1962 Town Wagon—Dodge’s Answer to the Suburban

Back in the day they were called Carryalls. The term “sport/utility” had not yet been coined. Most truck manufacturers had a panel truck based on their light-truck chassis, and that was the delivery van of the era. A variation was the Carryall, which added windows and seating to the equation. The Chevrolet Suburban is probably the best known of these, but the basic idea for a light-truck-based people mover goes back to the dawn of the automobile.

Adding four-wheel drive to the Carryall equation came just before World War II, when Marmon-Herrington began converting a variety of Ford products, including cars and light trucks, to four-wheel drive. Wartime Carryalls were built with four-wheel drive, and most of them were from Dodge, the main supplier of light trucks to the government. Once the war was over, the Carryall market gradually expanded and began to morph from a bare-bones empty box with seats to something that could be called a station wagon. Though some Carryalls with higher-end appointments were sometimes called station wagons, the term sport/utility eventually defined the comfort-enhanced Carryall. The Willys Wagon, International Travelall, and Suburban all came to the fore in the ’40s and ’50s, but about that time they all had a four-wheel-drive option. Then Dodge jumped in with the Town Wagon.

When Dave Horvath’s ’62 Town Wagon was photographed at the 2018 Vintage Power Wagon Rally (vintagepowerwagons.com/annual-rally), it was fresh off a complete rotisserie restoration. Ron Reichert at Indiana Truck Restoration did the body and interior, which included replacing the entire roof assembly and repainting it the original Turf Green.

Dodge had set a benchmark with its WWII WC Series 4x4s. That development carried over well into the legendary Power Wagon starting in 1946, and it stood as Dodge’s sole non-military 4×4 model. As the ’50s passed, the Dodge sales department saw a market for a 4×4 based on its standard line of trucks. When Dodge was ready to debut a truck refresh for 1957, a four-wheel-drive option was added to the line and the Power Wagon badge was expanded to the new line of 4x4s. Sure, the original Power Wagon was at the top of the “gnarliest truck alive” list, but it was at the bottom of the comfort scale. With a 4×4 based on the new light trucks, it could be more people-friendly with a little extra bling, and the original Power Wagon could be the more austere commercial-grade truck.

The first Town Wagon debuted for 1956 on a 4×2 chassis and was an evolution of the Town Panel that had appeared in ’54. It was easy to add windows and seating to turn a Panel into a Carryall. When a four-wheel-drive option was added to the conventional light-duty truck lineup, it included the Town Wagon and Town Panel. Offering little in the way of creature comfort, the Town Wagon wasn’t into Station Wagon territory, but it was on par with the International Travelall and Chevy Suburban in that regard. Strangely, Ford stayed out of this game, though Marmon-Herrington had offered something similar called the Ranger that was a Carryall conversion of the Ford Panel with four-wheel drive, but not many were sold.

For 1958, the Dodge line emerged with another refresh, the line now commonly known as the Power Giants. As before, the Town Wagon was slotted into the W100 1/2-ton line, but also as before, the underpinnings were more like 3/4-ton models. This was typical of all Dodge 4x4s of this era. The differences between a 4×4 W100 and W200 powertrain were few and mostly related to the spring packs. The Power Giants sold well as the market expanded a little every year to include more people-friendly features.

Various tags indicate it may have originally been a State of Arizona vehicle, but this “Townie” spent its hardest years as a gold prospector’s vehicle. While it wasn’t rusty, the term “rode hard and put away wet” comes to mind. It was originally powered by a 225ci Slant Six, but when Dave got it the original engine and A-745 three-speed trans were gone. He happened to have a ’65 donor truck, so he swapped the entire 6,000-GVW V-8 drivetrain into the ’62, as well as the Braden LU-2 PTO winch and a 3,500-pound axle that became available late in the Sweptline era. A factory-installed winch kit automatically got the heavier front springs. The LU-2 winch was rated at 8,000 pounds and the drum carried 150 feet of 7/16-inch cable. Generally speaking, the W100s were not seen with the 3,500-pound axle, but some very late ones ordered for government use have been seen with them.

For 1961, Dodge debuted a very ambitious update to its truck line—the low-slung Sweptlines. They were a top-to-bottom remake, but one thing was missing: There wasn’t a Sweptline-style Town Wagon developed. Instead, Dodge opted to continue selling Town Wagons in the old body style, and this has baffled historians and Dodge fans for decades. In a phone conversation, Dodge truck history guru Eric Bannerman (author of Dodge Truck Serial Numbers 1917-1980 (amazon.com/Dodge-Truck-Serial-Numbers-1917/dp/0997589302) offered us some educated perspective.

First off, the old body was adapted to the new chassis. Because the short-wheelbase chassis had stretched from 108 to 114 inches in the Sweptlines, fitting the old body involved moving the wheel opening in the front fender forward about 6 inches. Second, the ’61-up dash and many other small parts were adapted to fit in the old body, further shortening the list of unique parts. While keeping the old body in the lineup required a few unique stampings, some of them were shared with the Dodge Low Cab Forward (LCF) medium and heavy trucks and made that aspect less onerous. Finally, while Dodge wasn’t selling a huge number of Town Wagons to the general population, they were selling boatloads to commercial, military, and government agencies that were more into function (and low cost) than form.

