“I do one major upgrade a year,” Carl Buckingham says. “This year it was RCV front axles and Dynatrac Dynaloc hubs.”
“That was before you could Google how to do a cab swap”
It may strike you that it would take a lifetime to build a rig at the rate of one upgrade a year, but consider that Buckingham first swapped this 1944 Dodge cab onto his Chevrolet K20 pickup back in 1987. He did so in the back of a body shop in Cheyenne, Wyoming, over the course of three months. That was long before you could Google how someone else did a similar swap or order up the parts you need on the internet.
Buckingham tore the body off of his perfectly good K20 pickup and rebodied the chassis with a significantly narrower cab from a prewar Dodge (the term Power Wagon was not coined until 1946) that he found at a wrecking yard in Denver. He did some trading for the front fenders, grille, and grille shell from a military Carryall and built his own bed. Since that time he has swapped engines, changed the rear suspension, upgraded the front axle, and more. After 29 years he has created a nearly perfect wheeling rig, with an aesthetic that no modern vehicle can match.
The front winch (yes, there is more than one) is a big Warn 16.5ti wrapped in 7/16-inch Amsteel Blue synthetic cable. Note the yellow leaf spring bushings that the grille is mounted on. The entire front end, including the fenders, can be rotated down to easily access the radiator and engine.
It is hard to beat the bang-for-the-buck of a small-block Chevy engine. Carl Buckingham runs a Ram Jet crate engine that makes 351 hp and 403 lb-ft of torque thanks to Vortec heads, a hydraulic roller cam, 9:1 compression, and port fuel injection. The Spectre intake fits under the sloped hood and feeds through the side vent.
The hood on the Power Wagon hinges in the middle for access to either side. The way the sheetmetal is sloped, there is limited room at the radiator but plenty of space up at the firewall for the Optima YellowTop battery, PSC steering reservoir, and a vacuum brake booster.
Buckingham runs single-digit air pressure to get on top of deep snow. To air back up, he has a huge York 210 belt-driven air compressor sourced from a combine. Unlike A/C compressors, this compressor has an internal oil pump. The compressor is plumbed to a 3-gallon air tank mounted under the bed. Also visible is the PSC steering box that is tapped to work in conjunction for hydraulic assist.
There is not a lot of chrome on Buckingham’s truck, but after hearing “Nice Willys” one too many times, he added the shiny emblems prominent on the hood. That seemed to solve the problem of mistaken identity.
The front axle is a kingpin Dana 60 out of a 1-ton Chevy pickup. The differential is an ARB Air Locker wrapped with 5.13 gears. RCV axles route power to the Dynatrac Dynaloc hubs. Note how the tie rod and draglink are both located out of harm’s way. They are mounted on steering arms from Offroad Design.
Rolling stock consists of 40-inch-tall Goodyear Wrangler MT/Rs mounted on TrailReady beadlock wheels to allow Buckingham to air way down in the snow. He also has two sets of chains he runs: high-manganese steel Rud Supregriefsteg chains that he runs on snow cat trails and that never see pavement, and Gunnebo Z chains from the Swedish military with 7mm links that Buckingham states can stand up to short stretches of uncovered rock and dirt on the trail.
Note the distinct lack of plastic inside Buckingham’s classic Power Wagon. Stewart-Warner gauges flank the GM tilt column and monitor the vital signs. The bevy of shift levers row the SM465 four-speed manual transmission, Ranger overdrive, two for the Atlas transfer case, and another for the PTO winch. A heater sourced from a military ambulance keeps the cab warm year-round. The sheetmetal floor is in segments that can be removed to reach the transmission and transfer case from the top.
Beef comes in the form of a 14-bolt axle filled with an ARB Air Locker and 5.13 gears behind the Dynatrac diff cover, tied into chromoly axleshafts. Unlike drum brakes, the swapped-on TSM disc brakes shed weight and work just as well wet as dry. Buckingham added a two-piece rear driveshaft from High Angle Driveline with a CV on the rear half after denting and breaking too many one-piece rear drivelines.
The rear suspension is a complete kit from Offroad Design. The triangulated four-link uses 2.0x0.250-wall lower links with huge 1 1/4-inch FK chromoly rod ends. Note how the lower links are mounted above the axle centerline to maximize ground clearance. The 16-inch-travel, 2 1/2-inch-diameter King coilovers provide a smooth ride, and limit straps from McKenzie’s keep them from overextending.
You know how we tell you never to go wheeling alone? Well, Buckingham doesn’t listen to our advice. Behind the cab is a huge Braden 10,000-pound industrial PTO winch wrapped in 300 feet of 7/16-inch cable. The winch spools out of the back of the truck under the bed to yank Buckingham out of tricky situations.
The headache rack is filled with expanded metal and holds two tractor lights and a 60-inch Xtreme model Hi-Lift jack. Even though he has a giant air compressor, Buckingham also brings a CO2 tank along as a backup to air up tires if the compressor fails. He is the kind of guy who wears both suspenders and a belt.
The bed of the truck is built from 1.75x0.120-wall tubing. “There is enough tube in there to build a buggy!” Buckingham jokes. The bed has been customized for function, holding a fullsize 40-inch spare tire and Pull-Pal winch anchor along the driver’s side. Behind the 25-gallon custom fuel cell, an aluminum storage box holds even more recovery gear. The shock towers poke though the bed, making a convenient place to lash down gear. At the rear of the five bar diamond plate floor Buckingham has milk crates that hold his tire chains.
The license plate claims that the Power Wagon is “TOO OLD,” but we beg to differ. From the fuel-injected engine to the linked rear suspension, this Power Wagon might have old sheetmetal but is full of cutting-edge ideas.
The Dodge has a tubular crossmember for the Atlas II transfer case, mounted on leaf spring bushings to allow for drivetrain movement and frame flex. A small aluminum skidplate was used to protect the transfer case without adding unnecessary weight or limiting ground clearance.
Buckingham’s Power Wagon has these cool dual sunroofs that pop open. In front of them, the diamond plate panels cover mechanisms for the original windshield wiper assemblies.
Buckingham lives in Aspen, Colorado, where snow wheeling is an option most of the year. One of his favorite activities each year is to be the first vehicle to cross Pearl Pass, between Aspen and Crested Butte. During our visit in July there was still too much snow on the trail to make it over the pass.
The huge fender openings on the Power Wagon allow Carl to run 40-inch tires with a relatively modest lift height. Buckingham rolled the rear aluminum fenders by hand out of a single piece of aluminum. It was painstakingly time consuming, but the result matches the factory front fenders perfectly.
1944 Dodge Power Wagon
Engine: Chevrolet Ram Jet 350 V-8
Transmission: SM465 with Ranger Overdrive
Transfer Case: Advance Adapters Atlas II
Front Axle: Dana 60 with 5.13 gears, ARB Air Locker, RCV axleshafts
Rear Axle: Corporate 14-bolt with 5.13 gears, ARB Air Locker, TSM disc brakes
Springs & Such: Rancho leaf springs and shocks (front); Offroad Design 4-link with King coilover shocks (rear)
Tires & Wheels: 40x13.50R17 Goodyear Wrangler MT/R on 17x9 TrailReady HD beadlock
Steering: PSC steering box and hydraulic-assist ram, Offroad Design steering arms and tie rod
Other Stuff: K20 frame, Warn 16.5ti winch in front, Braden 10,000-pound PTO winch behind cab, Optima YellowTop battery, custom tubular bed, Pull-Pal anchor, 60-inch Hi-Lift jack, aluminum 25-gallon fuel cell, Stewart-Warner gauges, York belt-driven air compressor, CO2 tank, two sets of tire chains