OK, enough about me.... here's the original web page. This was one of the 1st TownWagon and Panel resources on the web, so I am leaving it here for historical (hysterical?) purposes.
The Unofficial Dodge Town Wagon and Panel Page
Built on Dodge truck chassis, this vehicle was a competitor to the new Chevy "Suburban Carryall". The photo above is my truck, before I bought it in Phoenix. They were available as 6 or 8 passenger "wagons" or 2 passenger "panel" trucks. (The wagons are sometimes referred to as "windowed panels") They could be ordered in 2wd (D100-300), or 4wd (W100,W200, W300) models through the entire production run.
This was a low volume vehicle for Dodge. Production appear to be just a few hundred wagons a year, as far as I can tell. Accordingly, the Dodge wagons retained the '58 look till they were discontinued in '66. Dodge did roll in the new frame and running gear when the redesigned the pickups for 1961. This makes for an interesting combination: the 50's "fat fender" look of separate hood and fender lines combined with some of the major engineering advances of the early '60's (Overhead valve engines, 12 volt electrical, Alternators, suspended pedals, Dual Master Cylinder Brakes, etc). The pickup models from Dodge, Ford, and GM all changed to the very boxy, flat nosed modern pickup design in the 60's. Ford had no large volume wagon, and the Chevy/GM suburban went to the "new" 60's styling. Which leave the Dodge Town-Wagon and Town-Panel as the last wagons with the 50's styling.
The trucks also shared styling and name with the traditional "Power Wagon" as well. The traditional Dodge Power Wagon retained it's styling almost from inception to retirement). Given the success of the new (Old?) style of the current Dodge Ram trucks, Dodge may have been ahead of it's time!
My Town Wagon interest actually started with a search for a 56-59 vintage GM 4wd Suburban. I quickly discovered there were very few left around in 2wd, much less in 4wd. The few I located were very expensive, and usually 2wd. Since I really wanted the 50's "fat fender" look with separate hood and fender lines. I was stuck. Then I saw the Town-Wagon listed in the "Standard Catalog of Four Wheel Drives". It had the 50's look, as well as some "Power Wagon" influence. Having been a big fan of the original Power Wagon, the look was just what I was looking for. But where do I find one? This question took care of itself.
The Saga Begins:
How do you decide you want a Town Wagon? You Don't! They find you! My search for an old wagon started in winter of '94. I had concluded that I would not find a suitable Suburban, and was a bit discouraged. A business trip to Knoxville provided a perfect opportunity to travel though some serious old truck territory: North West Georgia and South East Tennessee. While passing through Chatsworth GA, I spotted what I thought was a Suburban from the road. When I investigated, I saw it was a Dodge, and was initially disappointed. But the more I looked, the more I liked. The Town Wagon had some key advantages for what I had in mind:
- "Fat Fendered" look-
- Solid Front Axle-Wagons of any type in 4wd were pretty scarce. The solid front axle with leaf springs meant I could swap a Dana-44 type front axle in place with little changes. In fact, the Dodge trucks used the same spring dimensions, track width, etc through the early eighties! Some quick reference to the "Standard Catalog" indicated that swap from any 60-80 vintage Dodge 4wd should be straightforward.
- OHV engine-This truck had the 225 Slant Six. This is a pretty durable and widely available engine. The truck was also available with an early variant of the Dodge 318 that has been used in one form of the other since the early sixties. (The new Magnum version still shares mounts and other key components.) Basically, the entire modern Chrysler engine line would be an option.
- Modern Brake system-Unlike most 50's trucks, Dodge moved early to suspended pedals. Why is this a big deal? Ask anyone who has a truck with floorboard type pedals. The whole idea of the master cylinder below the floor boards is not very effective. Add road noise, cold air, and exhaust leaks from the holes in the floorboards, and suspended pedals become pretty attractive. As usual, Dodge is pretty consistent in bolt patterns, etc. Modern Power or standard MC's will bolt up with little modification.
- Modern Electrical System-Not having to deal with a 6 volt generator based system is a big plus.
I stress test my marriage:
Bottom line.... the Town Wagon looked like it would be a pretty good bet. I returned from my trip with the intention of buying it. My wife had severe reservations.... we were on a pretty tight budget, and she did not think I should start new project of this nature. But she gave in, as she new it was something I really wanted to do. So I scrounge up $500 the next day, drive back up to Chatsworth, and made an offer to the dealer. He relented, sold me the truck, and I drove it back to Atlanta. (and was late to my wife's birthday party in the process.... Ouch!!!).
Needless to say, my wife was not impressed! The truck needed massive body work, had a cheap wooden house panel interior complemented with velour headliner. Ugh! However, like most old Dodges, it refused to die, and I drove it to work for a week or two before starting lots of cut and weld type repairs.
