Car Culture & Entertainment

The Dodge Power Wagon: America’s First Mass-Produced 4×4 Pickup Truck

(Image/Ram – Stellantis)

OK, so we originally wanted to write a story on the first 4×4 ever made. But the history of 4x4s is really murky—filled with one-offs, defunct manufacturers, aftermarket conversions, and straight-up impractical designs. So it was hard to pin down what vehicle should be considered the “first.”

Instead, we drew a line in the sand and decided to focus on the first mass-produced 4×4 truck made in America.

And, since it celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2021, we wanted to give it some extra attention anyway. So…without any further ado…

Meet the Dodge Power Wagon

A Dodge (hyphenated) Power-Wagon print ad from 1946 that highlighted its usefulness to farmers and construction workers. (Image/Commons.Wikimedia)

Introduced immediately following World War 2, the Dodge Power Wagon bowed for 1946 with a 230 cubic inch flathead 6, good for about 94 horsepower.

The Power Wagon boasted features that weren’t often found on earlier 4×4 vehicles as well—things like part-time 4WD with a 2-speed transfer case, a 4-speed manual transmission, and front & rear power take offs (PTOs). And while yes, the Jeep CJ-2A technically beat the Power Wagon to the market by a few months, the Power Wagon is considered America’s first mass-produced 4×4 “truck,” thanks to its traditional enclosed cab/open bed arrangement.

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Look closely and you’ll see this Power Wagon is wearing a “Fargo” nameplate. That’s because Power Wagons were sold under the Fargo brand in Canada. They were all part of the big, happy Mopar family. (Image/Commons.Wikimedia)

Much like Willys did with its Jeep CJs, Dodge marketed the Power Wagon to farmers, rig hands, linemen, ranchers, construction workers…basically anyone who needed a rugged vehicle that could get into (and out of) rough terrain.

The Power Wagon’s PTOs could run saw mills, diggers, drills, hydraulic pumps, capstan winches, and more, and it was common to see Power Wagons transformed into fire engine pumpers, farm plows, or tow trucks—particularly for remote areas.

This particular Power Wagon is equipped with a capstan winch that’s driven off the main winch drum. (Image/Commons.Wikimedia)

Its early success encouraged Dodge to expand the Power Wagon range to include medium- and light-duty trucks in the late 1950s too. These were designated the W100/W200 and were styled like the other C- and D-series trucks Dodge produced during the 1950s and 60s.

The original flat-fendered, heavy-duty Power Wagon was sold through 1968 in the United States, though it soldiered on in export markets well into the 1970s.

A Quick History of the Power Wagon

The Power Wagon evolved as a civilian version of the hard-working Dodge WC trucks that platooned across the battlefields of World War 2.

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Dodge’s WC series trucks were rugged and versatile, playing pivotal roles in various Allied war efforts. (Image/Commons.Wikimedia)

WC trucks were common sights in both Europe and the Pacific, where they adapted to several roles, including troop transport, ambulance service, and cargo/weapons deployment. The United States called on Dodge to be the main supplier of 1/2- and 3/4-ton trucks through the war.

As a 1-1/2-ton truck, the WC was configured with an additional set of rear wheels to create a 6×6.

Those military WC trucks could trace their roots to the 1934 Dodge K39, which was Dodge’s first production 4×4 truck, made specifically for the United States government.

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Here’s the Dodge K39. It’s easy to see the family resemblance between this, the WC trucks that came soon after, and its postwar civilian counterpart, the Power Wagon. (Image/Commons.Wikimedia)

The Power Wagon Evolves into the Modern Era

Here, a pair of 1946 Power Wagons pose with a 2021 Ram Power Wagon 75th Anniversary Edition. (Image/Ram – Stellantis)

While the original military-style Power Wagon slowly faded away into obsolescence, Dodge kept the Power Wagon name alive as an option package through the 1970s on its D-Series pickup trucks. Though distinct from their earlier battlefield brethren, these later Power Wagons typically featured larger engines, beefier axles, and other rugged accouterment.

The Power Wagon name was still seen on Dodge trucks throughout the 1970s, appearing alongside other fan-favorites like the Warlock and ‘Lil Red Express. (Image/Commons.Wikimedia)

The arrival of the Dodge Ram pickup truck line in 1981 saw the end of the first run of the Power Wagon name. Over two decades later however, Dodge revived the Power Wagon as a trim level on its 2005 Ram 2500 truck.

You can still get a Power Wagon today, now under the Ram brand. Again a trim on the 2500-series trucks, the latest Power Wagon boasts an electronic transfer case, locking front and rear differentials, electronic disconnecting front sway bar, and a 12,000-lb. WARN Zeon-12 winch.

The Power Wagon name lives on as an option for 2021 Ram 2500 trucks. (Image/Ram – Stellantis)

Happy 75th, Power Wagon!

From the battlefield to the brush to the boulevard, the Power Wagon has had one heck of a journey. We hope to write about it again for its 150th anniversary.

Want to see more? The company that now owns Dodge and Ram, Stellantis, has a nice, quick video history of the Power Wagon. Check it out below:

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