During the infancy of the automotive industry for every Walter Chrysler, Louis Chevrolet or David Buick there were a dozen Cadwallader Kelsey, or Powell brothers. Even among automotive enthusiasts, the contributions of men like Hayward and Channing Powell are often forgotten chapters.
The brothers Powell began their independent automotive endeavors in Los Angeles in 1926 as manufacturers of small two wheeled scooters. With the addition of an optional box type side car the small bikes proved idea for light, inner city delivery and as a result sold rather well, especially in the cities of southern California.
Slowly their business grew to point where existent production facilities were inadequate so in 1940 the company relocated to nearby Compton. In late 1941 military contracts for the production of rockets and varying calibers of shells resulted in the suspension of scooter production, a fortuitous event in regards to increased profits and time allowance for the planning of future projects, including the manufacturing of an automobile.
After the war, the brothers returned to scooter production and a clear set of guidelines for their forthcoming Powell. The new vehicle would be inexpensive to produce with a subsequent low sale price. It would be economical to operate as well as repair. It would be a truck that looked and drove like a car, a vehicle that could easily serve as a second car, or a light duty truck.
Initial plans were for completion of a working prototype by 1950; however, numerous hurdles resulted in a two-year delay. The first Powell debuted in 1952 utilizing a Chevrolet chassis and six-cylinder engine as the brothers had decided that to keep costs within proposed parameters it would be necessary to utilize existing chassis.
After extensive testing of the prototype model and evaluation of cost, the Powell brothers settled on the 1941 Plymouth chassis as the foundation for their vehicles. As production commenced this was expanded to include any Mopar chassis through 1950. The open drive shaft, advanced brake system, and independent front suspension on these vehicles were the primary reasons for the decision.
The first production Powell, a “Sport Wagon,” rolled from the plant in October of 1954. With the exception of the fiberglass hood and front grill, the Powell was all steel but still weighed two hundred pounds less than the standard 1941 Plymouth sedan.
The Powell stood sixty-eight inches high, rode on 6.00×16 inch wheels and tires, and had an overall length of 168 inches. Bumpers, on the prototype as well as early production models of both the pick up truck and sport wagon, were made of polished oak, as was the tailgate.
The options list was relatively short, turn signals, chromed wheel discs and two-tone paint in combinations of white, red, green, and yellow. One of the more fascinating options was only available on the Sport Wagon, a concealed tube built into the right rear fender, running lengthwise, for carrying fishing poles.
Production of Powell trucks began with the destruction of a selected donor vehicle. Workman stripped all usable parts from the Mopar chassis. The engine was removed, rebuilt and bench tested, the remainder of the drive train as well as steering and suspension components were also rebuilt.
The steel components of the Powell bodies, all built on special jigs, were then fitted to the rebuilt chassis, fiberglass components were formed and attached, new gauges were installed in the donor cars dash faceplate, and other components, such as the electric wiper motors, were rebuilt and installed. Unlike contemporary trucks, the cab and box were integral units. An in house built pop up camper for the pick up truck added $295 to the list price and made up the two hundred pound weight savings.
The completed vehicle was rated a quarter ton truck and had a list price of $1,095, $1,198 in deluxe configuration, just a hair over the projected $1,000 mark. Included in this price was a 90-day or 4,000-mile warranty on all mechanical components.
Motor Trend magazine road tested a Powell Sport Wagon in 1956. Their impressions and review were mixed but overall Walt Moron, the primary driver, felt there was merit in this niche market vehicle.
Initially the Powell brothers had considered a companion line to their trucks and wagons, a lightweight, small self-contained motor home. Plans became manifest in 1953 with the production of three units but it was determined building the Nomad would tax production capacity and possibly result in a division of resources that could jeopardize the truck project.
In the late fall of 1956 the last Powell trucks rolled from the Compton plant. Not financial instability of the company or recalls ended the short-lived Powell. Nor was it a lack of sales as the company had orders for several hundred trucks when it closed its doors. It was that the supply of readably available chassis donor vehicles was exhausted and the company management deemed it cost prohibitive to consider another type.
The Powell scooter was largely a local product with the overwhelming majority of sales being in the Los Angeles area. In spite of national publicity, truck sales mirrored that trend. As a result, the majority of Powell trucks were sold in southern California with a large percentage of the remainder going to buyers throughout the southwest.
Powell pick up trucks and wagons were relatively scarce when new with total production estimated at just over eight hundred units. Attrition and time have greatly thinned the ranks as attested to by the Powell registry, established in 1981 to determine how many are existent as well as to provide owners with a support group, that list less than sixty remaining.

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