Introducing Project Power Laggin’: a 1979 Dodge W150 Power Wagon For Weekend Workhorse Duty!!

Introducing Project Power Laggin’: a 1979 Dodge W150 Power Wagon For Weekend Workhorse Duty!!

BangShift has a new project vehicle: Project Power Laggin’! Follow along as we take a tired 1979 Dodge W150 Power Wagon we found in Central Maine and transform it from a derelict roadside attraction to a dependable, powerful weekend workhorse that lives up to it’s given name!

Ok, let’s get right to the point: if you are a homeowner who has any sort of inclination of doing weekend runs to the landfill or home improvement store, and/or you are someone who has a project vehicle they are constantly wrenching on that may require runs to the junkyard, parts store, and the occasional swap meet, a pickup truck is definitely the right tool for the job. Since buying my own place almost 10 years ago, one of the first things on the list to pick up for Casa Sestito was a beat-around truck for exactly these types of activities. Just months after moving in, a cheap 1997 Dodge Dakota Sport appeared in the yard, ready to haul crap to the dump, pick up bags of mulch, and snag the occasional part for one of my project vehicles. It was nothing exciting; it was “powered” by a 3.9L V6, had rear wheel drive with a peg-leg rear end that was useless in the snow and rain, and it was just plain boring. Many times, I’d end up spending valuable wrenching time on the Dakota rather than my projects, and after years of ownership, it was starting to wear out its welcome. The decision was made last year: it was time to find something else.

This is my old 1997 Dakota. I picked it up from my old boss from my college auto parts-slinging days about 9 years ago after he put out an APB for someone looking to buy a cheap truck. I answered the call, drove it home, and fixed it up. He inherited it from his dad, who ordered it brand new. It was a good little truck for me for a long time, but had been wearing out its welcome. In the last year of ownership, almost every time I went to use it, something would break, causing me to waste my day fixing it rather than running the original errand I set out to do. Talk about frustrating!

But what was I going to replace it with?

I set a budget of around $2,000 to find something that was better. That’s a tall order at that price point, but this is a weekend beater, so it didn’t have to be perfect. I have no real brand loyalty, but I had a few requirements:

-Something with a V8! The V6 in the Dakota left a lot to be desired power-wise, and the auditory component was not setting my heart on fire.

-If it was 2WD, I wanted a short bed for Muscle Truck cred, but if it was cool enough, I wouldn’t kick something with an 8ft bed out of the driveway, either. 4WD was preferable because, well,  New England. Plus, I haven’t owned a 4×4 in a very long time, and I missed having one.

-It had to be less rusty and crusty than the Dakota, which was starting to show its age.

-I wanted A/C (for the wife and dog), or at the very least, something easily retrofitted with A/C. Vent windows were a plus as well because they rule.

Bonus Pipe Dream Requirement: Something old and cool that’s simple enough to fix with rocks. Vintage trucks are all the rage right now, so I knew this was a one-in-a-million moon shot.

I looked at A LOT of trucks, including this 1995 Dodge Ram 1500 4×4. This one was slightly crusty, but only had 59,000 miles and ran great. This series would have been based on this truck if the owner didn’t sell it from underneath me. This one still stings a bit.

My quest for a new weekend warrior took over a year, and in that time, I looked at all sorts of terrible vehicles, from rusty GMT400 Silverados to clapped out Nissan Titans, and everything in between. The most common trucks at that price point by far were gas powered Dodge Rams of the 1994-2001 vintage, and although I like those trucks, none of them came home with me for various reasons. My research into them led me down a rabbit hole of all things Mopar, and I grew an affinity for finding an early Dodge W150, especially a 1972-80 Power Wagon, even knowing that was unlikely to happen. I grew up around those trucks, having family that exclusively drove the 1972-80 trucks as daily drivers. Ever since I learned to drive, I wanted one for myself. The problem was, as the distant 3rd in the Big Three’s truck competition, they were a lot harder to find in any serviceable condition around here, let alone one in my budget.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the Dodge Power Wagon in any form, but I’m always partial to the 1972-80 trucks. We even featured this one, owned by Jim Dayotas, back in 2017. They were dependable, hard-working rigs that could handle just about anything you tossed their way, provided you kept the tin worm at bay. You can still find their re-animated, undead remains soldiering on as parking lot plow rigs across the Northeast and the Rust Belt today.

