If any machine could claim the title of “official” vehicle of Jackson, Wyoming, it’s the Legacy Power Wagon. Both, after all, have a way of camouflaging wealth with actual hard work. In Jackson, for instance, this remote town, famed for its skiing and natural beauty — Grand Teton National Park sits just to the north — packs ranches instead of estates, denim in lieu of khakis. Similarly, the Legacy Power Wagon, a restoration/modernization (a.k.a., resto-mod) of Dodge’s famously tough postwar utility vehicles, melds hardscrabble functionality with a gentlemanly elegance that their original owners, 70-odd years ago, could be forgiven for not noticing. Each somehow pairs affluence and earthy grit with a rare degree of harmony.
The local preference became obvious when I had the pleasure of driving a pair of newly restored extended-cab Power Wagons around Jackson with company founder Winslow Bent in early October, at the same time I was in town to drive the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV. When parked in front of the Hotel Jackson — another smooth integration of posh luxury into a decidedly rougher vernacular — locals passing by couldn’t help but gape at the pairing, They overwhelmingly directed most of their gushing toward the Power Wagons, though. They fit the personality of the town and its people much more perfectly. Though both get points for being rare, if not the only, production SUVs with proper, full-sized suicide rear doors, the high-riding vintage pickups beat the Roller to a pulp.
Bent launched Legacy Classic Trucks a decade ago, intent on breathing new life into the historic vehicles. His team of engineers and craftsmen track down candidate samples in restorable condition, strip them down to the bones, then refurbish and rebuild them, modernizing them along the way in a process that stretches to 1,000 hours for each truck. The chassis, cab and body panels are restored from the original parts, but the engine, transmission, brakes and electronics get robust upgrades. Out go the old flathead sixes and in come 430-horsepower, 6.2-liter Chevrolet LS3 small-block V8s mated to four-speed automatic transmissions or a 3.9-liter Cummins turbo diesel with a five-speed manual. Dana and Dynatrac axles, ARB locking differentials and Warn locking hubs ensure the trucks will function on the ranch, and on any other terrain, as needed, with high clearance and bead-locked wheels there for good measure. They also add a dominating profile, perfectly countered by the original curving lines of the Power Wagon’s cab, hood and fenders. The trucks are larger than life.
The conversions start at $185,000, and each is built to order. “Our customers tend to actually use the trucks as they’re intended,” Bent says. “They aren’t garage queens.” Further evidence, in case you need it: the Warn winch in the front, for helping clear trails or haul your buddies out of trouble, as well as many options the owners can spec out, from gun racks to stainless steel toolboxes to snowplows and snowblowers. Need an onboard welder or a cab-mounted shooting rest? Done.
It’s really a good thing that the Legacy Power Wagons are driven vehicles because doing so around Wyoming proved what a unique thrill the experience is. The trucks are easy enough to command, and the massive tires sure-footed on any terrain, but the whole vibe is appropriately old-school and understated. There’s some wind noise and tire roar, and the stereo could use a few extra watts to overcome them, but the wood steering wheel, vintage-styled gauges, wide-angle perspective from the vertical windscreen — where you can see both front corners clear as day — and occasionally jumping out to manually lock in the four-wheel-drive before going off-road, all keep you locked into the original era from whence this truck came.
Really, it’s not a bad place to be.