It is getting harder and harder to find vehicles we have not yet written up, but I believe I have found one – the early Dodge Dakota. When it was introduced, the Dakota did not fit neatly into the then-common world of regular trucks and compact trucks. But its unusual size would eventually become common as the traditional compact truck eventually disappeared. Now these early Dakotas have all but disappeared too – which is a shame because they have not received the credit they deserve as a significant contributor to Chrysler’s comeback of the 1980’s.
I took these pictures back in July of 2011. At the time, I was kind of holding out for one of the really rare Dakota convertibles – now there was an interesting truck. But I didn’t have much to say about these. However, in the ensuing years, these seem to have all snuck off into a dark corner and gone away. At least I got off a few shots to prove that these were once out and around.
In the early 1980’s Dodge was the perennial also-ran in trucks. Ford vs. Chevy, Chevy vs. Ford – that was all that “truck guys” talked about then. Yes, there was the occasional Dodge fanatic, but they were mostly into the Cummins diesel more than the truck it came wrapped in.
For 1981 Dodge had managed an update on the aging D series pickup, which soldiered away in obscurity by catering to that small group of Mopar loyalists who would not be dissuaded by the company’s perilous health.
The Dakota was one of the ideas that were blossoming at Chrysler as it worked its way back from near death. It seemed that Chrysler’s specialty in those days was finding niches. Hal Sperlich had championed the idea of a compact truck that was slightly larger and more capable than those offered by the Japanese. However, it would have to be done on the cheap with as much parts sharing as possible due to the company’s still-scarce resources. According to Allpar, much of the engineering was contracted out to local engineering firm Aero-Detroit, with some supervision by in-house truck engineers.
There was one big problem: what to do for an engine? None of Chrysler’s existing truck engines would fit in the smaller package, which was not originally designed to accept a V8. For starters, Chrysler repurposed the transverse 2.2L four cylinder from K-Car duty into a longitudinal setup for this truck. The 2.2’s 121 ft lbs of torque was a fairly reasonable number, and more satisfying than the measly 96 horsepower that the engine put out. Although that figure looks a lot less measly when we look back over our shoulder at the slant six with only 95 horsepower at this late point in its life.
There would also be a new V6. An excellent article at Allpar (thank you, Daniel Stern) shared interviews with some former engine guys at Chrysler. Head engine designer Willem Weertman remembered that the 3.9 was seen as necessary to provide a step up from a four cylinder powerplant. The 3.9L V6 was a stopgap engine that was created in the tradition of the old Buick 3.8 and the more recent Chevrolet 4.3 – Chrysler began by lopping two cylinders from the venerable 318 (5.2L) LA V8. As expected, designers went on to make several deep internal changes to somewhat smooth the uneven firing pulses that naturally plague any 90 degree V6.
Although not smooth enough, according to then-head of engine tuning, Pete Hegenbuch. “It was another one of those boom-boom, boom-boom type engines. I had two of them, both automatics, and it didn’t bother me a bit; but the manuals were awful, especially if you lugged them down in speed. It set off all kinds of sympathetic vibrations, just an awful way to build an engine.”
Awful or not, the 3.9 was certainly more powerful than the old slant six, which (as noted above) was down to 95 hp in its final 1980’s truck versions. With a 2 bbl carburetor, the new engine was good for 125 horsepower at 4,000 rpm, and 195 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, with a 9.2:1 compression ratio. It was also up twenty foot-pounds of torque compared with the old slanty. So for any Dodge Ram guys who lament the passing of the ancient, undersized and underpowered slant six in the truck line, we have the Dakota to either thank or blame for it.
Both a 5 speed manual and a 3 speed Torqueflite automatic were offered to go along with either engine choice. In addition to the two engines and two transmissions, the Dakota was offered in 112 and 124 inch wheelbases, 6 1/2 and 8 foot beds, and either rear wheel or 4 wheel drive (the latter only available in six cylinder form). All of this coming in three trim levels (base, ST and high end LT as our featured truck) gave the Dakota buyer plenty of choice.