After looking at countless trucks and coming up empty, and with winter fast approaching, I mentally started to pack it in and get ready for another year with the Dakota.

Then, I got text that would change everything.

A couple days into January 2019, I get a text from my good friend and BangShift reader Pat Bourque with this picture attached and two very important words: “No rot.” It was like seeing a ghost! I was certain there were exactly zero of these left in this part of the country. This thing was a relic of the past in a lot of ways, including how it was being sold. It wasn’t on the internet at all, and it wasn’t even in any paper’s classified section! It was a good old-fashioned, “push it to the side of the road and see if it sells” kind of deal. In the age of everything being connected by the internet and social media, I honestly thought this kind of thing was long extinct. It was refreshing to see this kind of thing in this day and age.

My friend Pat was visiting a friend in Central Maine, and on the way to his house he took a picture of an old 1979 Dodge W150 Power Wagon sitting on the side of the road with “For Sale” scribbled on the windshield. As I recall, this was the second time he had passed by this truck and sent me a picture of it; the first time he sent it to me, it was out of my budget. Since the snow had already fallen there, the seller was far more motivated to move it and it was now half price! He gave it a once-over and it appeared to be mostly rust free with evidence of some prior sins, but it was all there and checked off most of the boxes on my list. It had a 318ci V8, solid axles front and rear, a NP203 full time 4WD transfer case mated to a TorqueFlite 727, and character for days. Best of all, it ran and drove, had less rust than my current truck, and was well within budget from the price drop. I wasn’t about to let another truck I wanted to slip from my grasp, so after calling the owner and checking it out in person, I had to take it home. I don’t know how, but I had just bought the truck I always wanted. I still don’t get it.

About a week after that fateful text, Pat helped me drag it back down to my place. It was about 4 degrees out in the middle of January, and the seller’s property was covered in ice and snow. The old beast had no problem firing right up and climbing a ice-covered hill to the driveway, which impressed the hell out of me right there. Just about everything with a carb that I’ve owned over the years hated cold weather, and this thing didn’t flinch! And yes, this one has the optional 1979-80 quad headlight grille, which is an acquired taste that I happen to enjoy. As one friend stated, “It’s uglycool”!

The truck had a set of those old 80’s aluminum side steps that were held in by drywall screws, a plow frame with no plow, and flaking paint all over, but was largely intact. The body is mostly there, even though there’s evidence of some body filler here and there. It’s missing a few things, like the stock dog dish hubcaps and a bed side moulding, which I’ll have to source. It even had solid bed sides and a bed floor, which can’t be said for most Mopar trucks from 10 years ago, let alone 40! One spot where these always rot is along the roof rails on the cab, and the truck was intact there. I could work with this!

From this angle, the interior looks great, but it has some issues. First, the bench needs to be reupholstered. The red carpet isn’t original and likely plucked from a parts truck for a creepy “Papa Smurf” vibe, and is downright disgusting to the point where the wife doesn’t want to ride in the thing. The door panels are rough but present, but the dash is in really great shape. I’ll be ditching that gross carpet and ripped bench seat upholstery with some proper vinyl flooring and a new cover in a later installment. Also, it’s an Adventurer package Power Wagon, which netted buyers some proper Simulated Woodgrain trim. Fantabulous!

It even had a period-correct radio! It kinda works, but there’s only one blown dash speaker. I know it’s sacrilege, but this is likely going to get replaced with something more modern.

Under the hood is the greasiest 318ci V8 I have ever seen. I get dirty just looking at it. It’s leaking oil from everywhere, which is likely why this truck still exists in 2019. Aside from that, it runs really well and fires right up. These only had 150hp when new, and more than a few horses have left the stable in the past 40 years. It’s running stock manifolds and a stock 2bbl carb and intake, although someone ditched the problematic Lean Burn setup years ago.

So, now what?

After I showed it to Lohnes, who deemed it “A handsome steed”, we decided it would make a great BangShift Project Vehicle. The goal for this rig is to turn this roadside attraction into a functioning, dependable weekend workhorse that’s capable of having a little fun when its off the clock. Since it’s a product manufactured deep in the Malaise Era, it had 150 crank-measured horsepower on its best day, so injecting some additional ponies into the build would prove beneficial. Because of this, we named it Project Power Laggin’!

