In early 1946, Dodge announced an addition to its lineup as "the truck that needs no roads."The truck in question was the 1946-1968 Dodge Power Wagon, model WDX, a new multipurpose vehicle born from Dodge's experience building four-wheel-drive trucks for American and allied military forces in World War II.
It was then one of only two factory-complete general-use 4×4s available in the USA -- the other being the Willys Jeep -- making it a pioneer in bringing the capability of four-wheel drive to a broader audience.
No doubt Dodge executives of the 1940s couldn't have imagined the huge market for personal-use four-wheel-drive trucks that exists today. When the Power Wagon was introduced in January 1946, the division described it as a one-ton general-purpose truck designed for off-highway operations on unimproved roads.
Neither, it's safe to assume, could they have foreseen the Power Wagon's staying power. Despite "war surplus" looks and L-head powerplants, it would remain on the domestic scene until 1968, then last another decade for export under a U.S. government program.
Four-wheel-drive trucks were hardly a new thing when the Power Wagon came out. They had been around since the time of World War I. However, these were heavy-duty vehicles strictly for commercial or military use. Beginning in the 1930s, it was possible for the owners of light trucks to have conversions to four-wheel drive performed by firms like Marmon-Herrington, but these special-order vehicles tended to be bought by businesses or agencies with very specific needs. "Average Joes" had little exposure to 4×4s -- at least until they became "G.I. Joes."
World War II impressed the capability of multiaxle drive upon many a soldier who was served by -- or even fought with -- four- and six-wheel-drive vehicles. Willys' little ¼-ton scout car became a battlefield legend and spurred the company to place the Jeep CJ on the postwar consumer market.
Dodge, meanwhile, had a military truck it thought it could discharge into civilian life as well. In fact, the cover of the first Power Wagon sales brochure touted it as "The Army truck the boys wrote home about ... now redesigned for peacetime use."
Still, the Power Wagon's martial roots ran deep. Dodge's involvement with four-wheel-drive military vehicles began in 1934 when it built a ½-ton cargo truck for the Army. It had the world's first drive system that could be conveniently shifted in and out of four-wheel mode by working a control lever in the cab.
In 1940, Dodge fulfilled an Army contract to design and build ½-ton 4×4 military trucks in several styles using many commercial truck parts. Designated the T202 series, they came with essentially stock front-end sheetmetal that gave them a "civilian" appearance. Similarly, their 116-inch wheelbase and 201-cubic-inch 79-horsepower six-cylinder engine matched those found on Dodge ½-ton trucks then plying American roads. A four-speed transmission, optional on general-market trucks, was included on the military models.
The following year, the T202 was replaced by the T207-series trucks. Again rated as ½-tonners, they featured a military-specific hood, grille, and fenders. These trucks were powered by a 218-cubic-inch six of 85 horsepower taken from Dodge's ¾- and one-ton commercial models, but some T211s and all T215s (both mechanical upgrades of the T207) adopted a 92-horsepower 230-cubic-inch L-head six.
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1946 Dodge Power Wagon
The final step leading to the 1946 Dodge Power Wagon came when the T207 series was superseded by the T214 trucks. Rated at ¾ ton, the T214s were wider and lower for more stability than the T207/211/215 models provided.
They were sturdier, too. Simple cantilever front fenders were carried over from the previous military truck design, but their outer front corners were now slightly rounded off. The hood and top of the radiator grille sat lower and flatter, especially on open-cab models, and shallow hood side panels each contained six horizontal louvers.
A host of body types from command cars to ambulances was offered on wheelbases of 98, 114, and 121 inches. The powertrain consisted of the 230 six, unsynchronized four-speed transmission, and a one-speed transfer case. Tires were 9.00×16 eight-ply high-flotation type. Between 1942 and 1945, Dodge built 255,195 T214s.
With Allied victory over the Axis powers came the return of civilian car and truck production in the U.S. Dodge engineers and the company's marketing group saw a ready market for the versatile, rugged, go-anywhere truck they had created for wartime use.
Better yet, from their perspective, they could produce it at very low cost because the bulk of the engineering development costs had already been paid for by the huge government orders for the military trucks that Dodge had built.
Though nominally rated at one-ton capacity in its postwar form, the ¾-ton military truck's chassis didn't have to be redesigned for peacetime service other than to stretch the wheelbase to 126 inches. (This roughly split the difference between the 120- and 133-inch wheelbases used on Dodge's two-wheel-drive one-ton trucks.)
