Truckstop Classic: 1954 Dodge V8 Job-Rated Truck – That Thing Got A Hemi?

(first posted 7/12/2011)    Next up on our tour through the Official CC Truck Lot: a 1954 “Job Rated” Dodge, with another utility-type bed (that similar-colored “tower” in the back is from a different truck.  Now even though it’s a Big Three product, this truck is a pretty rare sight, even hereabouts. But then, wasn’t that the case even decades ago? Dodge trucks from the fifties always seemed rather uncommon; they far behind in the sales stats compared to the #1 selling Chevrolet line, and Ford. Or maybe it’s because they just looked so generic, or? Actually, ore is the right word that might explain it, because these trucks had something under the hood that were its most desirable asset, and plenty of them were mined for that, and long ago too: the legendary original hemi.

My heart skipped a beat when I saw the big chrome V8 symbol on its hood. There’s something about the sight of that big hulking pair of giant valve covers that always brings forth a surge of hemi-love. That response is deeply ingrained, like seeing a picture of your mother. Once the hemi’s virtues were discovered among the go-fast crowd, any aging Chrysler vehicle sporting the Fire-Power emblem was circled, like sharks that smelled blood. Well, it wasn’t only Chryslers and Imperials that got the “big” hemi; Dodge trucks too. And I won’t keep you in suspense any longer: this one has been raped and pillaged too.

Strictly speaking, Dodge trucks of this vintage came with two versions of hemis, in addition to the stalwart flathead sixes. The smaller trucks, from 1 1/2 ton through 2 1/2 ton were offered with the “baby hemi”, a 241 cubic inch (3.9 L) version of the family that included short deck 241 and 270 CID engines, and 315 and 325 CID high deck variants. In its day, the smaller hemis were quite desirable too for hot rodders and such, and of course again now again, given its unique place in history as well as its unique looks.

But the larger Dodge trucks, from 2 3/4 ton up, had the real article, the Chrysler 331 cubic inch hemi (5.3 L). This one I shot in a ’53 Chrysler. Makes me wonder if the Dodge trucks used their own valve covers, or were ok with the “Chrysler Fire-Power” embossed in them?

Update: I found this image of a ’56 331 hemi truck engine. Oh my; what a tiny carburetor! It’s a one-barrel carb, on a 331 hemi! It needs at least six of those! No wonder it’s only rated at 268 lb.ft. of torque. That’s rather low for the displacement. As for the hp rating, it was 153 hp with the one-barrel, and 172 hp with a two-barrel.

By 1957, that asthmatic one-barrel was gone, and the 331 was now rated at 201 hp and 311 lb.ft. of torque, a significant bump. And the bigger 354 inch version was also on tap, with 216 hp and 316 lb.ft.  The Dodge hemi was gone, as it had been replaced be the poly V8. But in 1957, Dodge offered the 314.61 cubic inch DeSoto hemi, in HD form, and rated at 197 hp and 284 lb.ft.

Either way, these engines had plenty of torque, and even those horsepower ratings were pretty good for trucks of that vintage. I’m going to guess that a 331 inch Dodge was the most powerful truck in its class. In fact, that kind of power was still none too common into the early-mid sixties. I drove plenty of bigger mid-sixties F-600 and F-750s with the 332 inch FE, which had a lower power rating. This was the hot rod truck of its time.

There’s something odd about this one. “Job Rated” was the moniker for the Dodges of this vintage, and I assume K stands for its particular ranking in the hierarchy of the lineup.

But the other side fender has this on it. Hmm…a Monday morning assembly job, or?

The cab on this truck is in quite serviceable shape for its age, and a cheerful red color. I didn’t quite think that signal yellow paint job was likely original.

The dash and instruments are identical to what one would find in the lowliest half-ton pickup. Pretty basic, and no tach, which was also the case for almost all trucks except the really big ones. One shifted by sound and feel, or when the governor cut off the fun, if there was one. Or it might just be when it stopped breathing; that was certainly the case with the Ford FEs. No wonder they put such tiny carbs on these truck hemis, otherwise they’d have all been over-revved like mad.

I think this big knob on the passenger side of the dash is to select between batteries; or?

Here’s the instructions on how to get those split shifts with the two-speed rear axle. Don’t ask why, but that was the funnest part for me. And that’s why I can’t let go of my old Ford; it’s set up almost the same way, with its manual overdrive on all three gears. The directions make it look a bit easier than it was, if you didn’t want the tell-tell grrrrrr from the back end. But getting them fast, clean and smooth was satisfying, even if there wasn’t a hemi under that hood. Too bad.