Story and photos by Brian Earnest
When he went shopping for a new hobby vehicle a few years ago, Bernie Pranica sort of put his cart before his horse.
Actually, he put his trailer ahead of his truck.
“The reason I needed an older truck is because I restored an old travel trailer and I wanted something vintage to pull the trailer,” laughs Pranica, a resident of tiny Sobieski, Wis., just north of Green Bay. “It’s kind of backwards, yeah.
“I’ve been [restoring] cars my whole life and I thought I’d do an old trailer for my retirement … So I did an old 1964 Airstream, and it came out beautiful and I thought I needed something period to pull it.”
Pranica was plenty surprised with the truck he wound up with. The veteran hobbyist didn’t even remember the Dodge Town Wagons of the 1950s and ‘60s. He had to do a double-take when he first came across one while searching online. But the more homework he did on the 1965 example he found on eBay, the more he was enthralled with the sturdy Dodge. He wound up buying his truck without seeing it in the flesh, and Pranica has been a happy camper — even though he hasn’t officially taken the Dodge and Airstream camping yet — ever since.
“Most of the Airstreams were pulled by Travelalls and Internationals and Chevrolet Suburbans,” Pranica noted. “I got on eBay and started looking and saw a Dodge and thought, ‘Gee, I never even knew they made that.’ … I looked for two years until I found this one. Most of them are hot-rodded or they are four-wheel-drives and they are pretty beat up.
“I found it in New Mexico. Apparently, the truck originally came from San Diego and spent its life on a Navy base …I think what it was used for was to go out on the flight line and take the pilots to and from the hangar … Consequently, there were only 34,000 miles on it in 2012 when I bought it.”
It wasn’t long after he got it off the transport that Pranica started remaking the big green Town Wagon. The Dodge needed plenty of work, but it had no major issues and was exactly the kind of solid, rust-free, strong-running machine that Pranica had been hoping for.
“The body was fairly good. There was some rust back in the quarterpanels, but no holes. Overall it needed a total restoration,” he said. “Inside it was tired. The engine ran strong, though. We did a compression check and it was good and didn’t smoke or anything, so I did not have to rebuild the engine. It’s just the way I got it.
“I was really lucky with that. The transmission, I’ve never touched it. I put new fluid in it. I was very fortunate to get a good drive train in it. I did most of the interior work — the detailing — and then I was lucky my next door neighbor has a little paint shop. I hooked my little garden tractor to it and dragged it over to my neighbor and he painted it for me.”
The color of choice was the truck’s factory original Turf Green with white trim around two windows behind the doors on each side. Some new stainless bits and some nice-looking whitewall tires helped finish things off.
“The interior has been a real challenge. They don’t make the same kind of panel board that they used originally, and you just can’t find it. I’m still playing with that,” Pranica said. “The worst part was the headliner. The headliner is so difficult. I had it all done and it looked beautiful and I had it sitting in the sun and the glue let go. So it was back to the drawing board. But the radio is correct, up in the ceiling. I’ve found the enclosure is impossible to find, so I made it myself. I used to be a sheet metal guy, so that was right up my alley. The rest was pretty straightforward. There is no carpet on the floors or anything. It’s a truck. My wife and I have a couple dogs and we take them to the vet in it, and we go to the stores and the bank … We go places in it. I restored cars years ago that needed body-offs and I found I was afraid to take them places. I didn’t want to make that mistake with this one, so it’s a driver.”
A driver indeed, but one unlike Pranica had ever seen. Not a lot of other folks seem to recall the Town Wagons, either. Pranica discovered some ominous signs of that immediately after he got the Dodge home.
“I got it on July 2nd and it was only a few days later I came to the Iola [Wis.,] Old Car Show and I had a list of parts for this thing. And I went into one tent where one guy had a sign that said ‘I’m the Mopar Man.’ I said I was looking for parts for a Town Wagon, and he said Dodge never made a Town Wagon. When the Mopar Man didn’t know anything about them, I knew I was going to have trouble finding parts for it! [laughs]”
The Town Wagons might still be a bit of a mystery to many, but the panel trucks in which where based certainly are not. Panel trucks have been a staple of the Dodge lineup since company’s earliest truck-building days. For 1954, freshly redesigned and reengineered half- and 1-ton panel trucks joined the rest of the facelifted Dodge lineup. A year later the Town Wagon arrived with additional seating in the back and a pair of windows on each side. These carryall-type vehicles were available in both two- and four-wheel drive and were aimed to occupy the same niche as the completing Chevrolet Suburban.
The Town Wagons are sometimes mistakenly referred to as Power Wagons, and it’s an honest mistake. The two-wheeled drive versions were designated Town Wagons, while the four-wheel-drive vehicles were called “Power Town Wagons”, or frequently just “Power Wagons.” All shared the same wraparound windshields, rounds fender and general styling cues of the Dodge C Series pickup trucks.
The exterior of the Town Wagons changed little the years, particularly in the 1960s, as Dodge stuck with the same simple twin-headlight grille design and upright, boxy body profile.
Engine choices also didn’t change much, and for 1965 buyers still had their choice between a Slant Six or a 318-cid V-8 that produced 200 hp. For the first time a four-speed manual was available that year. The only choices previously had been a three-speed on the column or push-button automatic.
Town wagons could be outfitted with two or three rows of seats, with the third row upping the passenger capacity to eight. A V-6-equipped Town Wagon carried a window sticker of about $2,272 with an eight-passenger version about $50 more. The four-wheel-drive Town Wagons checked in with price tags of $3,058 and $3,104, respectively, when carrying the six-cylinder.
There are no definitive production figure breakdowns for 1965 Dodge trucks, but total model year production is listed at 24,022 for all six-cylinder D100 trucks, which includes the Town Wagons, Town Panels, Sweptline and Utiline pickups, and chassis-and-cab sales.
“The first time I laid eyes on it, I saw it was a two-door edition — they only made it with two doors, and I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve gotta have one of those. They started this body style in 1955 and made it until 1966. It’s the same body style and most of the parts are the same. The engines were the six-cylinder and the small eight, and the body stayed the same and that’s why I liked it — with the two doors looks more 50-ish,” Pranica says. “It looks older than what it really is. And it goes down the road so good, it’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
“It’s not like a modern day [vehicle], but 65 on the highway is not a problem. That 318 is really a strong engine.”
Pranica expects to show off the unusual Town Wagon frequently at shows and hobby gatherings in the coming years. This year’s Iola Old Car Show was it’s first appearance at a big show. “Most people don’t know what it is. It’s just that different,” he says. “They haven’t seen it before. This one is probably embellished a little bit. Most of them had the painted grille and didn’t have the whitewall tires, so it’s probably a little embellished from what people might remember.”
Eventually, Pranica plans to have a custom trailer hitch put on so he can pull his camper, “but I haven’t scraped up the money yet.” The Town Wagon figures to make plenty of trips after that, but it Pranica says it won’t ever be leaving his fleet — not while he’s still around, anyway. He likes the Town Wagon so much he’s now working on a second one — a 1956 version.
“I’ll hang onto it I’m sure. I’ve been collecting for so many years and the problem I have is I don’t like to sell things,” he jokes. “I like to keep ‘em. I’ve got this, my other town panel, my Airstream and I’ve got a big barn and I put ‘em all in there together.”
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