Advertisement

2024 Desert Power Wagon: Antique Roadshow

desert power wagon
2024 Desert Power Wagon: Antique RoadshowDesert Power Wagon

Here at Car and Driver, we're accustomed to peacocking around in flashy cars. Sometimes I'll be waiting at an intersection, lost in reverie, and abruptly notice that everyone is looking my way. Then I'll remember, "Ah, that's right, I'm driving a lime green Lamborghini." Modern supercars are generally much more flamboyant outside than inside, such that you can occasionally forget that you're piloting an object of attention. A Desert Power Wagon, though, never lets you forget what it is, because the attention never stops—even when you're not driving it. One day I was working in my backyard when a woman walked around behind the fence and asked if she could take photos of the truck out in the driveway. Certainly, ma'am—but please, no autographs.

Desert Power Wagons, formerly based in Arizona, is now headquartered in the fertile climes of Castle Hayne, North Carolina. Aaron Richardet, owner of MegaRexx (think: huge Ford trucks) and Osprey (custom Land Rovers), added Desert Power Wagons to his product portfolio a couple years ago. While a MegaRexx is essentially a Trucks Gone Wild take on a Ford F-series Super Duty, a Desert Power Wagon might be built from scratch.

desert power wagon
Desert Power Wagon

Such is the case with our subject truck, which looks like a finely restored 1948 Dodge but is, in fact, totally new. Its chassis and body are by Tisdale Coachworks in Winslow, Indiana. It rides on a four-link suspension with Eibach Race Off-Road springs, 3.0-inch internal-bypass King dampers with remote reservoirs, and behemothic solid axles (Dana 60 front, Dana 80 rear), plus big Wilwood disc brakes. Like an original Power Wagon, the new version is powered by an inline-six, but this one is a turbocharged 6.7-liter Cummins diesel that's rated at 385 horsepower and 930 pound-feet of torque and hooked to a six-speed automatic transmission.

ADVERTISEMENT

The interior is a mix of old and new. A trained eye will recognize the heated front seats as Cadillac items, while the rear bench is custom. The old-school metal dash houses a 9.0-inch touchscreen that manages the infotainment system and Rockford Fosgate audio system, while a 12.0-inch overhead-mounted touchscreen displays 360-degree views from the external cameras. The rear camera is necessary because of the Power Wagon's rear window aperture is more like a deep-sea submarine porthole.

desert power wagon
Desert Power Wagon

The Power Wagon isn't quick but is relentless, which is basically how a heavy-duty Ram drives. It's not exactly accurate to say that it handles well, but the big pickup moves with a deftness at odds with its size and barely-postwar styling—on-ramps present a strange brand of fun as you play with the lateral grip from the 37-inch Maxxis RAZR M/T mud-terrain tires. The uncorked intake shrieks its turbo wail to the heavens, but rolling up the windows mutes that noise, as well as wind, surprisingly well.

But if you're looking for a truly modern driving experience, that's also available—albeit for a base price of $425,000. Depending on a customer's preference, Desert Power Wagons will drop the custom bodywork atop a new heavy-duty Ram chassis. In that case, the truck looks old on the outside but the interior is new, with all the amenities you'd expect out of your 2024 Ram Limited—heated and cooled seats, cruise control, Harman/Kardon symphony sound. The tradeoff there is that a 1948 Power Wagon bed is not exactly compatible with a current Ram chassis, so the floor is raised to accommodate the frame rails and suspension, resulting in a bed that's about as deep as a kiddie pool. Then again, we're guessing most owners won't be loading up two yards of gravel at the local stone yard. I hauled a couple of Walmart kayaks, and the biggest challenge there was fielding questions from the hordes of dumbstruck shoppers. Well, that and getting it into a parking space. If you ever had to parallel-park this thing, you'd need two tugboats and a harbor pilot, 360-degree cameras notwithstanding.

desert power wagon
Desert Power Wagon

As for foibles, the Power Wagon blew a fuse for its power windows, and towing a boat at 70 mph on a 90-degree day resulted in some coolant spittle flying off around the radiator cap that sits proud at the front of the hood. (Thanks to our hand in hot-weather tow testing, Desert Power Wagons added an expansion tank to the cooling system.) But those are the kinds of kinks that get shaken out before a truck gets delivered. And if they aren't, your four-tenths of a million dollars buys attentive customer service.

For my Desert Power Wagon, I'd probably debate going with a supercharged gas V-8 (another option) or possibly a diesel with a manual transmission, the setup sported by a delicious yellow regular-cab that was in the shop for service. And personally, I'd go retro with the wheels—something that looked more like the period-correct Budd wheels. I'd want to maintain the illusion that my truck time-warped from 1948 until the moment I fired up the Cummins or Hellcat engine, and the modern wheels give that game away. Of course, it's not easy to fit old-school wheels around the Desert Power Wagon's 16.0-inch front brake rotors and six-piston calipers, but I believe that anyone with $385,000 to spend on a truck also has the resources to mill some 20-inch Budds out of billet magnesium.

desert power wagon
Desert Power Wagon

But why debate nuance when we're talking about a street-legal Grave Digger? Your $385,000 buys the whole driver's seat, but you'll only need the edge.

You Might Also Like