Segment Fourteen: 1940 to 1980
Power Wagon Pickups
Author: Don Bunn

Dodge Power Wagons date back to 1940. I should mention however the 1934 Dodge 1 1/2-ton 4 wheel drive military cargo truck. This truck is historically important because it was the first 4 wheel drive in which the driver could shift into and out of 4 wheel drive mode using a shift lever inside the cab.

Dodge also built 4WD 1 1/2-ton military cargo trucks in 1938, 1939 and 1940. The government then decided they preferred to have Dodge build light-duty 4WD trucks and contracted for a series of half-ton trucks. The 1940 VC Series trucks used the civilian truck's front end sheet metal and carried various body types. A total of 4,641 VCs were produced. They performed excellently and convinced the Army they were on the right track.

This is the 1934 Dodge 1 1/2-ton Cargo and Personnel truck which was the first 4WD vehicle that could be shifted into and out of 4WD from inside the cab. Photo - DaimlerChrysler

A 1940 Dodge 1 1/2-ton Cargo and Personnel truck. It featured civilian front sheet metal and a heavy-duty grille guard. Photo - DaimlerChrysler

They were replaced in 1941 with the WC Series half-ton trucks. This series featured military front sheet metal. A total of almost 78,000 WC half-tons were built in several body styles. These trucks were a decided improvement over the VC Series but nevertheless the Army still felt they were lacking.
Dodge engineers returned to the drawing boards and developed the 1942 3/4-ton WC Series trucks. These trucks had a lower silhouette, were wider, more powerful, heavier and offered in a broader range of body types. After intensive testing the Army approved them for mass production. A total of 225,196 trucks of all body types were produced for WWII. In addition, another 43,278 6x6 1 1/2-ton models were built beginning in 1943. The 1 1/2-ton WC-62 and WC-63 6x6s were basically the 3/4-ton trucks with a third driven axle, a longer cargo body and a two-speed transfer case (the 3/4-ton models had a one-speed transfer case).

The 1941 Dodge 1/2-ton carryall was powered by the 218 flathead six and it was mated to a 4-speed transmission and a 1-speed transfer case. Photo - DaimlerChrysler

The 1943 Dodge WC-62 1 1/2-ton 6x6 open cab cargo truck was equipped with a 2-speed transfer case, a 230 cubic inch six and a 4-speed transmission. Photo - DaimlerChrysler

The civilian Power Wagon was introduced in 1946. It was based on the 3/4-ton Army truck's chassis with a civilian cab and a purpose designed 8-foot cargo box. It rode on a 126-inch wheelbase chassis and featured the 230 cubic-inch flat head six engine, a two-speed transfer case, a 4-speed transmission with a power take off opening which would send power to the front and back of the truck for operating auxiliary equipment and big 9.00/16-8 ply tires on 16X6.50 inch 5-stud wheels. The nominal one-ton rated Power Wagon's maximum GVW rating was 8,700 pounds. Its maximum payload was 3,000 pounds.

The 1946 Dodge Power Wagon was based on the WWII 3/4-ton military truck. It featured a 230 cubic-inch engine, 2-speed transfer case and a 4-speed transmission with power takeoff opening. The front mounted front power winch was an option. Photo - DaimlerChrysler

The Power Wagon was sold through the 1968 model year. A number of engineering and styling improvements were made over the years but the basic package remained surprisingly constant throughout its life. Chrysler discontinued the sale of the Power Wagon in the United States after the 1968 model year because its almost 30 year old cab would not comply with new federal light-duty truck safety regulations, but they continued to be built for export through the 1978 model year.

Dodge's first conventional cab 4WD pickup was the 1957 W100 half-ton shown. A 3/4-ton W200 was also offered, the one-ton W300 followed in 1958. Power for these trucks came from the buyer's choice of either a six or a V8, a push-button automatic transmission was an option. Photo - DaimlerChrysler

Surprisingly the next new Power Wagon model was a two-ton truck, not a light-duty model. It was the industry's first and only factory built medium-duty 4WD truck.

The first light-duty Power Wagons came out in 1957 with the introduction of the W100 and W200 pickups (beginning in 1957 1/2-ton 2WDs were D100s and 4WDs were W100s). These trucks featured conventional cabs and front sheet metal and the cargo boxes used on the 2WD models. Their 4WD mechanical components -- axles, transfer cases and transmissions -- were sourced from outside manufacturers. Chrysler Corporation owned the New Process Gear Company, the manufacturer of all the transfer cases used in the industry and many of the light-duty truck transmissions.

A one-ton W300 Power Wagon came online in 1958. For the next ten years Dodge Truck's Power Wagon lineup consisted of the "military- type" W300M and W100, W200 and W300 "civilian-type" Power Wagons. Standard models included pickups and chassis cabs only. Through 1965 W100 Power Wagon Town Panels and Town Wagons were also standard models. In 1966 a W200 Crew Cab pickup was added to the line.

The two-ton W500 Power Wagon (only a chassis cab was built) lasted through the 1977 model year when all Dodge medium-duty models were discontinued. To compensate for the loss of the medium-duty W500 a new W400 chassis cab was introduced in 1977.

Power Wagon's sales received a shot in the arm in 1974 when the popular Dodge Club Cab pickup was announced. This model was favored by the pickup camper crowd for on-highway and/or off-road service.


Dodge engineers added the big-block 383 V8 engine to their light-duty truck lineup as an option in 1967. A 1968 W200 Camper Special pickup powered by a 383 is shown. Photo - Robert Bunn

Dodge's standard 1977 W200 pickup was the Army's first conventional light-duty truck since early in WWII. This 1977 Dodge M880 pickup is owned by Rob Kramer who lives in the Netherlands and uses his Dodge for daily transportation. Photo - Don Bunn

The 1977 Dodge Top Hand Power Wagon pickup was a creation of Hickey Enterprises of Ventura, CA. Hickey was an accessory and parts dealer for vans, pickups and mini-pickups. Photo - DaimlerChrysler

Dodge's famous late 1970's "Adult Toys" line of specialty equipped and painted Warlock and Macho Power Wagons appealed to young 4WD buyers interested in performance.

Beginning in 1975 Dodge, like the rest of the industry, changed to a full-time 4WD system. In 1980 engineers changed this back to a part-time system due to the energy crises.

Another interesting 1977-1978 Dodge W200 pickup -- both standard cab and crew cab -- was the M880, a 1 1/4-ton rated military truck. At this point in time the Army needed a new light-duty 4WD vehicle to replace its fleet of Vietnam Era Dodge 3/4-ton and M37B1s. Army decision makers thought it was more economical to purchase standard pickups to engineer a specialized light-duty 4WD. The M880s were basically standard W200s with a civilian 2-speed full-time transfer case, 318 V8s, automatic transmissions, Dana axles front and rear and four-wheel drum brakes.

The well known and respected Power Wagon nameplate ceased to be used when the new 1981 Dodge Trucks were introduced. The 1981 4WD pickup carried a "Power Ram" nameplate instead. Some have called the Power Wagon Years the Four-By-Four-By-Forty-Years Era (1940-1980).

The 1980 W150 Club Cab pickup shown was one of the last Power Wagons. Photo - DaimlerChrysler

It is almost certain that the Power Wagon name will return when Dodge presents a new light-duty truck series in 2002.

Some of the design sketches used to illustrate the Power Wagon Concept Truck displayed at the January 1999 North American International Auto Show