He Found His Classic Dodge With an Assist From Jay Leno

Steve Hofmann of Los Angeles, 55 years old, co-owner of a company that provides specialty cars to the film and television industries, on his 1966 Dodge Town Wagon Power Wagon, as told to A.J. Baime.

I grew up in Oakland, Calif., in the hills, and my neighbor had a Jeep CJ-2A. Even before we had our driver’s licenses, we were working on that vehicle, taking it off-road and into town, something you couldn’t get away with these days. I developed an appreciation for utilitarian four-wheel-drive stuff that you didn’t typically…

Steve Hofmann of Los Angeles, 55 years old, co-owner of a company that provides specialty cars to the film and television industries, on his 1966 Dodge Town Wagon Power Wagon, as told to A.J. Baime.

I grew up in Oakland, Calif., in the hills, and my neighbor had a Jeep CJ-2A. Even before we had our driver’s licenses, we were working on that vehicle, taking it off-road and into town, something you couldn’t get away with these days. I developed an appreciation for utilitarian four-wheel-drive stuff that you didn’t typically see. I mean four-wheel-drive vehicles that you could work on with rudimentary mechanical knowledge, in the field.

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I am friends with Jay Leno, who as most people know, has a famous car collection. One day he got a letter from a stranger about this Dodge truck that was for sale. The owner had died and his family was trying to find a home for it. It wasn’t right for Jay, and from our conversations, he knew I would be interested. He said, “I don’t want this thing going to a junkyard. Why don’t you pursue it?”

It was a 1966 Dodge Town Wagon Power Wagon, and I was instantly interested, because when I was a kid, our neighborhood fire department used something similar as a fire vehicle. Very few were made, and they were used as work trucks at oil fields. In their day, they were called carryalls. Dodge advertised the truck for use at farms and ranches, forest patrols, mines and quarries, road construction sites, etc.

He Found His Classic Dodge With an Assist From Jay Leno

Steve Hofmann with his 1966 Dodge Town Wagon Power Wagon, photographed in Los Angeles. He has been restoring this vehicle for over 15 years.

I looked at photos and thought it was the coolest truck ever. It had originally been purchased by a rocket scientist who worked at JPL [NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory]. The truck had a JPL parking permit sticker in the back window, and apparently it was a well-known vehicle in JPL’s parking lot for years. This rocket scientist had passed away, and his family wanted the truck to go to someone who would restore it. I bought it in 2005 for a remarkably inexpensive price.

Back at home, I started on the restoration. The more I got into it, the more I realized how unique this vehicle is. When you go to a car show, you will always see a dozen Corvettes and a dozen Mustangs. This was truly a rare vehicle. As a car guy, that has a lot of appeal to me.

He Found His Classic Dodge With an Assist From Jay Leno

Because these Dodge vehicles are so rare, finding parts during the restoration was a serious challenge. ‘That,’ Mr. Hofmann says, ‘was part of the adventure.’

He Found His Classic Dodge With an Assist From Jay Leno

A look at the truck’s interior, with its four-speed shifter and utilitarian dashboard.

He Found His Classic Dodge With an Assist From Jay Leno

The Power Wagon was built for use at outdoor work sites, thus the high-ground clearance.

The downside of this is, when you’re restoring a truck like this, parts are a nightmare. Not only were so few of these trucks made, but so few exist today, and so there is no one making parts for them. I searched the globe for unobtainable bits and bobs, from the knobs on the dashboard to anything I needed for the 318 cubic-inch V-8 engine. There is a very small group of enthusiasts for these vehicles, and thanks to Facebook, I was able to engage with them. I could not have done the restoration without them.

My three kids helped me along the way. Every time I did anything on the truck, I thought, well, now I also have to do this and this and this. It always seems like a simple proposition when you start. I basically finished the job last week, after over 15 years.

Meanwhile, I’ve been taking my kids to school on occasion in this Dodge. I like just driving it around because it gets such a great reaction out of people. But what I really want to happen is, someday, to have somebody tap me on the shoulder, point to that JPL parking permit sticker on the back window, and say, “Hey, I know that truck.”

He Found His Classic Dodge With an Assist From Jay Leno

‘I like just driving it around,’ Mr. Hofmann says, ‘because it gets such a great reaction out of people.’

 

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