Powell, Plymouth, and Pull-Out Drawers

Freshly assembled Powell Sport Wagons outside the Compton, CA factory.      Photo: Jalopy Journal

Recycling isn't a new fad, savvy folks have been doing it for years. Take the Powell brothers of California, for example. After graduating school and building radios, scooters, and bicycles, Hayward and Channing Powell decided they wanted to build an affordable pickup truck that Americans could use as a second utilitarian mode of transportation for not a lot of money. How do you save money designing and building a new truck from scratch? You build it using recycled parts.

Powell employees remove a 217 cubic inch Plymouth six from the frame of a donor car for use in a production Sport Wagon.      Photo: Powell Registry

The Powell's concept relied heavily on picking through salvage yards and rebuilding then-plentiful 1941 Plymouth P-12 and P-14 car chassis and drivetrains and then dropping a new squared-off pickup body on them. The 117 inch wheelbase offered room for a cargo bed and also yielded a soft ride. Once completed, the finished trucks were shipped from their Compton, California factory to several authorized dealers across the United States.

For $1,095 buyers could purchase their "custom built" Sport Wagon and hit the old fishin' hole.      Photo: Powell Registry

The trucks offered little in the way of creature comforts but the dependable 94 horsepower flat six was capable of hauling a modest load and delivered solid fuel economy for a truck. Sliding windows saved on tooling costs and hardware for the doors, and sheet metal stampings were kept simple for similar reasons.  From 1952 to 1956 the brothers essentially recycled every old Mopar they could find and turned them into something a little more functional before calling it quits in 1957.

The Sport Wagon closely resembled airport tugs and other utility vehicles that valued function over form.      Photo: Powell Registry

Only around 1,000 of the simple trucks were built and most of them stuck around the west coast. According to the Powell Registry, only about 130 trucks exist today. Its rare to see them anywhere, but they do pop up from time to time. When they do, they usually catch the eye of a certified car or truck nut and they write about them. Imagine my surprise when I came across one in Mishawaka, Indiana the other day on Craigslist, and this one isn't on the registry so its definately been laying low for a long time.

With an asking price of $6,500, this Indiana Powell has seen better days but its still here. That's half the battle. Body rust exists but to what extent is unknown thanks to a coat of primer. My hunch is that it was stripped to bare metal and primed but not sealed, so there's likely considerable rust lurking underneath the primer. A total stip and metal prep would be needed.

This final-year truck is somewhat complete but missing a front header panel and grill it seems. Where would you find these parts? You likely couldn't. Knowing a fabricator would be a huge help.

What are those pie pan-looking caps on the rear of the bed above the tail lamps? Check out the next photo.

Powell trucks came with rear pull-out utility drawers that offered storage for tools, pipe, lumber, or fishing poles. When not in use, they tucked back into the bed side.

Is this resto-ready Powell worth bringing back to life? With low production numbers and only 130 known to exist today, it would appear to be a sure thing.  But the challenge of repairing a half Plymouth / half truck with no aftermarket support and missing pieces...well that would take its toll after while. Its hard to say what a restored Sport Wagon would bring, and judging how much cash it would take to restore is impossible. This would have to be a labor of love, and there appears to be a group of Powell lovers out there who'd love to add another Sport Wagon to their ranks.

Come 'n get it guys! 



  1. hello, I live in Palmdale Ca. and on occasion take a drive up to Tehachapi CA 40 minutes away. I am always on the look out for the next classic build so I frequent a honey hole of mine called Tehachapi dismantling. well the owner Bob would always insist on showing me something he thought was rare and unique. well needless to say it was a 100% complete Powell, perhaps one of the ugliest trucks I personally believe just sitting amongst 600 classic cars. Bob has passed away about a year or 2 ago but one of approx. 130 trucks is probably still sitting there waiting for someone to rescue it. enjoy it! Regards Ed.


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