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Cheap Truck Challenge 2015 1964 Dodge Power Wagon build-up

A 1964 Dodge Power Wagon W200

Verne SimonsPhotographerRob BonneyPhotographer, WriterJason DeBusmanPhotographer

This 1964 Dodge Power Wagon had been in the back of my mind for months. I passed by it on a dirt corner not far from my house every day. A For Sale sign kept reappearing every once in a while. Finally, a friend liked it enough that I stopped and examined this "beauty." I had seen the truck a few years prior cruising the local high school parking lot, so I knew it was close to being in running shape. It was a complete Arizona ranch truck, well used and a little abused. The good news was that it had a newer engine that ran, a solid tranny, and tires that held air. The bad news was that it vibrated like a paint shaker with a loose mount and had a knocking noise that sounded like the transfer case was coming apart. Of course I had to buy it and bring it home, where I explained to my loving wife that it was a perfect first car for a teenage boy. We don't have a teenage boy.

Enter Kasey (also known as The Kid), my buddy's 17-year-old son. What Kasey really needed was some direction in life. A fuel-gulping, tire-squealing truck for picking up girls was a great way to learn direction. Plus, I needed free labor on my Cheap Truck Challenge truck and help around my fabrication shop cleaning, hauling out trash, and so on. As it turns out, the truck needed a lot of free labor. This truck had a bunch of issues, both seen and unseen.

Months went by with The Kid working late into the night after school cleaning the shop and fixing up the Power Wagon in the Arizona summer heat. His dad and I decided the focus of the build would be on maintenance and repair of existing systems, with the minimal amount of modifications required to get the 1964 W200 Power Wagon fit to drive in Phoenix rush hour, because The Kid doesn't need a hot rod yet, just a good working truck. Luckily this truck is simple, and after all the basic working parts were in order and lubed, we had enough budget left over for a power steering conversion and a disc brake upgrade since a little safety never hurts.

We gave advice and watched (aka yelled and pointed fingers) while Kasey rebuilt darn near every component on the truck. By connecting The Kid with some of our old school wheeling pals, we also helped him get help with parts that were well over his head.

By the time Cheap Truck Challenge 2015 rolled around The Kid had learned a lot of basic truck knowledge. He is working his way to owning this truck and becoming a fabricator. Until then he can keep driving the broom around my shop.

The first issue addressed was the transfer case, as it seemed to be the only real issue at the time. Plus, we could not hear any other issues over the racket it made. The Kid got his first taste of grease, grime, and disappointment when he pulled the transfer case apart using an exploded view he found online and printed out. After repairing the initial problem we realized the knock was gone, but a shift fork grinding noise was now apparent. So The Kid pulled the transfer case back out, saved the good gear oil, welded the forks, and reinstalled it with success. The transfer case was just the beginning. Every little repair we made led to another problem. CTC Rule 1: Patience is key (or, we do it nice because we do it twice).

We then decided that power steering and disc brakes were within budget given the proper application of elbow grease and ingenuity. After research at Benchwork Steering Systems, the local steering guru Pat found us a box that would work and a few junkyard parts to put it all together. A couple of cardboard templates later, The Kid's dad and I'd helped him build a Rob Bonney Fabrication power steering conversion kit (available for other similar Dodge trucks). The Kid had no issues welding with our Miller Electric Millermatic 190 with Auto-Set, a great beginner's machine. CTC Rule 2: If you are going to be cheap, you better be ready to use that elbow grease and know guys with good tools.

A disc-brake Dana 44 front axle out of a 1977 Dodge suggested and supplied by Randy at Driven Auto Parts turned out to be a bolt-in swap, with only a few tweaks to the brake lines. CTC Rule 3: Make friends with guys who have used parts.

After the axle swap the big Dodge stopped well, steered with ease, and ran like crap. The Kid brought the carb to Joe of 4Wheelers Supply, who rebuilt it to a "no promises" status, and it worked great. CTC Rule 4: Grumpy old guys who can rebuild carbs are worth their weight in gold. Get to know them well, and have your dad buy beer for them. It goes a long way.

After a quick change of the original points the truck ran great, and the transmission ended up being the only component Kasey had not torn apart, rebuilt, poked with his finger, or cleaned on the entire truck. CTC Rule 5: Learning from old-timers is smart. In this case old guys have already done it, are "frugal" themselves, in addition to being cranky and wise . . . even when it's your dad and his friend and you're tired of them yelling and waving their arms at you.

The true test was leaving Phoenix on a 118-degree day, loaded down for five days of travel, heading up 7,000 feet to the meeting point of CTC 2015. Two-hundred miles later we were standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. The truck built by The Kid had delivered us there safely with zero issues. After days of camping and wheeling over rough terrain, down highways, through a variety of weather conditions, and even extending our trip a bit, we had very few problems. We stayed dry in the rain, cruised down the interstate, ate better and wheeled farther than the Jeeps, then drove home in the same truck. CTC Rule 6: Don't judge a book by its cover. Grumpy old guys, teenagers, and timeworn trucks may have more ability in them than you realize.

Where the Money Went
Vehicle purchase $1,800
Budget $2,015
Transfer case rebuild parts$55
Carb rebuild$25 (plus a Corona that Dad bought)
Power steering swap parts$975
Front axle, parts$650
Steel for brackets$150
Oils, fluids, etc.$150
Fab consumables$125
Rob Bonney Fab CNC time$150

What to Do Next

The first thing on Kasey's list is a stereo (kids always want a stereo, even though old trucks makes tons of wild sounds to listen to). I suggest a suspension that flexes. Reinforcing the frame will become a requirement with more off-road use because I swear this is the worst-riding truck I've ever ridden in, so a few leaves may be removed from the spring packs. After Kasey left CTC early so he could get to school, we (his dad and I) pretzeled the rear driveshaft when it hit a rock during some technical rockcrawling. Luckily we were able to swap the front driveshaft in the back and we kept right on wheeling . . . in 2WD. The list of other improvements this truck needs is short. In fact, it just needs to be driven and enjoyed before it rattles apart.