Like everything else, the ladder frame was built extra heavy and extra strong for hard usage. Side rails featured inside channel-type reinforcement. There were seven cross members, the front one being fully boxed. Fully floating axles were used front and rear, as were semielliptic springs -- 11 leaves in front, 14 leaves in the rear. Double-acting hydraulic shock absorbers were standard only on the front suspension, but were optionally available for the rear.
Military trucks had used two different frame lengths, the longer one extended at the front to accommodate a winch. However, Power Wagons came only with the long frame even when buyers opted not to order their truck with the Braden winch that was a factory option.
The cab and interior designs dated to 1939 and were carried over mostly unaltered. Cowl-mounted parking lights, a change made to civilian-market Dodge trucks in 1941, were picked up for the Power Wagon. Fenders and the six-louver hood sides were retained from the wartime T214, but larger headlights were mounted farther away from the grille.
The top panels of the hood and the top of the radiator surround were taller and more rounded than those of the T214. They came from a three-ton cargo truck Dodge had built for the Chinese army during the war. The radiator filler cap perched on top of the radiator. The massive grille was fashioned from heavy round steel bars. Trucks built without a winch got an additional section of this grillework to protect the lower portion of the radiator.
Front bumpers (there was no rear bumper) were also military style. A two-piece unit linked at the top by an angle-iron reinforcement left a gap for the winch cable to be played out. A deep, broad one-piece bumper was standard on trucks built without the winch.
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1946 Dodge Power Wagon Models
The 1946 Dodge Power Wagon models included a pickup, a chassis cab, chassis with windshield cowl, and chassis with flat-face cowl. (The cowl-and-windshield type was dropped in later years.) The pickup box was of a very generous size. It measured 96.06 inches long, 54 inches wide, and 22.25 inches high, with a capacity of 58 cubic feet. Its floor was made of hardwood reinforced with steel skid strips. External pockets accommodated 234 stakes to help contain taller loads.
The spare tire was mounted on the right side of the cargo box ahead of the rear fender. The chassis-cab and chassis-cowl jobs allowed owners to mount special aftermarket bodies. Many were fitted with nine-foot stake platforms, but tow trucks, firefighting apparatus, "woody" station wagons, and even school buses were just some of the things that were erected on the Power Wagon chassis.
Initial paint colors included Seawolf Submarine Green (the standard color), plus Red, Dark Blue, and Dark Green. The basic paint scheme was to paint fenders, running boards, and bumpers black regardless of cab color, though cab color could be extended to these components at extra cost. Through the years, Power Wagons were available in any standard Dodge truck color.
Early on, Dodge touted the Power Wagon as having a cab big enough for three men. Later, though, the cab was advertised as a two-man cab, no doubt a recognition of the virtual forest of levers in the middle of the floor. A deluxe cab option added vent-wing windows on the doors, a dome light, armrest on the left door, and dual interior sun visors.
The huge grille, massive bumper, running boards, rear fenders, and oversize cargo box gave the Power Wagon an aggressive, no-nonsense appearance. Its winch and knobby military-type tires oozed power. The perception was not far from fact.
The dependable 230-cubic-inch engine had a 3.25-inch bore and 4.63-inch stroke. With a compression ratio of 6.7:1, it made 94 horsepower at 3,200 rpm and 185 pound-feet of torque at 1,200 rpm. The four-speed transmission featured extra-rugged carburized gears.
A two-speed transfer case was an upgrade from the wartime specification. Located directly behind the transmission, it was a two-speed unit with a 1:1 ratio in high and 1.96:1 in low. With the transfer case in low range, the transmission in first gear, and a 5.83:1 final-drive gear in place, the overall ratio was 73.12:1. When the front-wheel-drive mode was disengaged only the direct ratio could be used.
What to call this distinctive new product? Some early Dodge Engineering documents referred to it as the "Farm Utility." Ultimately, though, it was decided to call it the Power Wagon. The term had meaning in the world of trucks. At one time, it simply differentiated a horsedrawn wagon from one that was driven by steam-, electric-, or gasoline-powered means. Power Wagon was also the name of a pioneering truck magazine published for about 50 years until 1946.
