Curbside Classic: 1975 Dodge Power Wagon – A (Sort-Of) Civilized Outdoorsman

(first posted 8/28/2012)     As I remember the early 1970s, there were two kinds of Dads.  There were the guys who were reasonably fashionable and with the times, who kept with the styles.  These guys let their hair and sideburns grow a bit, and got in touch with their softer side.  My own father was numbered among this group.  Then there were the hardasses – usually ex military guys who stuck with their flattops and who wore skinny ties and wingtips when dress up was required.  The former Dads would gently but firmly correct their children when we misbehaved.  The hardass dads would smack the little bastards in the head to straighten them up, usually muttering something like “knock that the hell off.”   In the world of trucks, there was no mistaking that the Dodge trucks were like the hardass Dads.

The 1960s saw the beginnings of the softening of the pickup truck.  But not at Dodge.  Only wussies need independent front suspension.  The Sweptline years (1961-71) marked Dodge as the land where time pretty much stood still.  But for 1972, Dodge tried on some new duds.  Not so much so as to hang out with the cool Dads, but as a way of sort of coming to terms with the 1970s.

When the 1972 models came out, Dodge looked as though it might finally be able to elbow its way to the front of the line.  It may not outsell Ford or Chevrolet, but it certainly looked as though it could now run right up there with them.  To my eyes, the 72 Dodge pickup line was among the most handsome ever.  The truck seemed almost car-like in its styling.  I particularly liked the way the two-tone treatment accentuated the soft flairs above the wheel cutouts.

To me, the general shapeliness and the two-toning treatment of these trucks reminded me a lot of the concurrent Plymouth Satellite coupes.  Unfortunately, the body engineering of these trucks would not live up to the legendary toughness of their drivetrains. Rust, squeaks and a general feeling of flimsiness would bedevil these trucks for the entirety of their lengthy run.  Also like these Satellites.  Oh how the world could have been different had Chrysler brought these trucks out in 1968 or so.

The new Dodge also got a publicity boost from its starring role in the TV show Emergency.  The ladies may have been oogling Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe, but I tuned into that show to watch that big red Dodge (Rescue 51) play the hero every week.

We have previously written here about the other big breakthrough of this generation of Dodge’s pickup line – the 1973 Club Cab. (CC Here)  Nobody else in 1972-73 offered the kind of variety in pickups that could be found at your friendly Dodge dealer, with standard cabs, the Club Cab, and even crew cabs.  Ford would answer pretty quickly with the 1974 Super Cab.  Chevrolet, inexplicably, would wait for nearly an eternity before offering an extended cab of its own.

There was one segment of the 1972 line where there would be no real compromise with moderninity – the Power Wagons.  The original Dodge Power Wagon was a truck’s truck.  Going back to our Dad analogy, it would have been the toughest of the Ex-Marines.  The guy capable of taking down a grizzly bear with a swiss army knife without letting the cigarette fall from his lips.  The 1946 Power Wagon was pretty much identical to the military issue truck from World War II, and remained in the Dodge catalog largely unchanged until it was discontinued in 1968.

However, the Power Wagon name (and its rugged spirit) moved onto the later editions of the Sweptline trucks and became pretty much the gold standard for truck buyers who really put trucks through their paces in places far off the beaten paths.  The Power Wagon’s 8-lug Dana axles could haul the big, butch Dodge trucks pretty much anyplace a truck had any business going.

I saw this rig parked on a side street recently when I was on my way downtown.  It is rare enough to see one of the early versions of this truck, at least in the midwestern U.S.

As I took a closer look, I saw that I had hit the trifecta – a Club Cab, a Power Wagon, and even in the high-level Adventurer trim.  I cannot imagine that many were sold in this combination, and surely there are not many of them left, particularly as original and unmolested as this one is.

Chrysler has had a number of really good car names over the years, and has done a better-than-average job of recycling them.  We have seen multiple versions of Dusters, Scamps, and even Diplomats.  But the Adventurer is one of my favorites.  After being used as the flagship of the DeSoto line from 1956, it came back as the uplevel trim package on Dodge trucks.  Is there anyone besides me who thinks that  the Ramcharger should actually have been the Adventurer?

There would be some serious retrenching in Dodge trucks in the years ahead.  The Power Wagon was retired after 1980, and the Club Cab was discontinued a couple of years later (although it would be re-introduced in the early 1990s at the end of this truck’s long run.)  But this 1975 model was right in the heart of the era when we Mopar fanboys still (wrongly) believed that Dodge trucks were poised to rule the world.  It is interesting to me that these mid 1970s trucks are not well documented online.  Not even Allpar has significant coverage on these D series trucks until the appearance of the hot Lil’ Red Truck in the late 1970s.

So many of the cars I shoot for CC are quietly sitting in parking areas, patiently awaiting the return of their owners.  But I was fortunate to actually meet the owner of this fabulous old pickup.  Nick is a young family man and U. S. Army vet who has some Mopar in his blood.   And for the record, he is a very normal guy who does NOT have a flattop or look like the kind of Dad who smacks his kids in the head.  Times have changed since 1972.  He is just the second owner of this truck that has still travelled less than 100K miles.  Other than replacing the transmission (which Dodge called the LoadFlite in trucks) and installing police-style (with cooling holes) dog dish hubcaps, this truck is bone-stock.

This was a challenging truck to photograph.  The mix of sun and shade gave the trusty JPC BlackberryCam about all it could handle, but an even bigger problem was the extreme length of this truck in tight urban quarters.  Up close and personal, this is a long, long vehicle.  And in a quaint, gentrified ninetheenth century neighborhood, this old Dodge stood out like a gun show in the parking lot at Whole Foods.

During a fun conversation about the truck, Nick asked if I would like to hear it run.  You betcha!  Most of you know that I simply cannot get enough of the old Chrysler reduction gear starter, and it is even better with the sound of a throaty 360 as a chaser.

Nick really enjoys driving this truck, saying that he plans to drive it until it it either dies or is outlawed.  If the day ever comes when it is illegal to drive a big, gruff old Dodge truck like this one, well I think that this would be the kind of outlaw activity I could get behind.