No, I’m sorry, you’re just not man enough for this truck. I don’t care if you were there when the first civilian versions of the HMMWV were available to the public, and said, “Nah, maybe I’ll get one for my wife,” this 1946 Dodge Power Wagon is more manly than you. Even if you can grow a beard overnight and uproot trees with your bare hands, this truck is STILL manlier than you are.
However, I’m certain that the first guy to come drive it (and who can afford it) will take it home and try to tame it. GUARANTEED.
The Power Wagon legend is big, and while a Cummins turbo diesel seems like the ideal match for the vintage off-roader, there’s a good reason why they aren’t all running around with 550 pounds of torque—the 5.9 liter, 24-valve turbocharged mountain-mover just doesn’t fit. Yeah, maybe you saw that hacked-up one on the internet that some guy cobbled together in his back yard, and maybe that odd-looking one where they just threw an old Power Wagon cab and bed on a modern Ram 3500 chassis, but none—NONE!—are as fully finished and OEM-looking as this one. Fully engineered and built to a very high level, it runs, drives, steers, and hauls like a real truck and thanks to the ministrations of Power Wagon expert Dan Mininger, it’s a no-stories machine that all the experts said could never be done.
Well, that’s nonsense because here it is, ladies. Line up and bring your liquid-cooled credit card with you.
The foundation of the truck is a very clean, rust-free 1946 Power Wagon that’s been pretty much restored to new condition. The cab, hood, and fenders are all factory-issue and fit together better than any Power Wagon we’ve ever seen. No need to slam the doors, just a gentle push makes them click shut, and the hood opens and closes without a wrestling match. All the things you’d expect from a high-end restoration are complete, including the crank-open windshield, headlight guards, cowl lights, and massive bumper with a winch (more on that in a moment). It’s so pretty that it makes you forget what it is, but that’s where it gets you—nothing so pretty should be this brutal. Bright red paint looks great on the Power Wagon’s industrial-strength body, and it features a fresh cut and buff on the paint for truly show-stopping star impact. Of note, the bed is finished with oak planks and stainless rub strips, but experts will note that it seems a little bigger than a stock bed, which is true because it’s custom fabricated for this truck to match its proportions (it’s actually about 9/8 scale and dwarfs even the beefiest stock Power Wagon). The tailgate is an original piece beautifully restored with bold DODGE letters on its face. The original headlights, signal lights and coal lamps remain, with both the signal lamps and cowl lamps wired in as turn signals. It’s one hell of an attention-grabbing truck, no doubt about that, and driving it draws more eyeballs than that kind of sad middle-aged guy driving a bright orange Lamborghini with the fold-up doors. But in a good way, if you know what I mean.
One of this Power Wagon’s more noteworthy features is the winch, which isn’t some wimpy electric spool, but actually driven by the engine itself via a power take-off, or PTO. As an integral part of the truck’s charm, it just wouldn’t do to replace it, so during the build a complete Chelsea PTO was installed with a custom driveshaft running up to the winch. Now, before you go thinking this is just a plug-and-play operation, dig the photos of the intercooler, which was custom-fabricated for this truck, complete with a hole for the PTO drive shaft. We didn’t install a cable, since we figured any future owner would want to install his own according to his tastes and plans for the truck—serious off-roaders will want one type of cable while someone just showing the truck might want something else entirely.
The interior maintains the no-nonsense Power Wagon attitude. You want cozy leather seats? Go get back in your fluffy little Lexus SUV, Nancy. The guy who built this one insisted that it look as authentic and as stock as possible, right down to wrapping the original bench seat in some distressed-looking top grain American leather. It’s not really distressed, but it just looks it, OK? Obviously the floor and firewall have been rearranged to accommodate the massive engine up front, but the work is first-rate and you should have no problems getting comfortable behind the wheel. The small-diameter wood steering wheel certainly helps, and you don’t need the big original helm to manage this truck thanks to the power steering it carries today. The gauges are from Classic Instruments and include everything from a tach to a boost gauge to a clock, all of which are fully functional, of course. The wipers work, the lights work, the turn signals work, even the accessory Arvin under-dash heater puts out enough heat to roast a Thanksgiving turkey. It all simply works like a brand new truck, and perhaps most remarkably, there are zero squeaks and rattles inside, so it’s very well bolted together.
There’s also a trailer brake control module under the dash, because this rig really does work as a real truck with a 2-inch receiver hitch, even if you’ll never use it that way. They even went the extra mile to enclose the shifters, E-brake lever, and steering column in lovely custom-made black leather boots with bright red stitching. There are now five gears marked on the shift lever and a two-speed NP205 transfer case is managed by the second lever. Open the original glove box and you’ll find a Kenwood AM/FM/CD stereo head unit with remote, and a pair of speakers mounted up high on the corners of the cab. You’ll probably never use it just because the big rig sounds are so much more entertaining, but it’s there if you take your wife out for dinner or something. And that toggle switch on the center panel that you’re wondering about is for the fuel pump; consider it an anti-theft device for the guy dumb enough to try to make an escape in a bright red, 7-foot tall, 7000-pound vintage pickup truck.
But the real reason you’re here reading this and looking at all those photos with a magnifying glass is the hardware. Don’t E-mail me asking how to build one yourself, because I already told you there’s a reason this is the only one in the world. I don’t know the secrets, I’m not going to take special photos so you can reverse-engineer it, I’m just going to tell you that this truck flat-out works like it should. The 5.9 liter Cummins is a 24-valve HO unit from a 2003 Ram 3500 that met its maker at about 13,000 miles, so the powerplant’s fresh and barely broken-in. If you’re not a Dodge guy, I’ll tell you that this is the one to own if you’re looking for a reliable late-model diesel. It fits in there with decent service access and all the factory wiring is intact, including the ALDL under the glove box, so it can be diagnosed and serviced by your local Dodge dealer—just watch their shop empty itself when you pull up out front, it’s a very cool trick. Forget about glow plugs, this one starts almost instantly and idles perfectly thanks to the wonders of modern computer controls, and with a giant custom radiator and electric fan, it stays cool no matter what, so you don’t have to worry when you’re slogging through the mud in the middle of nowhere.
The transmission is a heavy-duty NV4500HD 5-speed manual, but with 550 pounds of torque on tap, you’ll really only need the top three gears. In between the transmission and the Dana 60 axles, you’ll find an NP205 2-speed transfer case, which is more than adequate for, say, pulling aircraft carriers out of the water at the local boat launch. There are 3.55 gears fore and aft, so this Power Wagon cruises easily at highway speeds and if I’m doing the math correctly and your cojones are brass enough, it’ll run right up to around