Vintage Ad: 1956 Powell Sport Wagon Pickup – A Proto-SUV/Pickup On A Recycled Plymouth Chassis

How is it that we’ve never given the Powell its 15 minutes of CC fame? It was ahead of its time, offering an SUV-like wagon and a pickup, and really ahead of the recycling wave, as it used a chassis and drive train from junked Plymouths (vintage 1940-1941), since Powell was in no position to build those. What they did build was a body made from steel and fiberglass parts, and one that had a few clever features.

Not surprisingly, it was not a sustainable business model.

The Powell was conceived by Hayward and Channing Powell, two Southern California brothers who made a bit of a business producing radios in the 1920s. But eventually competition from bigger names like RCA and Crosley squeezed their profits. So the Powells shifted their efforts to building motor scooters. Business was fairly good until World War II. But after the war, the cheaper Cushman and the more refined Vespas scooters squeezed them again, and they had to reinvent themselves once more. They decided that four wheels might be more profitable than two.

Southern California was a hotbed of recreational motoring of all sorts, and the Powell’s had adopted the sportsman lifestyle. A “sportsmen’s car” is what they came up with, one that would be targeted toward guys like themselves, who wanted the utility of a Jeep but were willing to trade some off-road capability for a more comfortable driving experience.

The resulting Powell Sports Wagon, available with a covered rear to turn it into a true wagon, has been termed a proto-SUV. Of course the Willys Jeep Station Wagon, available with 4WD was even more of that, but the Powell offered a somewhat more civilized ride, with its recycled Plymouth sedan chassis, which were fully refurbished, and the drive train rebuilt.

The body was very basic and simple, with sliding side windows and few amenities. It reminds me more than a bit of the original Scout, minus the four wheel drive.

The Powell had a few interesting features, including this optional pull-out drawer (available on both sides) to store small items, or without the dividers, long items like fishing poles.

Powells were mostly sold in Southern California, at a modest clip. Almost a thousand were sold over its three years (1955-1957).  Prices started at just $1095, quite a bit less than a new car of the times. They were cheap to build, and the chassis could be bought in junkyards for $45 or so. Powell was supposedly profitable, but the business was wound down in 1957. Some sources claim it was because they ran out of old Plymouth chassis to scavenge, but the 1942-1948 was essentially the same, so that seem dubious.