From photos, it’s hard to say which of the six Powell pickups coming up for auction is the cream of the crop: One’s missing its windshield, another appears given over to the elements, and all six seem weighed down by decades’ worth of dust, not to mention the piles of etceterata in their beds. Wait, “all six?” All at the same auction?
Powell didn’t build many trucks to begin with – about 1,020 over three years, not counting about 150 station wagons – and not many survive today, about 110, all told. Six of them probably haven’t gathered in one place since they left the Compton, California, factory in the mid-Fifties.
The Powell pickup was the dream of brothers Hayward and Channing Powell, who began producing scooters in 1926 and continued until the early 1950s, when a flood of cheap imported scooters forced them to look into building something else, as Jim Benjaminson wrote for the December 1984 issue of Special Interest Autos. They first attempted motorhomes, but quickly changed their focus to pickups.
“For years the two had discussed the shortcomings of pickups on the market at the time,” Benjaminson wrote. “Every one of them not only looked like a truck but rode and handled like a truck. Simply put, the pickups available were generally not the type of vehicle your wife would drive to church on Sunday or to the corner grocery store. Why wasn’t there a pickup that not only looked like a passenger car but that rode and handled like one as well?”
They designed a simple body – all steel save for the fiberglass nose – that could be built by hand in their scooter shops rather than with the use of heavy and expensive presses, and while they set their prototype pickup on a Chevrolet passenger car chassis, the brothers ultimately chose the six-cylinder-powered 1941 Plymouth chassis as the basis for their pickups. As Benjaminson wrote, they reasoned the Plymouth chassis and engine would be robust and economic enough for light-duty pickups, and old Plymouths would be plentiful enough to supply the brothers with enough raw material to enter production.
In the fall of 1954 they began stripping bodies off any old Plymouth they could buy, reconditioning the chassis, and rebuilding the engines. The Powells offered few options – just hubcaps, turn signals, and a camper top for the pickups – and kept everything else austere with a bench seat, sliding windows, and the Plymouth’s instrument panel in the flat dash. They did, however, offer the Powell pickup’s signature feature of a sliding tube built into the bedsides that provided storage for fishing poles.
Production continued into 1957 and then, as Benjaminson wrote, ended simply because the brothers could find no more 1941 Plymouths to base their pickups on. Why exactly they didn’t find another passenger car to replace the Plymouth nobody has sufficiently explained.
Nor do we know exactly why former car salesman Tom Hitchner bought and stored six Powell pickups (PMC-2430, PMC-2099, PMC-2205, PMC-2231, and two with unknown VINs) on his property in Newcastle, California. Only one of the six comes with a California pink slip, though all are reportedly complete, minus a windshield or a Powell badge here and there. With Hitchner’s death last March just before he turned 92, the Powells will head to auction alongside his 50 other cars, most of them American independents or Chrysler products.
The Hitchner estate auction will take place April 28 in Newcastle, California. For more information, visit AmericanAuctioneers.com.