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Backward Glances: 1962 Town Wagon—Dodge’s Answer to the Suburban

Backward Glances

Jim AllenAuthor

Back in the day they were called Carryalls. The term "sport/utility" had not yet been coined. Most truck manufacturers had a panel truck based on their light-truck chassis, and that was the delivery van of the era. A variation was the Carryall, which added windows and seating to the equation. The Chevrolet Suburban is probably the best known of these, but the basic idea for a light-truck-based people mover goes back to the dawn of the automobile.

Adding four-wheel drive to the Carryall equation came just before World War II, when Marmon-Herrington began converting a variety of Ford products, including cars and light trucks, to four-wheel drive. Wartime Carryalls were built with four-wheel drive, and most of them were from Dodge, the main supplier of light trucks to the government. Once the war was over, the Carryall market gradually expanded and began to morph from a bare-bones empty box with seats to something that could be called a station wagon. Though some Carryalls with higher-end appointments were sometimes called station wagons, the term sport/utility eventually defined the comfort-enhanced Carryall. The Willys Wagon, International Travelall, and Suburban all came to the fore in the '40s and '50s, but about that time they all had a four-wheel-drive option. Then Dodge jumped in with the Town Wagon.

Dodge had set a benchmark with its WWII WC Series 4x4s. That development carried over well into the legendary Power Wagon starting in 1946, and it stood as Dodge's sole non-military 4x4 model. As the '50s passed, the Dodge sales department saw a market for a 4x4 based on its standard line of trucks. When Dodge was ready to debut a truck refresh for 1957, a four-wheel-drive option was added to the line and the Power Wagon badge was expanded to the new line of 4x4s. Sure, the original Power Wagon was at the top of the "gnarliest truck alive" list, but it was at the bottom of the comfort scale. With a 4x4 based on the new light trucks, it could be more people-friendly with a little extra bling, and the original Power Wagon could be the more austere commercial-grade truck.

The first Town Wagon debuted for 1956 on a 4x2 chassis and was an evolution of the Town Panel that had appeared in '54. It was easy to add windows and seating to turn a Panel into a Carryall. When a four-wheel-drive option was added to the conventional light-duty truck lineup, it included the Town Wagon and Town Panel. Offering little in the way of creature comfort, the Town Wagon wasn't into Station Wagon territory, but it was on par with the International Travelall and Chevy Suburban in that regard. Strangely, Ford stayed out of this game, though Marmon-Herrington had offered something similar called the Ranger that was a Carryall conversion of the Ford Panel with four-wheel drive, but not many were sold.

For 1958, the Dodge line emerged with another refresh, the line now commonly known as the Power Giants. As before, the Town Wagon was slotted into the W100 1/2-ton line, but also as before, the underpinnings were more like 3/4-ton models. This was typical of all Dodge 4x4s of this era. The differences between a 4x4 W100 and W200 powertrain were few and mostly related to the spring packs. The Power Giants sold well as the market expanded a little every year to include more people-friendly features.

For 1961, Dodge debuted a very ambitious update to its truck line—the low-slung Sweptlines. They were a top-to-bottom remake, but one thing was missing: There wasn't a Sweptline-style Town Wagon developed. Instead, Dodge opted to continue selling Town Wagons in the old body style, and this has baffled historians and Dodge fans for decades. In a phone conversation, Dodge truck history guru Eric Bannerman (author of Dodge Truck Serial Numbers 1917-1980 (amazon.com/Dodge-Truck-Serial-Numbers-1917/dp/0997589302) offered us some educated perspective.

First off, the old body was adapted to the new chassis. Because the short-wheelbase chassis had stretched from 108 to 114 inches in the Sweptlines, fitting the old body involved moving the wheel opening in the front fender forward about 6 inches. Second, the '61-up dash and many other small parts were adapted to fit in the old body, further shortening the list of unique parts. While keeping the old body in the lineup required a few unique stampings, some of them were shared with the Dodge Low Cab Forward (LCF) medium and heavy trucks and made that aspect less onerous. Finally, while Dodge wasn't selling a huge number of Town Wagons to the general population, they were selling boatloads to commercial, military, and government agencies that were more into function (and low cost) than form.

The Town Wagon stayed incongruously in the lineup through 1966, sticking out like a guy in a '70s disco full of polyester wearing a '40s zoot suit. Some of the last orders were fulfilled well into 1967. By then, the Jeep Wagoneer, Chevy Suburban, and International Travelall were dominating the fullsize SUV market, and sales had dropped below a viable threshold. Eric's perspective is again useful here, and he commented that the A100 Dodge van (and the Ford Econoline) had taken a sizable chunk out of Town Wagon sales to government agencies. Plus, new federal lighting and safety standards were due for 1967, and most likely the sales volume did not justify the expense to tool up to make the Town Wagon fit in.

On top of that, Chrysler Corporation possibly had ideas for a new rig in the future. By the end of 1966, it's very possible a new SUV was more than a twinkle in some executive's eye. Just the next year, Chrysler likely got word of Chevrolet's new SUV to be called "Blazer." The introduction of the Blazer in 1969 would certainly spur the other two members of the Big Three to go a similar route. This road would lead to the Dodge Ramcharger, introduced in March of 1974, and the Plymouth Trail Duster the same year.

The four-wheel-drive Town Wagon was produced from 1957 through 1966, but the actual production numbers are hidden in the total of W100 chassis built of all types. There may have been records that broke them out, but they're either gone or not accessible this far down the road. Most Town Wagons were 4x2s and based on the known numbers of 4x4 W100 chassis produced; 4x4 Town Wagons probably numbered only in the hundreds annually. Anecdotally, it appears that production may have picked up a little from '61 on, as a large number of government contracts were fulfilled during that time. The Navy bought quite a few in the '50s and '60s, and many were used in Department of the Interior service, such as in the BLM, Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish and Wildlife, and so on. They also saw widespread use in state agencies.

Until recently, uttering the Town Wagon name brought a blank look and a "Huh?" Now, with collectors and investors searching for "something different," the Town Wagon is finally getting some well-deserved attention.

The Details
Vehicle: '62 Dodge W100 Town Wagon 4x4
Owner: David Horvath
Estimated value: $40,000
Engine: 318ci V-8 (225ci Slant Six original)
Power (hp @ rpm): 200 @ 3.900
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 286 @ 2,400
Bore & stroke (in. ): 3.63 x 3.80
Comp. ratio (:1) 8.25
Transmission: New Process 420 four-spd (A-745 3-spd original)
Transfer Case: NP201
Axle ratio (:1): 4.10
Tires: 7.00-16
Wheelbase (in): 114
GVW (lb): 6,000
Curb weight (lb): 5,190 (V-8 with winch)
Fuel capacity (gal): 18