules finally killed the Power Wagon in the States in 1968 (though not before the Forest Service pleaded their case for its continuance); it was deemed too expensive to reverse-engineer the Slant 6 into the engine bay, given that, between 1945 and 1968, just 95,145 of the WDX-WM300 Power Wagons had been sold in the United States. However, the company kept building them for export into 1978. There were more changes, based on the Chrysler parts bins.

The Power Wagon name did return, to various Dodge 4x4 pickups.

Engine Specifications, 1946 Dodge Power Wagon (230 cubic inches)

  • Bore x stroke: 3.25 x 4.625
  • Compression ratio: 6.7:1
  • Horsepower @ rpm: 94 @ 3,200
  • Torque @ rpm: 185-lbs.ft. @ 1,200
  • Fuel delivery: Single Stromberg down-draft carburetor, with governor

Dodge Power Wagon Production and Pricing

From 1946-48, a total of 5,450 Power Wagons were built.

  • 1946 Base Price: $1,627
  • 1956 Base Price: $2,499 (note ten year skip)
  • 1968 Base Price: $4,634 (note 12 year skip)
  • 1978 Export Model Price: $4,714 (note ten year skip)

Also see: Power Wagon: The Movies; Contemporary Dodge Power Wagon; the Burma Road trucks

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