1946 Dodge Power Wagon Brought Back To Better-Than-New Life

Rogue Warrior

Bruce W. SmithPhotographer, Writer

There’s little doubt where automotive brand loyalty lies when you drive up to Greg Gilham’s house. There’s a white 1984 Dodge W150 4x4 pickup sitting behind a silver ’16 Jeep Cherokee on one side of the driveway, and a pristine silver 1990 Dodge Ramcharger nosed up to the garage door.

Those are just part of this diehard Dodge/Chrysler lover’s current vehicle collection. Greg also owns a 1935 Dodge KC 1/2-ton resto-rod pickup, hot-rodded 1938 Dodge coupe and ragtop, and a fully restored 1948 Chrysler New Yorker. But it was the green-and-black 1946 Power Wagon he backed out of the garage that really caught our attention.

It was obvious by the stance and the deep exhaust note this wasn’t exactly the same flathead-six-powered 4x4 that was near-and-dear to the hearts of four-wheeling GIs returning from World War II who saw the toughness of Dodge’s 1-ton pickup as the perfect rig to take them anywhere they pointed its nose. This professional fishing guide’s classic wheeler had something a little extra under its distinctive body.

A Quick History Lesson

The civilian version of the Power Wagon was the result of Dodge receiving hundreds of letters from homecoming GIs who wanted a civilian version of the four-wheel-drive trucks “too tough to stop” that they drove in the war over terrain where roads didn’t exist.

Dodge engineers were quick to respond to the wishes of such eager customers, taking the drivetrain and stretching the chassis of the “Battle Wagon” five inches, and then topping it off with a more pleasing and comfortable cab. Dodge’s experiment in bringing a military pickup to the civilian populace quickly gained traction. Within four years of it first going on sale in March 1946, the Power Wagon’s strength and unstoppable, go-anywhere, do-anything legend proved itself worthy among serious 4x4 pickup users.

Power Wagons, with their rugged build, 3,000-pound payload capacity, 8-foot-long, 22-inch-deep bed, flathead-six, and two-way power-takeoff, soon became the pickup of choice for the Army Corp of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service, fire departments and utility companies, farmers and ranchers, loggers, oilmen and road builders from coast to coast. If you needed a four-wheel-drive pickup to get ’er done, the Power Wagon was the one you bought.

As a 1950 Dodge Power Wagon promotional video said, “A Power Wagon can do anything. It’ll milk your cows, or move your mountains…As goes men’s imaginations, so goes the Power Wagon. A single truck, born in the desperation of war is now changing, helping, serving and improving the lives of people for whom it works.”

According to Allpar.com, Dodge sold 95,145 WDX-WM300 Power Wagons (not to be confused with the 1954-later WM-Series 4x4 pickups that Dodge also called “Power Wagons”) in the U.S. between 1946 and 1968 when Stateside sales stopped. The exported Power Wagon production ceased a decade later. The base price for the 1946 Power Wagon was $1,627, and it sold for $4,634 in 1968.

Modernizing A Classic

Greg was well aware of the Power Wagon’s war-time origin and unstoppable off-road prowess. So when he came across the bedless cab and chassis of what was once a 1946 Forest Service truck, he couldn’t resist the temptation to add yet another Dodge to his collection of rolling stock. It took him 10 years to make his vision a rolling, daily-driven reality.

“Nothing is tougher than an old Dodge Power Wagon,” Greg told us during our day wheelin’ with him along snowy backroads on the western side of the Cascade Mountains. “They were the heavy-duty 4x4s of their time. But I wanted a modernized version, while keeping the original flavor, using all Dodge parts that I could enjoy driving every day.”

To that end he masterfully merged the components of three modern-era Dodges (a 1978 W150 Power Wagon Stepside, 1985 W250 Power Ram 4x4, and a 1976 Dodge Power Wagon) to bring his wisp of a 1946 back to new-found life. The old iron’s 94hp flathead-six, three-speed manual, and transfer case have been replaced with a warmed-up 360 from the 1985 backed by the NP435 four-speed and divorced NP205 transfer case from the 1976 Power Wagon. Greg also swapped out the 1946’s original axles with the front Dana 44 and Dana 60 he pulled from the 3/4-ton -- all the while keeping the original 1-ton leaf springs to give his “resto-mod” the appearance of being stock.

Greg’s classic runs open differentials front and rear, with 4.89 gearing sending the 360’s pulling power to 38.7-inch Michelin XZL 11.00-16 10-ply commercial radial mud tires mounted on Dodge 16x6.5-inch steel rims. He nixed the hardwood in the old bed, replacing it with 3/8-inch diamond plate steel, and used Line-X for an added layer of protection to the bed, running boards, and fenders.

Greg spent a lot of time cleaning up the interior, including having the bench seat reupholstered, the stock gauges customized to electronic, putting in a “new” windshield frame from N/C Industries, adding sound-deadening material to the cab, and installing a hidden stereo sound system to listen to his favorite tunes while rolling down the road. About the only non-Dodge parts on the truck, sans the engine and hydraulic brake upgrades, are the Toyota Land Cruiser steering box, ididit steering column, Classic Enterprises tailgate, and 16.5ti Warn winch that resides in the Dodge M37 front bumper.

When you walk up to Greg’s Power Wagon, you feel as if you are stepping back 70 years in time when heavy-duty 4x4s were built to survive the rigors of war and the toughest of jobs in the civilian world. It’s a safe bet this one would do just fine if it were put to such tests.

At A Glance

General
Vehicle: ’46 Dodge Power Wagon
Owner: Greg Gilham
Stomping grounds: Salem, Oregon
Build time: 3.5 years over a 10-year span

Drivetrain
Engine: Dodge 360ci V-8
Transmission: NP435L 4-spd
Transfer case(s): JB Custom Fabrication NP205
Low range ratio(s): 1.96:1
Crawl ratio(s): 64.02:1
Front axle/differential: Dana 44, disc brakes, 4.89 gears/open diff
Rear axle/differential: Dana 60, drum brakes, 4.89 gears/open diff

Suspension
Front: Stock 1-ton ’46 Power Wagon 11-leaf springs, ’85 3/4-ton Ram hydraulic shocks and mounting brackets
Rear: Stock 1-ton ’46 Power Wagon 14-leaf springs, ’85 3/4-ton Ram hydraulic shocks and mounting brackets
Steering: ’81 Toyota PS box mated to a re-splined ’85 Dodge pitman arm

Tires/Wheels
Tires: 11.00R16 Michelin XZL 10-ply
Wheels: 16x6.5 Dodge eight-lug steel

Miscellaneous
Armor: Dodge M37 front bumper and rear bumperettes, 3/8-in diamond plate in bed, Line-X coating over fenders, running boards, interior and bed
Cool stuff: Warn 16.5ti, battery box on front bumper, hidden stereo system, electronic retro gauges