How’s that for a chalk-and-cheese duo? A truly historic American truck and (in my view) the only good-looking American Ford of the ‘70s, side by side in Chtuchak, in the north of Bangkok. How these got here, I don’t know. But they share a rather strange secret, one that will either make you laugh, cry or both.
I’ve caught a number of interesting cars on this spot: a Canadian Plodge, a 60’s Daihatsu and a jaw-dropping 1946 Lancia. It’s the city’s Department of Land Transport registration and certification facility – basically, every car that changes hands or got restored or modified has to come here for an inspection. This time, I initially happened upon an old truck sitting pretty much alone.
Not being a truck man myself, I had no idea what I was dealing with here. It immediately looked American and sort of Second World War-ish, but as I looked around in vain for a script or a logo, I couldn’t say what I was photographing.
All I knew was: this thing is massive, ancient and beautiful. The owner, a middle-aged Thai man, showed up and told me this was a 1942 Dodge Power Wagon. Well, that prompted a bit of research, of course. But that came later. Initially though, as I continued taking a few snaps, I wondered what life this truck must have had. These were never imported in what was then still Siam – especially in 1942, when the country was under Japanese influence. So this wartime Dodge must be a later import.
Strictly speaking, the “Power Wagon” designation should only apply to the post-war WD series Dodge, also badged as Fargo in some markets, which came in late 1945. But the basic design was already there in 1941 with this WC series.
These were deigned as all-terrain four-(or six-)wheel-drive haulers, chiefly for US Army needs. These ½ ton and ¾ ton trucks were powered by a variety of Mopar flathead 6-cyl. engines that produced between 79 and 104hp (gross) for a displacement of 3.3 to 3.9 litres. It had a 4-speed transmission and could be driven either RWD or 4WD.
I will readily confess my complete cluelessness as regards the technological aspect of this impressive machine. As I’m in way over my head, I will let the photos do the job for me.
Here are some underskirt pics for the CCognoscenti. I’m not sure how modified the suspension, brakes or transmission are, but that thing looks ready to roll.
The detailing on this particular specimen was quite interesting. It really didn’t look like a military truck. I would have thought some 1942 Dodge trucks were sold to the civilian market, but I reckon it’s much likelier that this one was de-mobbed and sold off sometime after 1945. It may have been transformed / restored into a civilian truck at that point, or at any point in the intervening 70 years.
Maroon is quite a fetching hue on vehicles of this period. Most of them got the olive drab instead. The WC Series, which is sometimes nicknamed “Battle Wagon,” was made for the duration of America’s involvement in the war. Multiple variants were made for specific uses – weapons carrier, ambulance, VIP staff car and so on.
It seems just over 226,000 of these sturdy rigs were made in five years. Sources say that Dodge were building as many as they possibly could – the main production bottleneck being the availability of CV joints and transfer cases. Some of the other Allied powers, including the Soviet Union, also received Dodge WCs in those years. They were extremely popular with their users and some had military careers that stretched to the Korean War.
As I understand it, the “proper” Power Wagon designation came when the WC Series evolved into the civilian WD, launched in late 1945. The Power Wagon was also a hit in the post-war era and begat a whole family tree of vehicles bearing that name, on and off, until the present day.
The interior is very nice indeed. Detroit design really reached a peak in the ‘40s that was never surpassed. That dash is absolutely lovely, and the steering wheel looks like it might well be original and certainly unrestored. As to the knobs, lights and instruments, it’s unlikely they came out of the factory that way (’90s cigarette lighter, for instance…?), but it’s still looks the part.
I had to leave the Power Wagon after a little while, but made a mental note to return to the same spot when I would have a bit more time about an hour later. You never know…
And indeed, the crew-cut Power Wagon had acquired a long-haired hippy-era neighbour in the interim. I’m not a spiritual guy, but sometimes it feels like the universe does something just to blow your mind.
The Ford’s owner, also a middle-aged Thai guy, spoke absolutely no English, so I’m going with my gut and browsing Google images on this car’s model year. It could be an earlier car with slight modifications – it looks like it has had a bit of work done, body-wise.
