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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!