The chassis itself was modern, if not really innovative, with coil springs up front and leaves in the rear. It was, at least, the first American pickup line that came with standard rack and pinion steering. It also offered a decent payload range of 1,250 – 2,550 lbs and a towing capacity of 5,500 lbs.
Unlike the regular Ram line, the Dakota got frequent updates. The V6 got throttle body fuel injection for 1988 (although without a change in power) and an upgrade to the larger 2.5L I4 as the base engine in 1989. A Club Cab came along for 1990 and, finally, Dodge offered V8 availability the following year.
It all worked out – In its first year, the Dakota (with sales of 104,865 units) outsold every other Dodge truck model, including the also-new 1987 compact Ram 50. It even outsold the combined total of the entire regular Ram line (in all of its versions). Which should be no surprise, given the lackluster state of Dodge truck sales in 1987. The Dakota did what Chrysler had done so successfully in its cars – it made the outside package smaller but retained a reasonable amount of room where it counted. For example, Dakota could ace the famous 4 x 8 sheet of plywood test with the tailgate closed, something that neither Ranger nor S-10 could do.
This original generation of the Dakota ran for ten model years. Though changes slowed as time passed, this did not seem to matter in terms of sales. The combination of an improving economy and Magnum versions of the larger engines pushed the Dakota to new levels of popularity for 1992. How often does a vehicle in its tenth year of production pretty much equal the successful introductory year? That the Dakota managed this feat underscores the basic soundness of the design.
I recall reading that before deciding on the radical 1994 redesign, Dodge had been working on a more conventional idea for its first new large pickup in twenty years. I have always suspected that without the intervention of Bob Lutz, the 1994 Ram might have looked a lot like a plus-size version of this Dakota. A brief search online confirms that I was right. A Dakota XXL might have been a solid truck design in the late 80’s, but it would probably not have catapulted Dodge into the big time the way the actual 1994 Ram did.
What is undeniable is that Dodge picked a really good niche with these. We all remember the K car and the minivan as the vehicles that saved Chrysler. At least that time. But we never remember the Dakota, a pickup that was good for 80-130,000 annual units over a decade-long run. While the Dakota may have sold at about 1/3 the rate of the Ford Ranger, this was a strong showing during an era when Dodge trucks were not terribly competitive, and it is likely that these were new sales, not just numbers siphoned from the regular line.
If we move forward a few years, it becomes plain that the compact pickup that was so popular in the 80’s has gone virtually extinct, while this Dakota-size set the pattern for a lot of successful smaller pickups of the past twenty years.
Most “car people” attribute the Chrysler comeback of the 80’s to a three-vehicle lineup: the Ominrizon, the K car and the minivan. The Dodge Dakota should be remembered as another member of the successful series of products from that creative era at “The New Chrysler Corporation”.
1989 Dodge Shelby Dakota – Vintage Review (GN)
1990 Dodge Dakota Lil’ Red Express (Dave Saunders)
Great writeup – I’m glad you decided to write this one. I have a feeling that early Dakotas (if people think about them), are often considered sort of underwhelming from either a success or influence perspective. However, I prefer your angle regarding them: this truck had considerable influence both within Chrysler and in the overall pickup market.
There’s an early Dakota that lives near me and seems to be in excellent condition – it gets driven quite a bit, though I’ve never caught up to it enough to take photos. I did find out where it lives… Google StreetView image is below, and obviously it has a good home with someone in that “small group of Mopar loyalists…”
Now in your interior picture on this one… dang, someone really left their gun case on the driver’s seat?!?
You found one of the low-trim versions. Had my subject truck not been one of the high trim models, I might not have even stopped.
It is hard to tell the year on these early ones. I had to look at a lot of interior pictures before concluding that all 87s had black steering wheels and that the 89 used a different steering wheel design.
I had almost forgotten – another Dakota I see occasionally is this one in the background below, which I first saw as I was photographing a GMC Caballero for an article about three years ago.
The Dakota owner drove up as I was photographing the Caballero, and we chatted for a while. He had just bought his truck (it’s an ’88); it was in good shape but well used. I’ve seen him driving around several times since then. Maybe I live in a Dakota Bubble, where they’re more common here than virtually anywhere else. Heck, even our Mayor here drives a Dakota (albeit a 1998 model).
