The Power Wagon Has An Armed Forces Pedigree
When the Power Wagon was introduced in 1946, Dodge had been producing trucks for the military for nearly a dozen years. In 1934, Dodge developed its first four-wheel drive truck for the US military, a 1 ½ ton cargo truck with a new part-time 4WD transfer case. The Timken system could be shifted in and out of the four-wheel drive by a lever inside the cab, significantly making the Army more mobile. Dodge applied the technology to ½ ton cargo trucks and vigorously pursued the Army’s use of them.
A year before the war, the Army decided they preferred the Dodge truck units and awarded a sizeable contract to Chrysler’s Dodge/Fargo divisions. Dodge built their first VC ½ ton trucks (T202) as primarily light-command reconnaissance vehicles. The models were essentially commercial trucks, but they proved so successful that the Army ordered more for other applications, and Dodge was only too happy to oblige.
As Dodge began ramping up production, the manufacturer began to look for ways to modify the VC units into an all-purpose standard military model. In 1941, as war erupted all over Europe, The new “WC” was given an enhanced engine, flat fenders, and cross-country tires. Dodge produced 38 variants of the WC as troop carriers, ambulances, emergency vehicles, radio command, and weapons carriers. During the first three years (1940 - ‘42), Dodge contributed around 84,400 VC and WC units to the military. While Willys and Ford produced many ¼ ton Jeeps, Dodge kept the armed forces moving with trucks known as “Beeps” in different configurations, from ½ ton to 1 ½ ton to 6X6 large troop carriers.
Dodge continued making trucks for the military during the war, with many of them sharing essential components, making them easily repairable on the road in often brutal battlefield conditions. The ¾ ton T214 would become the inspiration for the civilian Power Wagon after the war was over. Between 1942 and the conflict's end, Dodge cranked out nearly a quarter of a million T214s.
The Power Wagon Debuts
The original Power Wagon was derived from the ¾ ton WC pickup that Dodge had produced for the military. Since the military had paid for most of the machinery it took to produce the truck, Dodge saw an opportunity to save production costs as it ramped up its post-war production.
As a ¾ ton, the T214 was a sturdy vehicle with a lower center of gravity than the lighter-weight T215 trucks Dodge had made for the military. Rather than copy the military version exactly, Dodge increased the wheelbase of the Power Wagon to a one-ton, knowing that the civilian version would be used in all sorts of industries (from oil fields to farms to utility and forestry vehicles). The sturdy frame included seven cross members, with the front being fully boxed and designed to accommodate a winch. Heavy-duty hydraulic shocks were available as standard equipment on the front and optional for the rear.
The tires were 9.00/16 eight-plys attached to five-spoke lug rims. While the radiator size was increased and the headlights widened, the truck looked much like the T214 that had served so effectively overseas. Dodge trumpeted that the truck was designed to go anywhere and could haul and tow almost anything, which only added to its versatility.
Power Wagons were initially offered in four primary colors: Dark Green, Red, Blue, and Submarine Green. The company tended to paint the fenders and running boards black. Still, for an additional expense, owners could extend the primary vehicle color to cover the entire vehicle. The 8’ cargo bed was generous, with over 22 inches of depth and 58 cubic feet of space, and lined with a wooden floor. A spare tire was mounted on the passenger side of the bed where it could be easily reached when necessary.
Engine And Transmission
The truck was powered by a 230 ci flathead six-cylinder engine that produced 96 hp and a 6.4:1 compression ratio. The L-head powerplant had a 3.25-inch bore and 4.63-inch stroke, producing more than adequate low-end torque (185 lb-ft). Dodge equipped the engine with full-pressure lubrication, a floating oil intake, and a roto-pressure oil pump. While the block was cast iron, the cylinder heads were an aluminum alloy with four rings on each, with heat-resistant exhaust valve seats designed to resist extreme conditions when the motor was pushed to extremes.
The motor was mated to a four-speed manual transmission, which was floor-mounted. Nearby, a two-speed transfer case handled the off-road duties, with a power take-off option that would give either axle the ability to run auxiliary equipment when needed.
Dodge used the same cab from 1939, with bench seating, metal floors, and stark, no-frills interiors. The dash was also metal, with an instrument panel that consisted of three gauges, a circular speedometer, and two rectangular clusters on either side. The company offered a Deluxe option, which included a left armrest, small vent windows, dual sun visors, and a dome light but little else.
Cost And Options
The Power Wagon sold for $1,627, about $600 more than its standard class of 2WD pickups. Optional equipment like a front-mounted winch, a rear towing apparatus with an adjustable drawbar, pintle hooks, or even a front-mounted tripod that could lift a heavy drill to create holes for utility poles could be ordered. Shortly after the introduction, Monroe Auto Company coordinated with Dodge to develop a three-point hydraulic hitch for the Power Wagon. With a complete line of agricultural equipment that could be hooked up and released quickly, the Power Wagons could be used in place of a tractor, whether plowing a field, watering the crops, or hauling hay bales to cattle in the north forty.
Dodge was so convinced that Americans would value their contributions to the wartime effort that when the Dodge Power Wagon debuted in 1946, part of their advertising campaign centered around “The Army Truck The Boys Wrote Home About.” An early sales brochure from 1949 shows photographs of Power Wagons being used in various applications, reminding customers and business owners that the Power Wagon was a truck that needed no roads.