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Introduction of the 1946 Dodge Power Wagon
The introduction of the 1946 Dodge Power Wagon to the open market came with these words: "The Dodge Power-Wagon is without competition. No other truck manufacturer offers a model that is at all comparable. The Dodge Power-Wagon was designed and built to meet a definite need. It is a vehicle built for continuous operation under extreme conditions. Four-wheel-drive gives it tractive ability for off-the-road service that would stall an ordinary truck. It takes you places you wouldn't expect any truck to go."
At a base price of $1,627, the Power Wagon cost $551 to $591 more than a conventional Dodge two-wheel-drive one-ton pickup, a substantial difference back then. However, the division constantly emphasized the fact that the Power Wagon was unique as a result of its four-wheel-drive capability and ruggedness that made it as at-home off the road as on. Dodge sold the Power Wagon on three premises: It could be used for pulling, as in a tractor pulling a plow; portable power, as in running a saw; or carrying, as a truck carries a load.
Available towing apparatus started with a simple extra-cost pintle hook, a heavy-duty unit mounted on the frame's rear cross member. Another option was a draw bar that could be easily adjusted to different heights and made off-center towing possible. With the aid of these two towing devices a customer could perform many types of pulling jobs with a Power Wagon.
Beginning in 1949, the Monroe Auto Equipment Company of Monroe, Michigan, manufactured a hydraulic lift kit and a complete line of agricultural and road-building tools for the Power Wagon. The lift kit consisted of a hydraulic pump and valve unit mounted on the front of the engine, a three-point implement hitch located at the rear, and a control lever installed in the cab.
The available implements were a plow, cultivator, rotary hoe, terracing blade, harrow, hydro grader, land leveler, a lift-type scoop, earthmover, buzz saw, posthole digger, spring-tooth harrow, and double-disc harrow. Dodge advertised that the Power Wagon could easily pull a three-bottom 14-inch plow and encouraged farmers to use the Power Wagon in place of a conventional tractor for all of their farming jobs.
Dodge was not alone in competing for farm tractor business in the early postwar period. Jeep had the Agrajeep that featured a three-point one- or two-bottom plow, drag, and disc. Crosley introduced the tiny Farm-O-Road in 1950. It had six forward speeds and two reverse for plowing and other farm operations. It retailed for around $800 but not many were sold.
The Power Wagon's ability to serve as a portable power source was due to a two-sided power take-off next to the transmission. Power could be transmitted forward to the winch or rearward through the tail shaft. The power take-off operated at 61.5 percent of engine speed when its rotational direction matched that of the engine and 47.5 percent of engine speed when rotating in the opposite direction. The rotation was controlled by a single lever inside the cab. The tail-shaft was used to power a pulley drive mounted on a pillow block at the center of the rear cross member.
An extra-cost mechanical governor was offered to control the speed of auxiliary equipment powered by the tail shaft or pulley drive. The governor was belt driven from the water pump shaft and had a speed control setting inside the cab. It was available only as a package with another governor built into the carburetor to limit engine speed during on-road operation.
Engine-cooling features were designed to assure proper cooling when the truck was being driven slowly or while operating stationary equipment. They included a partially shrouded 19-inch diameter six-blade fan and a radiator that, at three inches thick, was .5-inch thicker than normal. A radiator overflow tank was available at extra cost.
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Dodge Power Wagon in the 1940s and 1950s
Dodge Power Wagon in the 1940s and 1950s definitely carried its weight. In terms of carrying capacity, Power Wagons were real brutes. They were equipped for gross vehicle weight (GVW) ratings of 7,600 or 8,700 pounds. The latter was achieved by adding extra-cost 1,600-pound-capacity front and 3,000-pound-capacity rear springs, plus larger tires. Standard size for the eight-ply tires was 7.50×16, with 9.00×16 available.
Dodge executives and dealers were concerned with giving buyers ideas for how to use their Power Wagons. (The 1946 sales manual listed 75 types of businesses ranging from airports to well drillers that could be prospects for the truck.) For instance, in an issue of Job-Rater magazine, which was mailed to all Dodge truck owners four times a year, the work of a New York State Telephone Company two-man pole-setting crew was profiled.
Their specially equipped Power Wagon included a boom and winch powered by the truck's engine and an auger that was driven by a six-horsepower auxiliary engine. With this setup, the men could drill a posthole 12 inches in diameter to a depth of 5.5 feet in a few minutes.
