As the owner of Heritage Classics, a company set up especially to import standout vehicles, Chris Curtis knew he needed a decent promo vehicle for himself. Something that not only stood out, but that made heads turn, regardless of if they were car people or not. While any old American car can get attention, chances are, as soon as they’re seen, they’re forgotten. So instead of going low and sleek, he knew he needed to go big and in-your-face to get something that would be talked about after the sight of it had well and truly disappeared.
It was this knowledge combined with his love for old military vehicles that sent him on the quest to find a vehicle that would tick both boxes. Of course finding something up to the task was never as easy as he’d hoped it would be. Having owned a bunch of cool cars in the past — some mint and restored, some wildly modified — Chris has an eye for detail, one that’s hard to please.
While he could have easily bought the first one he saw on the internet, sight unseen, his better judgment — aka Mrs. Curtis — told him not to. Knowing the business’s reputation was resting on the quality of the purchase, they knew they really needed to do their homework, and the only way to do this properly was to check out the options in the flesh.
So Chris hopped on a plane and jetted his way to the US of A to make the acquaintance of some of the companies that restored and modernized classic trucks; meeting the fabricators and builders of the vehicles was the best way to truly know what was what.
While he met plenty of people and checked out plenty of trucks, sadly nothing was quite what he was after, and he was fast running out of time. Ready to head home empty-handed, the day before his flight departed he heard of a 1950 Dodge Power Wagon for sale, a mere three hours drive away.
After making the three-hour drive, as soon as he saw it he had a feeling that this was the one. He got up close with it and inspected every nook and cranny, and soon decided he could get it road-legal back home without breaking the bank. A quick test drive later to clear any doubts and he was as excited as could be. “It drove like a dream and there is something about sitting up higher than other drivers that makes you feel a little bit special,” he says. Using his head, not his heart, though, the deal wasn’t done until he was back at home, and he’d had a chance to think it all over.
As you can imagine, when it finally arrived, there were plenty of knockers and naysayers, who were convinced he’d never get it on the road. Little did they know, this only further encouraged Chris to make sure it did. Thankfully, his research was correct, and despite how wild the car looks, it ticks all the boxes and is now 100-per-cent road legal.
Originally built for a wealthy American businessman as a hobby / race truck, the owner soon tired of only being able to thrash it off-road, so he had it modified to enable him to terrorize the locals on the highway too. Eighteen months later, though, and that novelty had also worn off; the no-expense-spared build was put up for grabs, to Chris’s advantage.
Although the truck rolled off the assembly line way back in 1950, it’s a vastly different beast now compared to what it started its life as. The original B1 Dodge Power Wagon cab has been beheaded by three inches and sits on a chassis 20-inches shorter than stock. Of course, they were never quite as detailed or as well finished as this back when they were new either.
To get the heavy tyres turning, a Chevrolet Performance E-Rod LS3 has been bolted in up front, with custom bracing above and custom cross members below. A fairly aggressive cam was installed for good measure, adding plenty of torque as well as an extra 40 ponies into the mix. Hooker Headers vent the spent gasses into three-inch dual exhausts complete with Flowmaster mufflers.
Mated to the LS3 is a heavy-duty Turbo 400 trans, but being a four-by-four, it feeds into a two-speed Atlas transfer case before distributing the power to the diffs. The twin levers protruding through the floor of the cab enable Chris to select high or low gearing whenever he needs to.
It’s not the motor or driveline that makes the truck stand out, though, but the sheer size of the thing, part of which can be attributed to the suspension set-up.
The front Dana 60 diff is held in place with a custom three-link set-up, while the rear 14-bolt diff is four-linked. Twelve-inch adjustable King Performance coilovers on each end give it a massive lift and provide more than enough travel to ensure the 39-inch tall Super Swampers stay firmly rooted to the ground. With the original truck running drum brakes all round, a Chevy Suburban donated its pedals, booster and disc set-up to the cause.
While the interior is best described as spartan, it’s exactly what you’d expect to find in such a vehicle. Audio equipment is non-existent (as if you really need it!), new vintage-style gauges have been screwed into a custom dashboard, and a Grant steering wheel pokes out of the dash. Those lucky enough to make their way inside — which requires a bit of effort in itself — will find leather-clad Corbeau Baja JP Suspension seats and five-point harnesses.
But no road-going race truck would be complete without some creature comforts … So on this front, electric windows have been fitted, as has a Mojave heater to ensure any snowy excursion doesn’t end with frostbite to the extremities.
If he hadn’t done his research into what was required to get the truck on the road here, the purchase could have been a disastrous one. Thankfully, though, Chris was well aware of the requirements, and the Dodge was road legal after only a handful of changes. So, to the naysayers that said it couldn’t be done, and that he was throwing his money away, have a look at the smile on his face as he rolls past you in one of the biggest, baddest trucks in the land. And if you want to get your hands on something equally as standout, it looks like you better give Chris a call!
1950 Dodge Power Wagon
- Engine: LS3 Chevrolet Performance E-Rod, upgraded camshaft, Hooker Headers, L92 heads, Jaz Pro Sport fuel cell, three-inch dual exhaust, Flowmaster Delta 40 mufflers, Ron Davis Racing radiator, twin SPAL fans
- Driveline: TH400 transmission, Atlas 3.8:1 transfer case, Dana 60 front diff, ARB air locker, 14-bolt rear diff, Detroit locker head, 4.56:1 ratio, telescopic driveshafts
- Suspension: Custom three-link front, four-link rear, 12-inch adjustable King Performance coilovers, adjustable front and rear control arms
- Brakes: K10 Chevrolet Suburban discs and calipers
- Wheels/tyres: 17x9.5-inch TrailReady beadlock rims, 39x13.5R17 Super Swamper IROK Radial tyres
- Exterior: Three-inch roof chop, Peterbilt headlights, Standox red paint, shortened chassis, custom cross members
- Interior: Corbeau Baja JP Suspension seats, five-point harnesses, Grant steering wheel, B&M MegaShifter, custom gauges, custom roll cage, Mojave heater
- Performance: Untested
- Owner: Chris Curtis
- Age: 48
- Occupation: Business owner
- Previously owned cars: Pro-streeted 1948 Ford Anglia, FJ Holden ute, pro-streeted VN ute, EJ Holden station wagon, FX Holden ute
- Dream car: 1943 Dodge Carryall with full restomod, including a Chev LS7 Mast Motorsport engine with plenty of power, so I can take the family, dog and caravan all around the country
- Why the Dodge? After starting my new business, Heritage Classics, I wanted one of the initial vehicles that I brought back from the States to be a head-turner. This was it!
- Build time: N/A
- Length of ownership: 12 months
- Chris thanks: Brett Hamilton at Advance Steel Engineering, Andrew van Kampen at On Site Design and Certification, Mufflers N More Rotorua, Dayne Forrest, Dave Thomson and Phil Shepherd
This article originally appeared in NZV8 Issue No. 102. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: