CAL-RODS FEATURED CAR - JANUARY 2016
by Ray Mahoney
Owner - Mike Breatore
1954 Dodge Town Panel Engine: 360 ci. Transmission: 727
Front Clip: Volare with Fat Man Drop Spindles.
It's been said 1954 wasn’t the most exciting year on record. As a matter of fact April 11th was selected as the most boring day of the twentieth century, but there were some highlights; Elvis Presley’s career started, McCarthyism continued, interstate highway system was on the table, Hammerin' Hank Aaron hits 1st of his 755 homers & the first nuclear submarine the USS Nautilus. While most automobile companies were banking on ’55 to be a new look into the future Dodge moved forward & introduced its new C-1 trucks including the Town Panel & Town Wagon with a one-piece windshield that would give way later in 1955 to a wraparound windshield called a ‘Pilot House’ cab. Dodge wasn’t new to panel trucks but the ’54 C-1 Town Panel now had a name along with the Town Wagon, which was essentially a ‘carryall’; & a competitor for the Chevy Suburban.
Mike Breatore’s Town Panel is a California built truck from the San Leandro Assembly plant in California. Production numbers for the San Leandro plant in 1954 totaled 2984 units, which included Pick Ups, Town Wagons and Town Panels. Considering pickups were the majority followed by Town Wagons then Town Panels the remainder; any Panel from this facility was rare. Although total production is traceable, the number of individual units is hard to find.
San Leandro (assembly plant closed in 1954; continued as parts plant) “Plymouth, 1949-1954; Dodge, 1948-1954. Production ended during the 1954-to-1955 model year changeover as Chrysler Corporation sales had plunged. Strikes may have hurt production, but Chrysler had lowered production anyway due to limited demand, so the strikes may not have had an impact. The San Leandro, California plant was listed in 1957 as a parts plant. We do not have a firm date of closure.” (Excerpt from Allpar.com originally compiled by Jim Benjaminson and updated by the Allpar staff using contributions from Thomas Mize, Bill Watson, Nick Taylor, and others.)
While Mike’s panel was factory equipped with a flat head 6, this isn’t that typical Dodge Town Panel of 1954, with a 360 cu.in mopar engine, it more than out does its original counter part. Town panels and all panels, for that matter, were commercial vehicles intended for contractors, delivery people and anyone that didn’t want their items seen and stolen from an open Pickup truck. As a consequence these vehicles were worked hard daily, dented, banged up and once worn out, junked and replaced. So finding a Panel that’s not a total loss is rare.
Mike bought the panel off a close relative who lost interest letting it sit & rust. But not a problem; Mike removed the roof ‘welt’ seam & welded in a seamless panel, 360 crate motor 300+ HP, Holly, competition 727 trans, a shift kit, 2500 stall. Volare front clip, 2" drop spindles, custom body work with shaved handles, Frenched headlights, tunneled tail lights, power windows, front disk brakes, Cragar wheels, and electric ‘Bear Claw’ door latches. Panel trucks are often looked upon as waifs of the truck lines but this panel has a look that transcends 1954 and can be seen as a standout Hot Rod in style lines, sound, power and speed.
And who said ’54 was a boring year?