Better late than never–great write-up!
It was a clever move on Chrysler’s part. As noted, it was definitely larger than the Toyota/Datsun/Mazda/S10/Ranger of the day. A guy I worked with bought one in 1987, and it was nicely trimmed inside–it did not look cheap or truckish.
Like the Aspen/Volare wagon in 1976 (which was even more ideal size wise), it was one of those “why didn’t anyone else think of this?” products. Not as clever as the original Chrysler mini-van perhaps, but still a great idea, and given the resources at Chrysler’s disposal, very well executed.
I’m not sure the last time I saw one of these other than the convertible version. Those at least show up at car shows pretty regularly. Even the second generation is getting pretty scarce.
I wonder if the engines are not the reasons these are not more common. Truck people love their V8s, and even the slant six has a big fan base. But neither the 2.2 nor the 3.9 was an engine that people really developed a fondness for. I could really get enthusiastic about one of these with the Magnum version of the 5.2/318.
As I think about it, the 3.9 has never gotten the kind of love that the 4.3 did in Chevy circles.
Because Chrysler should have chopped the 360 V8, not the 318, as Chevy chopped the 350 to make the 4.3. The result would have been a much better engine for a truck or largish car. A friend of mine had a 3.9 Dakota and it was really a slug. His stepdaughter totaled it when she fell asleep coming home from work. He couldn’t find a Dakota he liked, so he got a 318 Ram 1500, and did nothing but complain about the mileage. He isn’t on a budget, but he whined about it nonstop. Odd thing was, he got worse mileage than a friend did with his 2 identical Ram 1500’s, enough to make me wonder if something was wrong with my friend’s truck.
An excellent report, on a truck that doesn’t get much credit. You invariably do a great job seeking out the best perspective to critique the legacy of a car/pickup. You are again correct here, in their importance to Chrysler’s comeback.
It was the styling of the first gen Dakota I couldn’t warm up to. Along with the ’74 C-bodies, and the ’68 Charger, has Chrysler produced a more GM-like styled vehicle in modern times? Further negatively affecting the Dakota, was it went further with a wholly generic GM appearance. They lacked identity IMO. And didn’t identity a uniquely Chrysler brand. Certainly nothing remotely close to the ’94 RAM, or later Dakotas.
I didn’t follow pickups closely at the time, but at launch of the Dakota, I was struck how strongly it looked much like a big brother to the S-10. As the new full-sized Chev C/K pickups the following year, completed the family resemblance of the three. I was impressed Chrysler was generally breaking out of the K car styling template with cars like the LeBaron GTS and the 1987 LeBaron. But I recall being significantly underwhelmed by the lack of originality in the design of the Dakota. I guess it prepared the public for the blandness of the Acclaim/Spirit and Dynasty to follow. 🙂
Now you’ve done it – All my life I have looked at a Dakota and seen a truck styled by the people who brought us the Plymouth Reliant – a squared off, conservative, no-frills design. Now all I see is a big S-10. 🙂
Which now makes me think that the 1981 Dodge restyle tried to take the 1972 “fuselage” pickup design and square it up to make it look like a Chevy C series.
All of this should make us appreciate the mold-breaking look of the 94 Ram line, which looked like nothing else.
Or a mini C/K pickup. 🙂
Pickup styling was pretty nuanced at the time, yet Chrysler managed to have the Dakota look 100% GM. And I wasn’t impressed, as a Chrysler fan myself.
The insecurity of the Chrysler styling studio appeared on full display with the Dakota. 🙂
My favorite part of Lutz’s intervention in the ’94 Ram pickup is the first design you shared was “clinced” and came back with a typical curve of 0-10 scores with the average netting out at an acceptable 7.something. When Lutz sent them back to the drawing board and they tested the new design, it was polarizing – 20% hated it and 20% loved it. The marketing guys were obsessing about the negative number and Lutz asked them what their current market share was – about 6%. Well, over three times as many people love this truck, why are you worrying about the ones who don’t? was his brilliant reply.
