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Like the Jeep, the Dodge Power Wagon emerged from WWII to become a utilitarian hero in civilian hands.

From Battlefield to Farm

1946 Dodge Power Wagon - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
1946 Dodge Power Wagon - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

We all know the story of the Willys Jeep. How the battle-tested off-roader endeared itself to American GIs and went on to become a legendary nameplate back home. In fact, that early Jeep had a big brother during WWII, the Dodge Power Wagon. The ¾-ton “carryall” was a four-wheel drive behemoth capable of tackling the toughest terrain and the biggest of jobs from troop transport and ambulance work to hauling munitions and fuel.

Following the close of the war, like Willys, Dodge pitched the Power Wagon to a civilian audience as the perfect vehicle for the toughest jobs, tagging it as a “self-propelled powerplant.” For the next several decades, the Dodge Power Wagon was your best option for a heavy-duty truck. Whether you needed a stump pulled, a fence built, a fire extinguished, or school children bused, the Power Wagon was your platform of choice.

The OG of 4x4s 

1946 Dodge Power Wagon - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
1946 Dodge Power Wagon - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

The sturdy body-on-frame Dodge Power Wagon was the first mass produced four-wheel drive vehicle intended for a civilian audience. Starting in 1946, Dodge marketed the new 1-ton Power Wagon to farmers, hunters, loggers, and anyone else who could use it. The Power Wagon was a big truck with a modest engine. It is 230 cu in flathead inline-six made just 94 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. Power ran to all four wheels through a four-speed manual transmission and a two-speed transfer case (upgraded from the one-speed in the original military truck). Payload was rated at 3,000 lbs. The Power Wagon had floating front and rear axles with hydraulic front shocks, optional in the rear.

The Power Wagon was stubbornly unchanging through its run. Minor series changes added light-duty versions in 1957, including ½-ton and ¾-ton versions with either two-wheel or four-wheel drive. These included a Dodge Town Wagon, a station wagon that presaged our modern era of SUVs. A 225 cu in Slat-six was added in some iterations for 1963. A 383 big block was an offered option starting in 1967. The Club Cab was a four-door version debuting in 1974 that became popular among hunters and campers.

Putting the Utility in Utility Vehicle

Willock Swivel Frame - macsmotorcitygarage.com
Willock Swivel Frame - macsmotorcitygarage.com

The Dodge Power Wagon was not just a big four-wheel drive truck. Its versatility was its greatest claim to fame. A lot of this was owed to the Power Wagon’s two-sided power take off (PTO) front and rear. While a front winch was the most common accessory, the PTO allowed the Power Wagon to power all manner of add-on machinery. Starting in 1949, the Monroe Auto Equipment company offered a lift kit for the Power Wagon along with an extensive list of specialty PTO add-ons. These included things like a mower, grader, plows and harrows, a buzz saw, and post and telephone pole diggers. Indeed, the Power Wagon saw an array of applications. Its modal design allowed it to function as a school bus or street sweeper, logging truck or fire truck.

Of note was the optional Willock Swivel Chassis, available from 1952 through 1958, which decoupled the cab and bed, allowing them to rotate along the drive shaft independently for some wild off-road articulation.

Classic Truck Looks

1951 Dodge Power Wagon - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com
1951 Dodge Power Wagon - media.stellantisnorthamerica.com

One of the biggest allures of the Dodge Power Wagon as a classic truck is its imposing dimensions. The Power Wagon featured large front fenders with floating headlamps, military-style tires, running boards, and an eight-foot by four-and-a-half-foot bed. That bed was one of the few cosmetic changes to the utilitarian truck, when in 1951, Dodge changed it to resemble the regular Dodge pickup’s bed more closely. The 6×6 version of the Power Wagon accentuated the size of the already big truck. Four basic colors were offered: Red, Dark Blue, Dark Green, and Seawolf Submarine Green.

By the early 1960s, competition had begun to catch up to the Power Wagon in the US. And while domestic sales diminished, the Power Wagon remained popular overseas, selling under the DeSoto and Fargo banners and exported to US friendly militaries the world over. Production on the Dodge Power Wagon ceased after 1980, with the name resurfacing under the RAM pickup brand.

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Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

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