My goal for this vehicle is to retain the 50's look while moving to a modern running 4wd running gear. I had located a '74 Ramcharger with a working 318, A/T and 4wd running gear. I traded a lawnmower for it, and used the Town Wagon and a dolly to get it home. (This is a story in itself. The Ramcharger was missing a Master Cylinder, and I had not one, but two separate roller-coaster rides down hills at night trying to move it around without brakes! The last ride ended up with me choosing between rolling into the creek in my back yard, hitting a neighbor's fence, or slamming into a large oak at my property line. I hit the Oak, after dodging several other trees in the dark)
Rust, Cutting, and Welding:
I knew the body work would be tough on the Town Wagon. I made myself promise that I would do the body work first before starting on the "fun" 4wd changes. The floorboards and body mounts were the worst problem. I would never be able to enjoy the truck with my feet dangling out the bottom! Time for some serious metal work. No bondo or pop rivets for me! I borrowed, and eventually bought a small MIG welder, and the repairs started. I made some progress on the floorboards, but it was obvious it would be a long haul. Doors were probably the most critical problem, as these were pretty rusted.
"All I want is some Doors!":
Progress was slow, and doors were very hard to find. I had lot's of time to plan, and it was pretty clear that 4wd drive conversion was not going to be a big issue, nor would engine swaps if needed. (The slant six ran fine, but I really wanted a V-8) Where can I get doors? I was stumped. And then came the business trip to Phoenix!
If you have never been there, Phoenix is junkyard Mecca! The best sheet-metal available to me in GA would be considered rusted beyond use in AZ. I hit the yards on Broadway, and found several pickups with usable doors, and even an entire cab I could scavenge. I had no way to ship the cab, but doors and "step-wells" were loaded into the rental car. I found someone to ship them to Atlanta, and I had solved one of my problems.
While searching the yards, I found one that had a '64 Town wagon that was pretty much rust free. It had the 318 V-8, a 4 speed, and 3/4 ton 2wd running gear. The owner was willing to sell it, but was was way out of my budget. But I filed it away for future reference.
Shift forward about 12 months. It was clear the sheet metal work on the '61 would take forever. The '64 in Phoenix was about 3 years of work ahead of my '61. My wife made me a deal I could not refuse: "Sell or trade the '61 to get it out of the garage, and you can buy the '64".
So I did.... and the story of the drive from Phoenix to Atlanta in a 32 yr old truck is documented elsewhere. Faithful coworker and fellow motor-head John Macaulay helped me drive it as far as Dallas, and has helped many times since. Now I had two trucks! After some wheeling and dealing, the '61 was traded for an 318 V-8 engine and various restoration parts for my '63 Dart GT Convertible.
When I bought the '64, it had the original "poly" 318 V-8 with a 4 speed. Since the original engine had a severe blow by problem in one cylinder, and jumped time on the drive from Phoenix to Atlanta, an engine swap was in order. I installed the modern (LA) 318 engine that I traded the '61 for. So far, it has been a pretty much bolt up proposition. The engine mounts were perfect as is. I had to get creative with bell housing mounts only because I tore one of the originals removing the engine. After some thought, I decided to retain the original 4 speed for now, but plan to substitute the A-727 A/T and NP-203 transfer case from the donor Ramcharger later. I have spent quite a bit of time on the used engine, including some detours with broken exhaust studs, etc. (Short version: "Easyout's aren't easy. You cannot drill a broken easyout! The MIG welder saved the day!) The engine was then installed, but I still had a few items left to do:
- Re-arrange Alternator/Fan/Water pump belts.
- Install nice Sanderson Ceramic coated headers.
- 2 1/4" dual Exhaust with Dynamax Ultraflow Stainless Mufflers
- Install starter.
- reinstall 4spd tranny (It weighs a ton, and was filthy. Degreased, it still weighs a ton!)
- swap back to original points distributor or wire up the Electronic system from the donor engine. (Not as big of a deal as I thought!)
- Rig up water hoses ( I had to swap radiators to match the new water pump outlets)
- Block off EGR port on the intake, and get rid of non-essential vacuum lines.
Now that these items are complete, I was in business.
The truck is running and driving now! Noisy, and geared too low with the 4.1 Dana 60 rear end, but it runs like a champ!
Once I was comfortable I would keep the new engine, I added the following as well:
- Edelbrock "Performer" Intake
- Edelbrock "Performer" 4 bbl carb (purchased used, which I rebuilt)
- Mopar Performance "Black Crinkle" Aluminum Valve Covers
Down the road, I hope to add these as well:
- Edelbrock "Performer" RV style cam
Dodge was very consistent with their running gear, and used the same leaf spring/solid axle frame from '61 through '71. In fact, the same axles, springs, engine and transmission were used into the 80's, so it looks like conversion to modern engine and 4wd running gear will be a bolt up proposition. I plan on installing the Dana 44 4wd axle from the '78 Ramcharger to convert the Town Wagon to 4wd and disk brakes. (Retaining the existing Dana 60 rear axle) I will use the A-727 Automatic Transmission and NP-203 transfer case from the Ramcharger as well when I convert to 4wd. Long term, I would prefer an NP-205 or NP-208 xfer case to move away from full time 4wd, but I will deal with that later. This combination should be about as rugged a drivetrain as you can get outside of an original Power Wagon.
The '64's original 1/2 ton running gear had been replaced with 3/4 ton springs and axle from a later truck, which gives it a nice stance. The 3/4 ton springs on the '64 might be ok, but it looks like I can use several of the aftermarket replacement leaf springs for '60-80 Dodge trucks and Ramchargers. ( I am leaning toward Trailmaster for now) I do not really want to lift like a "Monster truck", so a 2" lift kit should retain the 3/4 ton look that I like.