The Power Wagon Gets Improved
Dodge improved the Power Wagon in 1949 with a new heavier-duty four-speed manual transmission, but for the most part, the 4WD pickup remained unchanged. The company had sold over 5,240 models of the Wagon during its first three years of production, and while it wasn’t the splash that Dodge had hoped for, the automaker remained committed to the project.
The ‘51 Power Wagon received a change to its cargo box with ribbed sides (rather than straight) for additional strength. In addition, the truck used three stake pockets (instead of four on the original version) and a rounded top rear edge that slanted out 45 degrees to allow for towing/wrecker applications. A new 7,500 lb winch was an option; inside, new gauges were situated on the instrument panel.
Dodge continued to market the Power Wagon and its versatility in national publications and even at the movie theater. When Chryler commissioned a film company to document its Power Wagon in the early fifties, it was distributed on almost every movie screen in the country. The film “Power Wagon” helped get the word out and was highly successful in helping Americans become familiar with everything the new vehicles could do.
A Change Is In The Wind
Dodge continued to tweak the 230 ci L-head engine with various performance upgrades until it produced 113 hp in 1957. While the newfound power outputs helped, sales for the Power Wagon slowed, leading Dodge to make some difficult decisions. The company decided to utilize the Power Wagon name for its new four-wheel drive light and medium-duty trucks.
The PW badging began to appear on W100s (½ ton 4WD) and W200s (¾ ton 4WD), and while Dodge borrowed the PW name, the manufacturer continued to make the Power Wagon as a separate heavy-duty pickup. Neither Ford nor GM had come out with their 4WD versions yet (Ford introduced four-wheel drive in 1959, and GM a year later), so sales didn’t seem to gain much traction. For the 1957 model year, Ford led the charge for pickup sales, selling nearly 360,000 trucks to GM’s 340,000, while Dodge generated only a little over 50,000 units, of which 8,706 were Power Wagons. (The ‘57 model year was its best).
While the Power Wagon could go anywhere and do anything, it was not helping Dodge sales. Replacing the engine a few years later to 251 ci didn’t help, although the new powerplant was raging at a much higher power level (130 hp). Dodge raised the GVWR to 9,500 lbs, increasing the tire strength to a more capable ten-ply and adding a switch to the key ignition. Power brakes and power steering were also introduced as options.
The Power Wagon in the 60s
By the 1960s, all the Big Three automakers were making four-wheel-drive trucks (International Harvester was also successful with its Scout 80), and Dodge was feeling the competitive heat. Jeep was also climbing the ranks with its off-road capabilities.
Even with automatic transmissions, power steering, and brakes now being standard equipment, consumers were attracted to the amenities the Power Wagon’s rivals offered. Power Wagon sales continued to dwindle. While the Wagon would go on to be produced for the domestic market until 1968, Dodge began to explore making the versatile vehicle for export to foreign markets.
Soon, the military came knocking at Dodge’s door once again. The Military Defense Assistance Program included Dodge Power Wagons as part of the country’s allotment to friendly foreign militaries. As the US became embroiled in the conflict in Vietnam, Dodge ramped up production again, watching its product ship overseas to defend the cause of freedom. The Power Wagon continued to be produced until 1978 when production was halted a couple of years after the Vietnam War.
The Power Wagon Makes A Comeback - Sort Of
The Power Wagon name was discontinued in 1981 until Dodge decided to bring it back over twenty years later. In 2005, Dodge offered an off-road package on their 2500 model in honor of the old Power Wagon. The package included a winch, tow hook, special exterior black accent paint, enhanced torque converter, and 17-inch all-terrain tires. The 5.7 V8 Hemi was the only engine offered, although owners could purchase a regular cab and 8’ bed or Quad-cab with a 6.25’ cargo bed.
When MotorTrend reviewed the truck in the fall of 2005, it was impressed, asking if there “is anything this truck cannot do.” The press was so impressed with the ride and quality of the truck that it came as no surprise when MT named it the “Pickup Of The Year.” Despite the fanfare, Dodge truck sales continued to lag behind Ford, selling only 400k units to Ford’s F Series 901k). Still, Dodge continued to stay committed to the new Power Wagon.
In 2010, Dodge split off its RAM truck division, and the Power Wagon saw significant changes.
The truck continued to be a part of Dodge’s off-road prowess, and with a new 12k lb winch, electronic locking differentials, and an all-terrain tuned suspension, the truck is now an integral part of Dodge’s lineup. When Dodge added the 6.4L Hemi in 2013 (along with several other changes), the result was a mighty off-road warrior that could travel almost anywhere, just as it had in the forties.
The current version of the Ram Power Wagon has been updated in the last decade to improve its ride and offer safety amenities that were non-existent back in the post-war days. The Power Wagon has made such strides that it is nothing like its “bare bones” metal floored relative. Dodge has recently released the 2024 Power Wagon with improved Bilstein shocks, a WARN-12 winch, and all the gusto that any four-wheel enthusiast could want. The 2024 truck is powered by the 6.7L Hemi engine, giving it all the Dodge power a person could want.