1956 Dodge Power Wagon Swivel Frame
The Willock Swivel Frame option is extraordinarily rare (only 49 were built and a rumored 14 still exist), giving this truck unmatched prowess off-road without compromising its carrying capacity.
If you’re reading this, we probably don’t need to explain why this 1956 Dodge Power Wagon is an exceptional vehicle. You saw the picture and you just couldn’t resist clicking, right? For the uninitiated, the Dodge Power Wagon still makes a bold statement more than 70 years after it was introduced, and it looks like it could climb the side of Mount Everest without a Sherpa. For those of you already familiar with the mighty Power Wagon, you likely know that this one’s Willock Swivel Frame option is extraordinarily rare (only 49 were built and a rumored 14 still exist), and gives this truck unmatched prowess off-road without compromising its carrying capacity. I’m also pretty sure that it eats cats and other small animals that wander too close. Either way, this truck is impressive as hell.
Originally procured in 1956 by the US Forestry Service, it was painted traditional Seawolf Submarine Green (yes, that’s the official name—how awesome is that?) with black fenders by the factory. For years it traversed the most remote parts of the Florida Everglades, collecting data, hauling equipment, and doing whatever else it is that the Forestry Service does. Along the way, it transitioned to fire duty, and was fitted with a 700-gallon water tank and painted red. Obviously, with 700 gallons of water on board, if the swivel frame wasn’t up to the task, it probably would have revealed itself at the most inopportune moment. Instead, the Power Wagon soldiered on without missing a beat, grinding over hills and through forest fires. Of course, nothing lasts forever and it was retired from service where the tank was stripped from the frame and it was sold as a chassis and cab to a private individual. That guy made an attempt at painting it olive drab, and eventually it was fitted with a sort-of correct 8-foot bed that was pieced together from original Power Wagon pieces and an indestructible diamond-plate floor in place of the original oak. Today it presents as an incredible piece of off-roading equipment with awesome patina and the ability to go virtually anywhere on Earth.
The truck’s history reveals itself through the layers of paint: Seawolf Submarine Green at the bottom, followed by a fairly thorough bright red repaint for fire duty, and then the latest olive drab that seems to have been haphazardly applied as much for patina as for protection. The original cab, hood, and front fenders are in decent condition, with the expected bumps and bruises typical of an off-road work truck and obviously retained for their character-building appearance. There’s almost zero rust anywhere on the truck, with the only notable areas being a small bit of bubbling at the base of the passenger’s side A-pillar and rear cab corner (shown in photos), but none of it is significant enough to warrant surgery and fixing it might just screw up the whole look. The bed, you may notice, is two different colors, as it was pieced together from several donor trucks, and no, we don’t know anything about the Goose Creek Symphony or what they were doing with a Power Wagon. Forestry Service stencils are still visible on the driver’s door with an unknown organization’s crest on the passenger’s side, and you’ll note that the running boards are split to permit the swivel frame to operate correctly. At the moment, the driver’s side running board is not installed, but no worries! We have it and it will be reinstalled before the new owner takes possession and I promise it will look just as gnarly as the rest of the truck. All the lights are functional, including the turn signals and cowl lights, the rubber is a combination of newer stuff and original weather seals, and the original Braden 10,000-pound winch still, um, winches stuff—you know, like that ocean liner over there.
The Power Wagon was designed for simplicity, and that’s what you get inside. The original gray vinyl seatback is intact, but the lower cushion is damaged and covered by a moving blanket, which somehow doesn’t seem like a demerit in this truck. The original gauges are all fully functional, even the crusty speedometer which now shows 61,535 miles. Is that the correct mileage? Who knows, but I suspect that given the truck’s former life, it probably is. It would be one heck of a challenge to drive one of these beasts 161,000 miles through a forest, even if you had 56 years to do it. There’s a separate custom switch panel under the dash with controls for the lights and other devices such as a CB radio and siren, both of which were likely removed when it was retired from the Forestry Service. There’s an array of levers on the floor for the transmission, transfer case, and power take-off, and the 4-speed manual transmission shifts well with some practice (synchromesh was finally added in 1956) making the most incredible sound with those heavy-duty gears. The floors are solid and as you can see, the red paint job was quite thorough—it looks as if they filled a bucket with red paint, dropped in half a stick of dynamite, then lit it to apply the paint. An aftermarket tach and turn signals were added at some point, and even the pedals are designed for the ages, made of heavy-gauge steel and forgoing rubber pads. It’s not pretty, but there’s enough testosterone inside this truck to grow hair on a bowling ball.
Dodge built the Power Wagon’s 230 cubic inch inline-six on a separate assembly line, so while the displacement is the same as a production car’s, there are many internal differences including a mysterious device Dodge engineers called the “whoop-ass generator.“ Of course, the Power Wagon got a cooling system with a gigantic radiator, designed for low-speed and stationary operation (remember the power take-off designed to run saws and pumps and other manly stuff), and this one was happy to idle in 90-degree heat for an hour while we took photos without even really registering on the gauge. It starts quickly and idles easily with a surprisingly quiet rumble from the newer exhaust system that dumps just under the right rear of the cab for obvious reasons. This is not the truck’s original engine, but a rebuilt unit from Grindstaff Engines in Independence, MO, who apparently knew what they were doing because it runs almost too smoothly to be a mere truck engine. A spare engine, perhaps even the truck’s original block, is currently sitting in the bed and is included with the sale. All the original trucky gear is intact, including the oil bath air cleaner, oil filter, heavy-duty generator, plus breathers for the differential and transfer case so you can take it in the wet stuff. The carburetor has been recently rebuilt and includes a drain fitting, just in case you really do get in over your head and submerge it, Seawolf Submarine paint notwithstanding.
The frame looks sturdy enough to use as a railroad trestle, and shows only surface scale and ancient grease, but no damage. The swivel frame is the truck’s most unique feature, and essentially joins the front and rear sections via a rotating coupler. In practice, it gives this Power Wagon the ability to articulate over the roughest terrain, and if you look around the internet a bit, you will undoubtedly find some very impressive maneuvers are possible with this truck. Contrary to what you may think, however, it doesn’t compromise the ride or handling and from the driver’s seat, on-pavement performance is identical to a standard Power Wagon. In the bush, however, few other trucks can follow this one’s tracks. Body mounts are solid, the spring perches are ridiculously over-built, and with everything covered in a pretty uniform layer of grease, rust is a non-issue. It uses what might be the world’s largest CV joints on the front axle, as well as a newer set of hub locks that probably help eke out an extra half-mile per gallon of gas. Sadly, it does not have the optional rear-axle shock absorbers, but you probably won’t miss them unless you’re carrying a pallet of concrete or perhaps a medium-sized elephant in the bed. It currently wears giant 18-inch wheels with equally massive 11.00-18 Goodyear tires, but the original 16-inch wheels with original-spec tires are also included with the purchase. Warning: they do not look as butch.
If you’ve got the time, this Power Wagon will take you anywhere in the world, and as we’ve discovered, no other vehicle can attract attention like this brute. It actually works pretty well as a truck, too, with a big bed and plenty of gear to get it rolling. Massive carrying capacity means that the guys at Home Depot will drop dead from truck envy, and there’s nothing you can’t carry home yourself. And before you Power Wagon experts send us a snarky E-mail, I’m merely going to ask you to find another early swivel frame in complete, running, driving, fully-operational condition for less money before you tell us about it. You all know this is a special truck, and the man who owns it will unquestionably be the center of attention at any event he attends, no matter what his other shortcomings. It’s about as subtle as a 2x4 to the forehead, but man, sometimes even a 2x4 to the forehead can really be a rush!