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Crate Engine Fits the 1949 Dodge

The original anemic six gets replaced by a modern 5.7 liter hemi

Story Richard Truesdell - June 19, 2011 09:00 AM

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In the aftermath of World War II, Chrysler Corporation took its time to premiere their all-new designs. When they did, they came to the party with a modern slab-sided design that was a clear departure from the pre-war styling.

The all-new 1949 Dodges reached showrooms in February 1949, well after the traditional fall new model launch time frame. When they did, they arrived in three series; the low-priced Wayfarer, the mid-priced Meadowbrook, and the Coronet, as the top trim level.

The Wayfarer series was built on a shorter 115-inch wheelbase than its Meadowbrook and Coronet counterparts that shared a 123½-inch wheelbase. The Wayfarer was offered in a very rare roadster (5,420 units), a conventional six-passenger two-door sedan, and a single-seat, three-passenger business coupe. Relatively rare itself, with 9,342 units produced for the short 1949 model year, it was the lowest priced Dodge in 1949 at $1,611.

You won’t find one like this light blue Wayfarer we spotted at the 2010 Spring Fling All-Mopar Show held at Woodley Park in Van Nuys, California, just north of Los Angeles. Instead of the expected 230 L-head six with a paltry 103hp, it had received a heart transplant in the form of a 5.7 liter new-gen Hemi.

Seeing the Hemi under the hood, we sought out its owner, Dick Pearson of Ivins, Utah, to get the full story. “The engine came from a 2006 Charger from LKQ Auto Salvage in Las Vegas with just 10,000 miles,” said Pearson. “It was a roll over and, for my purposes, was the perfect donor car. The five-speed transmission and the engine computer came out of a wrecked 12,000-mile 2005 Ram Quad Cab.”

He explained more about the car itself. “I found the car in Phoenix a little more than three years ago. It was a one-registration car having been owned by a woman in Tucson, Arizona, from new until her death when her nephew took possession of the car and from whom I bought it. It was a very complete car but was not running. There was just a bit of rust in the foot wells. This was due to the rubber surrounding the windshield being cracked, allowing rain water to settle in the floor area. The chrome was very straight, and it was all there. Trim is hard to find for the Wayfarer coupe since some is unique to the car.”

Getting the car back to Utah, Pearson pondered what to do. He wanted to make the car a dependable highway driver and keep it all Mopar. Since his retirement in 1991, Pearson has been no stranger to the art of car building, having built eight cars over the last 20 years. What he says will be his last build, a 440-powered 1967 Dodge Dart, is scheduled for completion this summer.

With a plan in place, Pearson turned to his friend Rod Davis, who did the required welding to widen the frame two inches to accommodate the engine and transmission. In true hot rod tradition, he turned to a 1976 Volare for the needed front K-member replacing the original ox cart front suspension with something a bit more contemporary that would meet his highway driver requirement. At the same time, the radiator was moved forward four inches while the firewall was reshaped, giving two more inches of clearance. The results, as the photos verify, look as if the 5.7L Hemi was factory fit.

Pearson turned to a variety of aftermarket and junkyard sources for the remainder of the needed components. The custom tilt column was supplied by ididit and the banjo T-style steering wheel was picked from the Grant Products catalog. The Dodge Omni power rack and pinion steering rack came courtesy of Unisteer, while the air conditioning system, necessary for driving in southern Utah summers, was supplied by Hot Rod Air as were the power windows, cables, and the electric wipers. The updated gauges are from Dolphin.

Upgraded underpinnings included adjustable KYB gas shocks at all four corners, augmented with anti-sway bars front and rear. The stock rear axle was not suited for the quadrupling of engine output (the stock 103hp was a gross rating, the 390hp from the modified Hemi is a modern net rating) so Pearson sourced an 8¾-inch rear axle from a 1969 Charger with a final drive ratio of 3.55 to 1. He reports that mileage in excess of 21mpg is not uncommon cruising at 80 mph with the air conditioning going full blast.

For the seats, Pearson sourced a set of fully adjustable six-way buckets from a late model Volvo C70 convertible while a Dodge Durango donated its six-disc AM/FM/CD player, which is concealed in the glove box. Jose Navaro of Bellflower, California, was tapped for the two-tone leather upholstery and carpets while Dick started the application of the BASF Light Blue Gray paint, a late-model Volkswagen hue. It was finished by a local shop but took a month to rub out given that the shop pulled it out on a 106-degree day, resulting in severe orange peel. Safelite Auto Glass in St. George, Utah, did the glass. Moon Eyes supplied a little bit of period bling with a pair of side-view mirrors.

The rolling stock consists of a set of 1969 Charger rims with 205-60/15 Cooper Cobra tires up front with fatter 255-60/15 tires in the rear. (Since then, he has swapped out to a set of MD Classic 17x7 wheels and replaced the Cooper Cobra tires with a set of ZR-rated Riken Raptors, 215-50/17 up front, 245-55/17 in the rear.)

True to his word, Pearson drives his Wayfarer to shows – the trip from Ivins to Los Angeles is 400 miles each way. At Mopars at the Strip, Pearson took first place in the Street Rod class and followed up that win with one in the Street Rod class at the Spring Fling at Woodley Park.

The Dodge Wayfarer is a rare car, lasting only three model years. In 1952, when the entire Dodge line was restyled, it was dropped and the Meadowbrook became the entry-level series. It was also a year before Dodge’s 241 Hemi, so there was never a factory-built Wayfarer Hemi. That certainly didn’t stop Dick Pearson from building his own.

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