To further spread the word about the Power Wagon's potential, Dodge's marketing group came up with a slick idea. It was a color and sound film titled Wheels Across South America made by explorer Armand Denis for free showings sponsored by the 4,000 Dodge dealers.
Denis' 1949 expedition operated in unexplored, trackless jungles using a trio of Dodges -- a four-door sedan, a one-ton panel truck, and the Power Wagon. All three vehicles were equipped with radio phones for communicating in the jungle.
The Power Wagon remained basically unchanged during the 23 years it was on the market. That's not to say improvements weren't made to it, though.
The lone appearance alteration came during 1951 when the style of the pickup box was changed. The original box had smooth sheetmetal sides and four stake pockets. The redesign used three stake pockets and the sides were ribbed for strength and a bit of eye appeal. The new box was similar in style to that of other Dodge pickups of the time, but its eight-foot length was unique to the Power Wagon.
That same year, the Power Wagon adopted the centrally mounted gauges found in Dodge's B-series light trucks. Then, in 1961, the items that had made up the deluxe cab option became standard equipment.
A series of horsepower boosts in the 1950s had the 230 engine up to 113 horsepower by 1957. Four years later, it was finally replaced by another dependable Dodge truck six. It displaced 251 cubic inches from its 3.44-inch bore and 4.5-inch stroke. With a compression ratio of 7.1:1, gross horsepower was 125 at 3,600 rpm; torque peaked at 216 pound-feet at 1,600 rpm. Though it, too, was an L-head design, the 251 was not merely the 230 with different cylinder dimensions. It had an entirely different, longer block.
Maximum GVW was raised to 9,500 pounds in 1957. This was helped by adding 9.00×16 10-ply tires, which eventually became the standard size. Starting in late 1956, the four-speed transmission was synchronized. A switch to key starting was made in 1957.
Also during the 1950s, power steering and brakes joined the options list and 12-volt electrics replaced the former six-volt system. The corporate shift to the alternator in 1961 included the Power Wagon, and lock-out front hubs became available in 1962.
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Dodge Power Wagon in the 1960s
Dodge Power Wagon in the 1960s remained tough, but was eventually surpassed by other worthy competitors. By 1968, the Power Wagon's 1939-vintage cab clearly was an anachronism.
Still, had it been possible to test-drive a fully equipped new 1946 model against a completely equipped new 1968, the differences between the two would have been dramatic. The 251-cubic-inch engine produced more power, which made the truck feel lighter and peppier. The larger engine combined with power steering, power brakes, and a synchronized transmission would leave you feeling as though you were driving a thoroughly modern truck.
Dodge produced 95,145 Power Wagons through 1968, by which time the starting tab for a pickup had nearly tripled to $4,634. The peak year was 1957, when 8,706 were turned out, but other years saw anywhere from about 1,400 to 6,000 produced.
Starting in 1960, assemblies for export markets began to dominate Power Wagon output. (In addition to the Dodge trucks, there were also Fargo-badged Power Wagons made for sale in Canada and some export territories.) Beginning in 1962, this process accelerated when Power Wagons were included in the Military Defense Assistance Program, in which the U.S. government gave or sold military equipment to friendly foreign governments. Having now come full circle in a way, the trucks continued to be made for this program through the end of series production in 1978.
While time seemed to have stood still for the Power Wagon, it certainly didn't for the four-wheel-drive market. As early as mid-1947, Willys came out with a line of one-ton 4×4 trucks. With styling inspired by the Jeep, they were priced comparably to the Power Wagon, though the Willys trucks had less cargo capacity and a four-cylinder engine. By the end of the civilian Power Wagon's run, four-wheel-drive models could be had from any domestic maker of light-duty trucks, and the sport-utility vehicle market was picking up steam, too.
Still, the battle-hardened reputation of the Dodge Power Wagon remained as persistent as its appearance. When the division began building four-wheel-drive variants of its more modern conventional trucks in the late 1950s, it put Power Wagon badges on them -- and kept doing so until 1980.
In 1999, Dodge showed a Power Wagon concept truck that was an homage to the 1940s original. Finally, since 2005, the name has returned for an off-road option package -- including a front-mounted winch -- on Dodge Ram 2500 pickups. It seems that the Power Wagon is one old soldier that refuses to fade away.
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