I’m pretty unfamiliar with these cars, but I always thought they looked very nicely balanced, especially for an American car that debuted in 1969 as a ’70 model. The lines look almost Italian from certain angles. Compared to contemporary Ford fastback designs (e.g. the Mustang and the Torino) this was certainly the best of the bunch. Naturally, the post-1973 Mavericks were almost terminally uglified with the infamous 5mph bumpers, so finding an early one “as nature intended” is a huge plus. Brazilian-made Mavericks (1973-79) kept the original thin bumpers throughout their run, modest though it was (a little over 100,000 units).
Ford sold over half a million of these in the (extended) first model year, all with two doors like this one and only with one of two 6-cyl. engines: 170ci or 200ci producing 100hp and 120hp, respectively. After the demise of the Falcon, starting in December 1970, 302 V8 power (210 hp, at least initially) became available and a 4-door sedan was launched on a longer 109.9-inch wheelbase, versus the 2-door’s 103 inches. Thanks in no small part to the Maverick, Ford beat Chevrolet to the top spot in US sales in 1970 and 1971. The obligatory Mercury-badged version, the Comet, soon arrived and yearly sales settled around the ¼-million mark through to 1974.
The Maverick got its hood popped open for inspection as I continued to snap away, undaunted. I did a double take at this point. No wipers? Er… Is that not an issue, guys? ‘Cause when it rains here, it really rains.
By the time I got in front of the Ford, the open hood was beckoning me to come and inspect it. From this distance, I could tell this car did not have a V8. But I was quite apprehensive as to the innards of this beast. For I had seen a disturbing omen seconds prior, when I looked at the interior.
Yes, there was an immediate “uh-oh” sound running in my head when I saw this car’s interior. Lots of it looked the part (though again, this is probably the first time I’ve ever seen one of these in real life), possibly down even to the underdash A/C, which might well have been installed by a dealer back in the day. But that floor shifter looked dodgy a hell. And then I saw the steering column…
So there you have it, as suspected, our Ford Maverick is now motorized by a Nissan Diesel straight-6 mated to a (floor-shifted) automatic box. Well, that was not entirely unexpected. The ’64 Plodge I had captured on that spot a few weeks earlier had had a similar fate. American parts are really a pain to source compared to good old Japanese iron, around here. I can understand the logic behind making a complete motor and transmission transplant into an exotic car, especially something not too rare like a Maverick. Opting for a Diesel though, on this kind of car, is a little jarring to me. There are dozens of gasoline Japanese sixes that could have performed this job just as well.
But then I was also shocked because I had seen the Power Wagon’s engine earlier. Oh, I never did get round to showing you that, did I?
You guessed it: a Nissan OHC Diesel. You can’t make this stuff up.
Most CC posts are the product of coincidence, by the very nature of their classical curbitude. When coincidence pile up, a black swan event like this happens: two highly interesting CCs parked side-by-side, in a well-lit area, easy to access and photograph, who despite all their differences share a significant and highly unusual quirk. This Twofer could of course be topped by my encountering, say, a pre-war Packard parked next to an Austin-Healey, both featuring a Peugeot engine. Which I haven’t seen, but that’s the kind of bar I feel has been set by seeing these two vehicles.
I saw the truck being loaded up for transport out to the wider world, somewhere out there. Folks here tend to be very good with woodwork, so I hope the owner will give it a new bed. The presence of a Nissan engine is perhaps not ideal, but it’s probably just as rugged and durable as the old Chrysler flathead. So at least, it’s in keeping with the vehicle’s spirit, wartime politics notwithstanding.
As for the Maverick, I stand by my wincing at the idea of using this particular engine, but I’m delighted that this car’s clean lines and bright yellow paintwork will grace the traffic of the city with their presence. Classic car ownership can be potentially ruinous – being able to enjoy driving these cars can mean that certain alterations are deemed a necessary evil. It’s just a Maverick, in a way. A Diesel Maverick.
Still sounds wrong.
Road Trip History: Dodge Power Wagon True Tales of Adventure, by Robert Kim