The Town Wagons used the side-swinging rear doors of the Town Panel, and Dodge did not offer an upper/lower tailgate option as other Carryalls used. Dave’s started life as a six-passenger Townie, but he added the third-row seat to make it an eight-passenger truck. Dodge used plywood for the rear floor, but Dave replaced it with oak.

The Town Wagon stayed incongruously in the lineup through 1966, sticking out like a guy in a ’70s disco full of polyester wearing a ’40s zoot suit. Some of the last orders were fulfilled well into 1967. By then, the Jeep Wagoneer, Chevy Suburban, and International Travelall were dominating the fullsize SUV market, and sales had dropped below a viable threshold. Eric’s perspective is again useful here, and he commented that the A100 Dodge van (and the Ford Econoline) had taken a sizable chunk out of Town Wagon sales to government agencies. Plus, new federal lighting and safety standards were due for 1967, and most likely the sales volume did not justify the expense to tool up to make the Town Wagon fit in.

On top of that, Chrysler Corporation possibly had ideas for a new rig in the future. By the end of 1966, it’s very possible a new SUV was more than a twinkle in some executive’s eye. Just the next year, Chrysler likely got word of Chevrolet‘s new SUV to be called “Blazer.” The introduction of the Blazer in 1969 would certainly spur the other two members of the Big Three to go a similar route. This road would lead to the Dodge Ramcharger, introduced in March of 1974, and the Plymouth Trail Duster the same year.

The four-wheel-drive Power Giant Dodges had some body differences from the two-wheel drives, namely an eyebrow over the front wheelwells. Starting in ’61, the wheelbase stretched 6 inches, and to fit the old-style Town Wagon body onto the newer chassis, the front wheel arch was moved forward by that amount. The 8-lug wheels were standard for the 4x4s, even the 1/2-tons. The stock front axle was a 3,000-pound Dana 44, and a full-float Dana 60 was in the rear. Standard axle ratios were 4.10:1, but 4.89:1 was the option, as were Powr-Lock limited slips.

The four-wheel-drive Town Wagon was produced from 1957 through 1966, but the actual production numbers are hidden in the total of W100 chassis built of all types. There may have been records that broke them out, but they’re either gone or not accessible this far down the road. Most Town Wagons were 4x2s and based on the known numbers of 4×4 W100 chassis produced; 4×4 Town Wagons probably numbered only in the hundreds annually. Anecdotally, it appears that production may have picked up a little from ’61 on, as a large number of government contracts were fulfilled during that time. The Navy bought quite a few in the ’50s and ’60s, and many were used in Department of the Interior service, such as in the BLM, Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fish and Wildlife, and so on. They also saw widespread use in state agencies.

Until recently, uttering the Town Wagon name brought a blank look and a “Huh?” Now, with collectors and investors searching for “something different,” the Town Wagon is finally getting some well-deserved attention.

The optional 318-1 two-barrel engine made a respectable 200 gross horsepower (164 net) and 286 lb-ft (258 net) of torque. These were the A-Series engines, a ’56-’67 evolution of the original polyspherical combustion chamber engines that had debuted in the early ’50s. Sometimes called the “Semi-Hemi,” but most often simply the “Poly-Head,” they were torquey, undersquare engines with a generous amount of low-end grunt. Dave added the four-barrel manifold from a high-output car engine and an Edelbrock performer carb, as well as Stan’s headers and dual exhaust. The four-barrel 318 LA Poly used in cars of the same era was rated at 260 hp and 345 lb-ft, so this engine is probably somewhere near that.

The ’61-on Town Wagons used a similar dash to the medium-duty Low Cab Forward truck of the era. In this period, automatics were not available in the 4x4s, so you had a choice of the A-745 synchronized three-speed or the NP420 four-speed. Only one trim level was offered, though some of the government rigs had unique interior features specified in their contracts. Not much bling was available, a roof-mounted radio being one item and two-tone paint being another. Heaters were still optional in this era. Though the Town Wagon never had a high level of bling, it generally had trended toward an even lower level after 1960.

Three-two-three seating—typical of a ’50s eight-passenger Carryall. The upholstery is not the original style with nylon inserts, but it still looks the period part. The Town Wagon never evolved into the three-door configuration that emerged in the late ’50s with the Travelall, or the four-doors that came in the ’60s.

The Power Wagon emblem appeared on all Dodge 4x4s of the era—the original WDX/WM style or the later “civilian-style” trucks.

The Details
Vehicle: ’62 Dodge W100 Town Wagon 4×4
Owner: David Horvath
Estimated value: $40,000
Engine: 318ci V-8 (225ci Slant Six original)
Power (hp @ rpm): 200 @ 3.900
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 286 @ 2,400
Bore & stroke (in. ): 3.63 x 3.80
Comp. ratio (:1) 8.25
Transmission: New Process 420 four-spd (A-745 3-spd original)
Transfer Case: NP201
Axle ratio (:1): 4.10
Tires: 7.00-16
Wheelbase (in): 114
GVW (lb): 6,000
Curb weight (lb): 5,190 (V-8 with winch)
Fuel capacity (gal): 18

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