The one invention we wish they'd hurry up and invent, already, is the time machine. We want to join George Washington as he crosses the Delaware. We want to meet JFK--or better yet, Marilyn Monroe, maybe jam with Jimi Hendrix. But seeing as the inventors of the world aren't getting anywhere on this one, and since we're not the most patient people in the world, maybe the individual we need to speak to is Phil Compton. He travels through time the instant he steps into this '42 Dodge M-37 Power Wagon.
Compton lives in Dallas, where people still remember a time when the Cowboys were winning football games. A while ago, a local named Bill Caruth came into Phil's shop and asked him to take on a massive project: Turn a rig from the war era into a bulletproof wagon that can make it through the narrow ravines and creeks of Bill's West Texas ranch. Not surprisingly, both men become sentimental when they cruise the Lone Star State's high roads and canyon crossings in this new old truck. The Dodge M-37 military vehicle, a classic by anyone's standards, served as a radio command car during World War II, warming up the tubes of the military's radios. After the war, demand for the trucks came mostly in the form of utility companies that needed to reach unpaved line roads. Today, however, that demand exists in people--fans, really--like Caruth.
It all started in 1999 when Bill, a photographer who travels the globe, wanted a "tough, go-anywhere vehicle with all the ride and ability of new trucks but with the looks of the 1940s." He turned to Compton, who promptly made a call to a Power Wagon guru in Colorado he knew. According to Compton, the Dodge had a solid tour of duty in someone's Ohio cornfield for about 25 or 30 years. Once found, it was trailered out to Colorado where said guru immediately removed the '42's singular U-joints (for his own needs) and then promptly sent the wagon on to the salivating 'wheelers in Texas.
The plan was simple: Put the '42 body onto a new Cab-only '98 Dodge 2500 chassis. Says Compton, "It's really the story of Texas craziness. [Caruth] wanted air conditioning, airbags, tilt wheel, ABS and all that. It's probably the only '42 that you could cruise down the highway at 95 with the cruise control and the stereo and the air on."
To meet their goals, Compton shortened the entire chassis 19 1/2 inches by way of some heavy-duty surgery to achieve the original wheelbase and track of the '42 rig. All the components were cut, from the driveshafts, to the frame, to the brake lines to the electrical system. "After that," laughs Compton, "you just bolt the body on and rebuild it. It's a lot simpler than it looks." Right.
The amiable craftsman fabbed up all new body mounts in order to position the old tub atop the new chassis, paying close attention to how the added weight was distributed throughout. Compton admits recreating the track was difficult. "We had to leave it the same since we were dealing with Dodge's '98 axles. So to compensate for that, we widened the frontend a little bit to make up for the width in the engine compartment." Compton also scratch-built an intercooler and radiator from T-6 aluminum. "This increased cooling capabilities greatly," notes the Texan. Then he adds amusingly, "Later, I found out that Cummins does not worry about cooling needs--even in the Deep South." As a result, Compton blocks off the radiator in the winter to help keep heat in, as you might do for a tractor-trailer.
The military needed the M-37 for communication. Caruth needs his for gnarly trails and maximum off-road sentimentality. The Dodge rolls on BFGoodrich LT 285/75 R16 All-Terrain radials with forged heavy-duty Centerline custom powdercoated wheels. In fact, powdercoating makes many appearances on the Dodge.
"We powdercoated everything except the main body--all the fenders and the doors and the hood." Why'd they go that route? Explains Compton, "The wear and tear on that stuff is phenomenal and with the powdercoating it'll never rust. It's really great. We just wanted to harden the finishes on it. Then we matched the body to the color of the powdercoating so that you can't even tell where the powdercoated surfaces are." All the black parts of the Dodge were powdercoated as well, including the bumpers and the running boards. Compton powdercoated everything he fabricated, too. "We even clear-powdercoated the firewall."
For four-wheeling insurance, Compton employed heavy-duty aluminum whenever he could. The interior firewall at the bulkhead is engine-turned for what Compton calls "that Bugati look." Compton figures if the Dodge ever took a shot to the front, the engine would never get into the cockpit. He hid a Ramsey 10,000-pound winch on the inside of the rear bumper, its fairleads extruding through the truck's rear. The roof is integrated with rollcages. Interestingly, tie-down hooks, rated at 6000 pounds each, were built into the roof because Caruth had originally intended on taking his rig from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Tierra Del Fuego, Chile. It's a dream of Caruth's that has yet to be realized.
In the end, it took Compton about 18 months to bring the '42 Power Wagon back to life. That may be longer than planned--he was hoping for a 12-month building cycle--but, hey, what's a few extra months when you're traveling the stretch of time this Dodge has?
Owner: Bill Caruth, Dallas, Texas
Vehicle model: '42 Dodge M-37 Power Wagon
Estimated value: $350,000
Type: '98 Cummins 24-valve turbodiesel
Displacement (liter/ci): 5.9/360
Bore x stroke (in.): 4.02 x 4.72
Compression ratio: 17.5:1
Mfg.'s power rating @ rpm (hp): 190 @ 2,500
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Transfer case: NVG 241HD
Front: Coilovers, Quadra-link suspension arms; Gabriel HD adjustable air shocks
Rear: Factory leaf springs, Gabriel HD adjustable air shocks
Front: Dana 60
Rear: Dana 80
Wheels (in.): 16-inch Centerline
Tires: 285/75 R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrain Radials