By Niki D’Andrea / Photos by Kimberly Carrillo
Jim and Christina Torina are used to people staring at them when they drive one of their custom trucks. The married couple’s company, Desert Power Wagons (desertpowerwagons.com), restores, modernizes and customizes old American trucks dating from 1946 to 1968, turning them into completely modern, like-new vehicles.
“We make them advanced… they can now drive over 100 miles per hour,” Jim Torina says. “They have power steering, power brakes and windows, air conditioning, great sound systems, power seats, leather interiors…”
The rebooted black 1951 Dodge Power Wagon in the couple’s garage – the only one still available from Desert Power Wagons until March 2020 – also includes an automatic transmission, custom leather interior, a Pioneer sound system with JT Audio speakers and a Bluetooth connection. But best of all, Christina Torina says, it’s bigger inside than the original.
“Something else that you need is a big crew cab,” she says. “That’s something my husband Jim designed and that’s what we do. We do crew cabs. Where the original power wagons only came with two doors, we do four-doors. That’s very unique. We are also making that front door four inches wider than the original.”
Jim Torina adds, “We’re always improving the truck, but the biggest improvement for this year has been a 4-inch wide front door, so that makes it easier for 2018 humans to get into the truck.”
The Torinas say they spend an estimated 1,800 hours – close to a year solid – on each upgraded wagon. And they can’t keep them in stock. After showing their work at car shows like The Pavilions in Scottsdale and the Goodguys Spring Nationals (they’ll also have a 1,500-square-foot booth at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction this year), they recently signed a deal with a company in the United Arab Emirates to sell Desert Power Wagons there. The couple plans to recreate 10 trucks over the next year.
A Desert Power Wagon can cost six figures – Jim Torina says the black 1951 Dodge Power Wagon will sell for almost $300,000 – but such price tags aren’t unusual for one-of-a-kind luxury custom trucks. “The guys that can afford these trucks, their buddies drive Porsches and Bentleys, and they want something different,” Christina Torina says. “We call them rolling works of art.”
Jim Torina says that sometimes it can be hard to part with a particular project, but seeing their wheels roll out into the world and get attention is worth it. “Even though we build the trucks, we drool over them ourselves,” he says. “It’s fun. We love people’s reactions. I tell customers, ‘You have to be used to people looking at you everywhere you go.’”