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Automotive Traveler Magazine: 2011 06 1949 Dodge Wayfarer Page 1

Not Found on eBay: 1949 Dodge Wayfarer

Dick Pearson had his own idea about building a hybrid, and it had nothing to do with a gas/electric powerplant. Richard Truesdell checks out a 1949 Dodge Wayfarer with the heart of a modern Mopar, a new-gen, 5.7-liter Hemi.

Dick Pearson is a dyed-in-the-wool car guy, someone who possesses both vision and the skills necessary to translate his automotive dreams into reality. In this case, the dream was to take one of the most unusual cars of the immediate post-War era--a 1949 Dodge Wayfarer coupe--and infuse it with the heart and soul of a modern Mopar.

I have come across several Wayfarers at Mopar shows over the years. Most were restored versions of the three-passenger business coupes, and a few were roadsters, all sitting on a 115-inch wheelbase. Then, at the 2010 Spring Fling All-Mopar Show at Woodley Park in Van Nuys north of Los Angeles, I saw Pearson's unusual hybrid. At the time, the car was equipped with steel wheels accented with trim rings and dog-dish hubcaps, since replaced with upgraded rolling stock.

"I found the car in Phoenix a little more than three years ago," Pearson says. "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, not running, with just a bit of rust in the foot wells." (Cracked rubber around the windshield had allowed rainwater to settle in the floor area.)

Pearson wanted a dependable, modern drivetrain, but he wanted to keep the vehicle all Mopar. Instead of a crate motor, he went with the 5.7-liter Hemi from a 2006 Dodge Charger R/T mated to the heavy-duty five-speed automatic out of a Ram pick-up. Having retired in 1991, Pearson had the time necessary to get everything to work, a challenge that included adapting all the modern electronics using a plug-and-play wire harness from Street &Performance.

Pearson's friend Rod Davis undertook the welding required to widen the frame two inches to accommodate the engine and transmission. At the same time, the radiator was moved forward four inches and the firewall was reshaped, allowing two more inches of clearance. The results, as the photos verify, look as if the 5.7-liter Hemi was factory fit. Checking under the hood, you'd think everything visible had been engineered by Dodge.

Pearson has experience with Mopar A-bodies; he's now working on a 1967 Dodge Dart, the primary reason he's offering the Wayfarer for sale. So, he secured a front K-member from a 1976 Volare to replace the original ox-cart front suspension with something a bit more contemporary, and that would meet his highway-driver requirement.

A variety of aftermarket and junkyard sources provided the rest of the needed components. Ididit supplied the custom tilt column, and the Banjo T-style steering wheel was picked from the Grant catalog. The Dodge Omni power rack-and-pinion steering rack came courtesy of Unisteer, while Hot Rod Air provided the air-conditioning system so necessary for summer driving in southern Utah. The power windows, cables, and the electric wipers are from Specialty Power Windows. 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 unsuited for the quadrupling of engine output (the stock 103 horsepower was a gross rating; the 390 h.p. from the modified Hemi is a modern net rating). Pearson sourced an 8.75-inch rear axle from a 1969 Charger with a final drive ratio of 3.55:1, which allows the engine to loaf at highway speeds. He reports that mileage in excess of 21 m.p.g. is not uncommon when cruising at 80 m.p.h. with the Wayfarer's AC going full blast.

For the seats, Pearson sourced a set of fully adjustable six-way buckets from a late-model Volvo C70 convertible (one of the car's few non-Mopar components). A Dodge Durango donated its six-disc AM/FM/CD player, which was concealed in the Wayfarer's glove box. Jose Navaro of Bellflower, California was tapped for the two-tone leather upholstery and carpets, while Pearson started applying the BASF Light Blue Gray paint, a late-model Volkswagen hue. A local shop finished the paint job, which took a month after they pulled the car out on a 106-degree day, resulting in severe orange peel that had to be rubbed out. 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.

After I photographed the 1949 Wayfarer in the spring of 2010, Pearson swapped out the 1969 Charger rims with 205X60/15 Cooper Cobra tires up front and fatter 255X60/15 tires in the rear, all courtesy of Modern Day Classics. Today, the car has a more modern stance, with the upgraded wheel/tire combination featuring MD Classic 17X7 wheels with a set of ZR-rated Riken Raptors, 215Z50/17 up front and 245X55/17 in the rear.

This car is no trailer queen. Pearson drives the Wayfarer to shows. The trip from his home in southwest Utah to Los Angeles is 400 miles each way. The car took first place in the street-rod class at last year's Mopars at the Strip, following that with a win in the street-rod class at the Spring Fling event where I first met Pearson.

The Dodge Wayfarer is a rare car, lasting only three model years. It was dropped in 1952 when the entire Dodge line was restyled and the Meadowbrook became the entry-level series. That year was also the first for Chrysler's 241-c.u. Hemi, so a factory-built Wayfarer Hemi never appeared.

That certainly didn't stop Dick Pearson from building his own. With an asking price of $48,500, this Automotive Traveler exclusive offering would be very difficult to duplicate at that price. To speak with the owner of this 1949 Dodge Wayfarer directly, drop him an e-mail care of Automotive Traveler.

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