I’ll defend Chrysler a bit here.
The 1981 square up of the D series to the “Ram” brought at bit of the GM sheer look (1975 ) to the truck, bringing it slightly ahead of the Chevy, which carried a lot of its 1973 design through 1991.
Whatever the GM influence, the Dakota to me was a mini-me Ram, making it feel a bit dated upon introduction. The 1994 Ram made the Dakota incredibly dated looking.
Now you bring back serious memories. Of the four pickups I’ve owned in my life, two were first generation Dakotas. A ‘91 short bed, four cylinder, five speed base model, traded three years later for a ‘94 LX six cylinder, automatic, 4×4, long bed. Syke’s Sutlering ran for 90% of my ownership on those two Dakotas, and they’re still the finest pickups I’ve owned. Inventory went in the bed under a hard cap, and it pulled an 6×10 trailer with all the canvas and shop furnishings for field events.
Only the wife’s insistence on a smaller pickup got the Dakota replaced with an S-10 club cab, rather than the second generation Dakota which is what I really wanted.
Nowadays I find the Dakota’s size very interesting, back then I was definitely “meh”, not as small and handy as the mini-truck but not as capable and roomy as a full size – i.e. rather than looking at the advantages I looked at the negatives.
I’d wager that RAM may end up producing another truck soon, the new RAM is doing well, but so is the RAM “classic”, the 700 is likely viewed as too small for up here, and the Jeep Gladiator is on the pricey side and plays to a more limited market. But all the pieces are in place, either add it to the Gladiator’s production line (which supposedly was designed for only producing trucks and not regular Wranglers as well for some reason) or when the RAM “classic” starts to slow down, repurpose those lines.
And yes, I too noticed that Glock gun case immediately, who leaves that just laying on the driver’s seat? The owner’s either in Wal-Mart carrying, or about to tap you on the shoulder asking what you are doing… 🙂
I was like you at the time – I saw it as straddling two segments and not being great at either, and sort of wondered what the point was. I can now see that the point was to find something nobody else was offering.
The mystery to me was why so much money and attention was lavished on this vehicle while the standard Ram got so little. Hindsight says that it was probably cheaper to design this which could use many existing components from car lines than to start over on a new big Ram which had never really been that successful. Also, I learned that Chrysler’s longtime practice had been to dump underperforming engineers in the truck division, so perhaps they were not seen as capable of doing a decent new Ram in-house during that period of time.
I could not find info in the time allotted, but wonder if much of the rear suspension did not come from the M body passenger cars. Edit – I think early Dakotas used Chrysler 7 1/4 and 8 1/4 inch rear ends, which had been common on many Mopar passenger vehicles.
How is the new Ranger doing for Ford?
About 85k Rangers sold in the US in 2019 and about 20k for the abbreviated first quarter this year. On track for about 100-110k or so I’d guess in a “normal year”.
The Nissan Frontier for reference did 72k last year and about 10k this first quarter (worst first quarter since 2013), it has usually averaged around 80k per year for about the last decade, give or take 10k per year.
Numbers are from goodcarbadcar.net
One of my very good friends has a mid 2000s Dakota and he swears by it. In fact he had one of the same vintage before someone plowed into it, and he replaced it with another one of about the same year. It is infallible. I have photos of it, and I feel like I should ask him if he is ok if I post them. I’ll get back to you on that.
I remember seeing one of these when they were new, at the auto show, and I immediately stopped in my tracks and said to myself, that these looked like a nicely right-sized pickup truck. I don’t know how they compare with a Ranger or Colorado of today, but if I were ever in the market, I would sure consider one of these, if they still even make them.
1. Hal Sperlich really is a somewhat unheralded giant in auto industry history.
2. When the original Dakota was introduced, I was a young kid grabbing almost every brochure from almost every dealer, and the Dakota brochure was one of the best of the year. It was colorful and even interactive! I believe you could stretch the bed to show the extra room of the long-bed version…I’ll have to dig that one out again!
