The Dodge Power Wagon holds a unique place in 4x4 lore. Other than the various iterations of Jeeps used quite successfully around the world during World War II that catapulted the still rising popularity of Jeeps today, the classic Power Wagon may just be the most hallowed of four-wheel-drive vehicles ever built. Although production of the Power Wagon didn’t begin until 1945 (introduced in 1946), it was a direct descendent of the Dodge 3/4-ton WC series military trucks used by GIs in combat theatres all over the world.
When many of those men came home to farming, ranching, mining, and carrying out the day-to-day business of making a living, the sturdiness and utility of that Dodge WC was fresh in their minds. It was a no-brainer to look to the new civilian issue of that four-wheel-drive workhorse they knew so well for the next great task¬–rebuilding their lives and reinvigorating the industries of America.
Sadly, the Dodge Power Wagon was discontinued in 1980, (the famous nameplate was reintroduced under the Ram Truck brand in 2005), but as with all legendary figures, a love of the original survives today. Most of those original Power Wagons, however, did not survive well. The few that can still be found were usually abandoned on farms, ranches, and mining locations, and are in bad shape to say the least.
This is where Legacy Classic Trucks comes into the story. Legacy searches out, finds, and rescues these rusting hulks, and uses them to deliver a completely restored classic Power Wagon with modern guts to awaiting customers. We had the chance to drive two of these sweet resto’s and talk to the guy who runs the operation. Here’s what we learned.
Before our on- and off-road drive in the hills surrounding Ojai, California, Winslow Bent, founder of Legacy Classic Trucks located in Driggs, Idaho, told us, “We search all over the country for donor trucks, but almost all of them are trashed. I found one that had trees growing up through the bed, and had to play lumberjack before we could get it on a trailer headed to the shop.”
“Most of the beds are wasted, so we use new retro beds and tailgates made especially for us in the U.S.A. The fenders are usually gone or rusted paper-thin too, so we manufacture those. We basically use the forward section of the cab, and the original engine cowl, but for the most part, we replace everything back of the cab,” continued Bent.
Bent said, “We restore the original frames, and box them from front to mid-section for added strength. The leaf-spring design is retained, but we use new military wrapped leaf springs and Bilstein 5100 long-travel shocks. They get new Saginaw-style steering systems, all new axles are installed, the truck is completely rewired, and all of the lighting is off-the-shelf at your typical auto parts store so the owner can easily replace it. Of course, a modern powerplant and drivetrain make these restored Power Wagons, more than a half-century old, perform like brand new.”
The two we drove were typical of the Power Wagons that Legacy Classic Trucks sends out the shop door. All are custom ordered, so you can have your choice of virtually any engine/transmission combo. However, after building around 50 of these, Bent has figured out what works best, “Every once in a while we get a request for a Hemi, but it’s a wide-V block, and as cool as that would be, it just does not fit under the Power Wagon engine cowl.”
The engine options available are the 6.2L GM fuel-injected LS3 (430 hp, 420 ft-lbs), 6.2L GM supercharged LSA (585 hp, 580 ft-lbs), 7.0L Chrysler fuel-injected 426ci (a stroked 408) V-8 (430 hp, 500 ft-lbs), and a 3.9L Cummins turbo-diesel (170 hp, 480 ft-lbs). The GM engines are backed up by 4L85E four-speed automatic transmissions; and the Chrysler 426ci V-8 gas engine and the 3.9L Cummins get a five-speed manual NV4500. An Advance Adapters Atlas transfer case is the standard issue, although other transfer cases can be used if so ordered.
Dynatrac ProRock axle hardware is the norm underneath the Legacy Power Wagons, and typical spec is an 80 in back and 60 up front. The ProRock 80s are fitted with 4-inch tubes and 40-spline shafts. When it comes to ring-and-pinion gears, the 4.56 ratio is a starter, but 5.13s can be ordered. ARB air-lockers are the usual choice in the front and rear axles, but again, a customer can order up just about anything that will fit. Premium Warn locking hubs are traditional fare, and Tom Wood driveshafts with a 1350 yoke forward and a 1410 yoke out back are standard. Wilwood 13.25-inch disc brakes with dual-piston calipers provide stopping force. When it comes to rubber, 37-inch tires are the choice on most, and the 37/13.50R17 Toyo Open Country M/Ts are wrapped around 17x9 Trailready forged aluminum beadlock wheels.
Popular options available on the Legacy Power Wagons include 40-inch Toyo Open Country M/T tires (very popular), a Warn 10,000-pound capacity winch for the rear (a Warn 16,500 pounder is standard on the massive front bumper), an in-bed gooseneck tow hitch, auto-retracting entry steps, and a rear tow bumper with a Class III hitch receiver. You can also get goodies such as an on-board welder, GPS/Navigation, heated seats, and a stainless steel bed-mounted toolbox. As matter of fact, just about anything can be ordered as an option, including front and rear PTO on the diesel-powered trucks.
So how do they drive? We thought you would never ask. The massive and quite powerful Legacy Power Wagons ride on leaf-spring suspension architecture, as they should to be as historically accurate as possible, so these are not going to be super-flexy rock crawlers like some long-travel coil-spring JK. However, the ride quality and driving experience on winding roads throughout the day were on par with what a vehicle this heavy (Legacy Power Wagons weight in between 6,400 and 7,300 pounds, depending upon powertrain, body style, and outfitting) should feel like. By comparison, it was much like any of the appropriately sprung and properly shocked full-size pickups we’ve handled over the years–not too harsh, not too soft, but just about right.
Off-road driving was what this little adventure was all about, and we were eager to get on the dirt with the Legacy Power Wagons. The traction capabilities and trail-driving acumen inherent in the modern powertrain and drivetrain upgrades to the classic truck made ascending and descending a moderately steep trail a breeze. As a matter of fact, with the rear axle locked, we did all of it but the steepest incline in two-wheel-drive (because we could). Once the Atlas was shifted into play and the front differential locked, we easily navigated the Legacy Power Wagon to the top of the mountain.
Back on pavement later that afternoon, we could not resist the urge to check out the truck’s acceleration characteristics. We had no instrumentation, but from a standing start, the Legacy Power Wagon with the blown LSA launched forward aggressively and assuredly as each gear in the automatic transmission successively shifted up into full converter lock. It’s just too bad that among all the gorgeous photographs we have for you of the Legacy Classic Trucks Power Wagon, none of them show our huge grins.