Power Wagon: Macho Mopar Pickup

Photography: Luke Ray.

Following the glorious muscle car era, the sudden shock created by the fuel crisis in 1974 pitched the American auto industry into a black hole of emasculated engines and styling best described as fruity as a nutcake. Over at Chrysler however, there was one room the fun police had yet to force their way into. It was where the real men hung out – the Dodge truck division.

Applying the same awesome thinking that produced the Superbee and Road Runner for thrill seeking teenagers – cue a tough V8, megawatt dress-up packages and sex appeal by the bucketload – Chrysler was taking full advantage of legislative loopholes that removed trucks from the same strict emissions standards that had just been applied to cars. Imagine the brainstorming sessions in Detroit. It’s a smoky room full of droopy moustaches, gold chains, polyester shirts and testosterone set to powerband. “Hey guys, we need a name for a sporty truck we can sell to kids who wanna get laid in a canoe!”. “I’ve got it!” says Chuck as he tokes on a coconut bong spiced with Angel Dust and flicks the 8-track stereo to Bachman–Turner Overdrive. “Let’s paint it like a muscle car and call it the Macho Power Wagon!”

With its jacked-up stance, chunky roll bar, CB radio, full time 4WD and strapping big block under the hood, the Macho Power Wagon was the creme de la creme of the hairy-chested Dodge truck family. The name alone is ludicrous. Hilarious even. It’s manly. It reeks of virile man-sweat, Pino aftershave and an outrageous, dare I say it, balls-out MACHO-NESS. It’s so tough it makes Dennis Lillee, the Solo Man and Paul Hogan* look like mincing metrosexuals.

Actually, the Macho Power Wagon was just one of the superlative names Chrysler used to sell their range of trucks under the sexy Adult Toys umbrella Other variations included the Big Horn, the Prospector, the Palomino and the Dude edition, which was endorsed by Don Knotts and came complete with a cowboy hat sticker on the generously proportioned flanks. The cute Lil Red Express with its twin smoke stacks behind the cabin and the pinstriped Warlock were others, as was the Top Hand Ramcharger, a truck with a canopy that made it more like a Ford Bronco. Many of these were installed by the dealer as special editions, making them super rare, impossible to authenticate and coveted today only by a small community of dedicated Mopar truck aficionados.

It was well after midnight last year and the iPad was helping me kill time the best way I know how – trawling through the field of dreams that is eBay motors. At this point I was yearning for an early ‘70s Chevy 4x4 Blazer when I found an unexpected curiosity in the Dodge truck section. One sleepless night followed by a successful phone offer the next day and I was the proud owner of a 1977 Macho Power Wagon.

When the truck arrived it was exactly as described. Better even. Apparently it has done less than 35,000 miles, and though the paint has been professionally redone, thorough examination could not reveal a speck of rust, nor any signs of general wear and tear anywhere. The undercarriage and the interior are both mint and the only thing required for registration via the Chrysler Restorer’s Club was replacement of the brake hoses, which appeared to be original. The rubber was so old it just crumbled in my hands.

It is perhaps, a trifle redneck, but that’s all part of its rustic southern-fried charm. The steering is light but firm and it surprisingly stops on a dime, as long as that dime is in the next suburb. Now the downside. It might look like an unstoppable wrecking machine, but the confoundingly bouncy suspension means that even the mildest of speed humps can bruise kidneys, chatter teeth and literally bounce your hot date out the window. Give it a flat road however and it’ll certainly rumble along nicely. The 440 might be a far cry from the late ‘60s high-compression version found in Chargers and Cudas, but it still offers enough mumbo to get la Macho moving.

With no fuel gauge and a paltry 50 litre tank, I did discover the hard way how thirsty big-ass trucks can be. As aerodynamic as a brick shithouse, the knobbly mud tyres and 7.4 litres of Detroit Iron combine for truly horrendous economy. I learned this 5kms out of Chiltern on my way to Albury for Mopars on the Murray. It’s a long story but thanks to mercy stops by not one but two good samaritans with jerry cans, I (and my companions including Fuel’s own esteemed editor) managed to set fire to the engine bay (and the surrounding bush) with a backfire (a macho one at that) before finally making it to the show. Five fuel stops later we were back in Melbourne and my carbon footprint was planted somewhere north of Cooktown.

It’s fair to say I’ve fallen madly in homo-erotic love with my Macho Power Wagon. Just saying the name out loud is enough to make me wanna high-five the nearest dude. It’s a gigantic lump of poorly engineered American idiocy, but its Tonka-tough rugged looks and sheer joie de vivre have conspired to melt my heart. Tradies love it, women are confused, kids want to be me... and hippies go weak at the knees. And yes, I’ve heard all about gun racks, Deliverance, duelling banjos and good ole boys, but that’s fine with me. I own a Macho Power Wagon and I’m not afraid to use it! Smell it and tremble!

* That’s Paul Hogan circa 1980, not 2012 Paul Hogan after his Botox, boobjob and facelift.

This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 10.

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WoodyDodge, Australia, Pickup, Ute, Power Wagon