Four-wheel drive may seem like a staple in pickup trucks today, but that certainly was not always the case. In fact, automakers weren’t the first to even develop such systems for trucks.
Jalopnik has traced history and found, just after World War II, many consumers were demanding trucks with transfer cases. But, Ford, GM and even Studebaker weren’t able to offer the option cost effectively. So, it was outsourced to the aftermarket.
Essentially, the aftermarket played a huge role in bringing 4WD trucks to life, specifically with a company by the name of Northwestern Auto Parts Company (NAPCO). NAPCO gained in popularity because of wartime efforts and were contracted to provide various fitments to trucks of the time, such as our-wheel-drive systems, transmissions, winches, dump truck bodies and more.
The claim to fame, however, was the Power Pak 4×4 system. The $995 accessory option was seriously pricey for the time, considering a truck itself cost around $1,500. But, it was easy to equip and install.
The parts were 85 percent GM, and four drilled holes into the frame later, you were halfway to 4WD. The front axles were modified to accept constant velocity joints and the transfer case was then hooked up to the transmission via a shaft. In about three hours, and after replacing other various mechanical parts, NAPCO handed you over a 4×4 pickup truck.
By 1960, though, GM had developed its own in-house system after years of NAPCO aftermarket conversions. No worry, though, because NAPCO found a home with an axle company by the name of Dana, which you may have heard of.
So, thanks NAPCO, for the birth of the first off-road, 4×4 trucks.