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The Original Dodge Power Wagon

<a name="civilian"></a>Origins of the Dodge Power Wagon

© 2010 Curtis Redgap.
Printed by permission.
Expanded by the staff.

From 1934 onwards, Dodge built four-wheel-drive trucks for the Army, from half-ton to full-ton, in a variety of sizes and styles. After the war, the former soldiers sought out Dodge trucks for their ruggedness and nearly unbreakable build quality.

The company was swamped with requests for the wartime "carryalls" (they had built 226,776 of them); people wanted the Dodge's durability, though its four wheel drive and high capacity were also attractive.

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Dodge worked quickly to adapt their military trucks to civilian versions, 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. Just about every component evolved from existing parts.

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The earliest reference to the Power Wagon was a wartime ad in Collier's, referring to Dodge's "Battle Wagon;" it 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.

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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." [The official Chrysler history claims it was unveiled in 1945.]

Soon after, Dodge wrote 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.

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Despite changing model designations, it was a one-ton truck through its whole life; the first year saw a 230 cubic-inch flathead six engine, four-speed manual transmission, and 8 ply tires on 16x6-inch five-stud wheels. The gross weight rating (GVWR) was 8,700 pounds and the payload was 3,000 pounds.

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

Dodge (including Fargo and DeSoto) used the 1939-style commercial cab with a 126-inch chassis. The same cab was used on military half-ton and ton-and-a-half trucks, then all the light 1946 and 1947 Dodge trucks and some larger trucks. It was adapted to sit on the Power Wagon frame, with the floor modified to clear the transmission.

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Beginning in 1939, Job-Rated pickups had boxes with wooden planks and 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.

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The mud guards were common to nearly all early car and truck makers, while some early Dodge military trucks had the more modern teardrop-style fender, they became clogged with mud in the field, so military trucks quickly changed to the older style. The Dodge Power Wagon kept the functional military fenders.


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 chassis. Later Chinese army truck styling was copied from this Dodge export.

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.

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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 the 1½ ton 6x6, Dodge added a two-speed transfer case for lower gearing. The military drive line was carried over to the Power Wagon, with the low range gearing changed from 1.5 to 1.96.

To get 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. A mechanical governor was available, to keep the engine at a set speed under different loads.

With the two-way power takeoff, the front shaft could operate the winch or pumps, while the rear shaft, hooked up to a pulley, could operate a mower or a saw; the power takeoff lever, including rotation control, was in the cab. This helped 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.

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Early prototypes had a welded-steel boxes borrowed from a one ton pickup, but the low sides seemed out of place, and it was nowhere near the needed capability. This box may have been the only completely original piece for the Power Wagon - 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.

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Pickup box side panels and fenders were similar to the one ton pickup box, with a center support for the tailgate when it was lowered to help carry any load there; it was built for very heavy loads indeed. 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 (in any case, it was more powerful than many of the alternatives). They were tough as rocks, cheap to fix, and lasted forever.

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The Dodge truck engine is not the same as the car engine, even when the displacement is the same; they were always upgraded for severe usage or conditions. 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 separate lines.

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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 power in the big 250 cubic inch six. Opening up the valve passages can be a huge help. There are also all kinds of camshaft grinds, available even today, to lift the horsepower and torque.

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

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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

added by the
Allpar staff

Dodge's own history, published in 1951, states the Power Wagon's basic goal was to fulfill needs for a small, fast (for 1946), powerful, and rugged vehicle capable of traveling equally well on and 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."

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Dodge could claim the first mass-produced 4x4 pickup, beating Willys' 4T by over a year and other automakers by ten. For 1947, the Power Wagon had electric wipers, a driver's sun visor and armrest, dome light, heater, and 10,000-pound winch (the 1950 models claimed a 7,500 pound capacity, with 250 feet of cable and a safety brake).

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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. One reason for the slow pace of change may have been the equally slow sales after the first few years.

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In 1950, a four blade radiator fan replaced the six blade; and a new hydraulic lift let farmers raise or lower rear-mounted accessories (up to 500 pounds) from a lever in the cab. There were four attaching points in the rear for equipment added; hydraulic lines led from the front of the truck to the rear, with a leveling device in back and a down-pressure control valve in front of the radiator.

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 - similar to the forthcoming 225 slant six. The gross vehicle weight was 8,700 lb. Just 5,601 were made in 1954, with a base price of $2,307.

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The 1955 Power Wagons finally gained 12-volt electrical systems, 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 Chrysler tradition, Dodge applied the name "Power Wagon" to an unrelated set of four wheel drive trucks from 1957 onwards. These were based on standard pickups, with V8 engine options; the last of this group was made in 1980.

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. The 1962 series gained lockout front hubs.

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The 1963 Dodge Truck sales brochure doesn't call out the Power Wagon by that name; it's dubbed the "Dodge WM300 Military Type." The WM300's special engine and other features were not mentioned anywhere. It doesn't appear anywhere in the 1967 brochure, though the company had added a dual master cylinder that year.

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The Power Wagon was finally dropped from US sale after 1968 (though not before the Forest Service pleaded for its continuance). The flat-head six would not pass emissions rules, and the sales did not justify moving to switch to the Slant 6. In any case, between 1945 and 1968, just 95,145 of the WDX-WM300 Power Wagons had been sold in the United States - averaging just 4,200 per year (keeping them out of most sales brochures may have contributed to the low sales). Dodge kept building them for export into 1978; changes continued, based on what was in the Chrysler parts bins.

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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