As you can imagine, a 40-year-old truck that somehow survived this long in New England will have some issues. In this series, you will see us fix all the stupid stuff that has befallen this old truck, make it dependable, and then add some goodies to make it live up to that name on the fender bestowed upon it by Mother Mopar.

As a preview of what’s to come, this hole in the cab floor is where the seat belt anchor point was on the passenger side. There’s another larger spot on the driver’s side that was previously repaired, and repaired poorly.  Honestly, this is the only real rust I found on the truck, which is phenomenal for something that has lived in New England for the past 40 years. These spots will be tackled in future installments of this series, where yours truly will attempt to fabricate and weld in new metal.

If you like cool, old trucks, and laughing at someone’s attempt to rescue an old battle axe to press back into service, this one’s for you. Stay tuned for a lot more!

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9 thoughts on “Introducing Project Power Laggin’: a 1979 Dodge W150 Power Wagon For Weekend Workhorse Duty!!

  1. Andy

    Awesome!! Can’t wait to see more!!
    You’re right, I can’t believe there isn’t more rot…I see early 2000 vintage trucks in our junkyards broken in half due to frame rust…

    More power will definitely make it a fun weekend warrior. Have any idea what hat the axle ratios are…? That thing sitting up with a proud stance on. 32-33” tire would be perfect! And as much as I love the stock steelies…a set of vintage wagon wheels, white OR chrome, would look sweet as well!

    1. Tony Sestito Post author

      I lucked out with this one big time. The only rust seems to be in the floor pans, which we’ll cover in a later installment.

      The options tag under the hood is sadly long gone, but spinning things on a lift revealed that it has 4.10 axles. Slightly larger tires and some period aftermarket wheels are definitely being looked at down the road. I don’t want to lift it too much, as the current ride height is almost perfect for me.

  2. Andy

    4.10’s in a half ton truck….? Very very interesting!! I didn’t think they were available?
    If that’s the case…are you going to show us how to swap in an overdrive…? On the other hand…I’d hate to mess up its old school charm!
    What size tires are on it currently….? Some 32×11.50-15’s on 15×8 wagons…or slots? At the stock height might be just right?
    I have gotten over having REALLY nice stuff that just sits around…and am now trying to have low buck things that I will USE but with character and a level of “fun” that’s hard to describe.
    Hopefully that’s your goal for this thing, cause It’s perfect for that type of build!

  3. Sal Dinoto

    Hello Tony, nice truck! I\’ve always had a soft spot for the late 70\’s Dodge trucks. My dad bought a 79 Dodge D100 brand new from the Dodge dealer and had it until it was unfortunately totaled in an accident. The reason I\’m texting you is that I still have some parts that I pulled off the truck before it was serimoniously ditched to the boneyard. In particular those dog dish hub caps I have a full set that I am selling cheap as well some other parts like the aluminum door trim pieces. If those parts are of interest to you and if you have any other parts you\’re looking for please contact me and I\’ll see if I have them. Good luck on your rebuild.

  4. Dan Barlow

    I got myself an old truck to haul stuff ,get around in the snow , and pull stuck family and friends out with . Mine is a 94 suburban with 35s . This will be fun to watch . With those 4.11 gears you need to get some 33s under it . My 35s put the truck up so high I feel like I’m driving a bus so I think 33s would be great for you . Well , my new yoke came for my 14 bolt rear , time to get to work .

  5. sherman sparks

    Im another guy with a 79 power wagon..i love it…and im also looking for extra parts…

  6. arthur wells

    love those old dodges my dad bought a new one in 76 D100 adventurer sport 8 ft bed black , black interior bucket seats with the buddy seat, factory sunroof with the white spoked wheels same anemic but all so dependable 318 2 barrel 727 auto. it was a beautiful truck and we had it for 20 years till the upstate n.y. winters and salt ate it alive !! would give a pretty penny to find the same exact truck today. no rust of course lol !!!!

  7. man

    reminds me f mine, its an 85 W350 utility bed turned into a pickup with a 72 long bed a neighbor sold me for $100, 35″ tires, 4.56 stock gears, np435 tranny, 208 transfer case, and a 360 that rivals your 318, both in filth and in anemia… had the truck for around 10 years and love it, use it mostly for lugging trash and towing friends’ unfinished project cars, with the occasional trip to the beach, rocks and sand dunes… ugly as hell, too

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