The one interior picture shows how much trucks had changed over the decade between 1979 and 1989. While trucks were once considered workhorse, hose em out, minimally equipped vehicles to do a particular task and not for every day use, by 1989 the goal was to make them plushier and have them have all the comforts of a fairly plushy car. A buyer coming out of a 1979 Japanese compact would have been amazed at the difference between his tinny, manual steering and brakes, cramped, all vinyl and metal interior, no Air or radio spartan vehicle. The cloth on the seats and the door and the soft touch vinyl dash look particularly elegant and comfortable.
And nowadays, the most successful American luxury vehicles are full size trucks.
Enjoyable write-up that makes many valid points.
I remember the first time I saw a Dakota – on the cover of Hot Rod, captioned “Look Out S-10!” The styling was SO ChryCo, derivative in this case of the S-10/S-15 but with enough MoPar touches to make it an attractive design, perhaps improved upon the original S-10/S-15.
And once they made the 318 available it was in a class of its own.
I agree, it’s easy to forget the Dakota’s importance amongst the K-car/minivan/Omnirizon revival of Chrysler. But this article helps correct that perception.
A friend of mine bought a Dakota S in red, just like the one pictured, in 1989. It was a terrific truck, full stop. I seriously considered buying one, I liked it so much — and I’m not a truck guy.
i have a long history with ‘small’ trucks, and my first vehicle was a 93 short bed dakota sport with the 3.9. Grew to hate that truck, sadly. Lots of power off the line, engine was definitely not smooth (i previously owned a slant six which was super smooth, but not powerful by any definition). Curiously the power fell off dramatically with speed, and the 3.9 was not great towing my 3500 lb boat. I towed the same boat with a vortec 4.3; HO jeep 4.0, and the dakota. I have listed them in order of performance; the 3.9 was bad towing – hot days i really had to watch the temp. Anyhow, it developed really noisy lifters by 50k miles, got average of 15mpg and had a small tank. I could barely get 200 miles of range on the highway. All the drawbacks of a full size truck with none of the benefits. This is my general opinion of all mid size trucks now; same price and mileage as a full size truck. So unless parking space is your sole criteria, i don’t know why they exist. I did have a 96 S10 4cyl, loved that little thing – tiny bed but great mileage and fun to drive. The dakota wallowed like a D150.
I rather wanted to like these, as the combination of a 4×8 capable long bed and a more reasonable overall size rather appealed. It’s essentially the same format (with the long bed) as the Toyota T-100, of which I am also a fan. Of course just about every T-100 that wasn’t crashed is still around, especially here, but good luck finding a Dakota. Some neighbors a few blocks away bought one as a dump/mulch hauler, but it didn’t stick around all too long.
You raise that question that has nagged at me from the time I started researching these: Online info indicates that these were not beset with any terrible weaknesses, yet our real world observation is pretty universal that these just aren’t out there anymore. I can attest that it is not rust, as these were quite good in that department.
I don’t think the fours sold in tremendous numbers, and I don’t think Chrysler’s 2.2 or 2.5 were as durable as the Iron Duke. The 3.9 is a cypher to me – it is supposed to be quite durable but nobody seems to love it the way the Chevy 4.3 is loved, or at least admired. The iron 3.8 from the minivans would have been great in these, but as popular as the minivans were, I cannot imagine that they had the capacity to spare.
Iacocca’s Chrysler built some really appealing cars, but the brute durability from earlier eras did not seem to make the transition to the New Chrysler.
I own an ’89 long bed Dakota with a 2.5 and a five speed manual. In Central Kentucky, there are lots of early Dakotas still around. The hard part is finding one someone will part with. Rarity is possibly a function of how well they sold originally, and they sold very well where I live.
These should be listed as one of Chryslers Biggest Hits. They really are the right-sized trucks.
I see a lot of the facelifted 1991-96s still on the road with the updated Magnum engines, the vast majority of them being 3.9s, but the early flat-front ones are few and far between anymore. Interestingly, I was having a conversation with a buddy the other day about how I would like to find one of these early ones to swap a small block into.
btw, these are going for some serious coin now
At the time these seemed to me to be the perfect size pickup. Loved my 86.5 MY Nissan Hardbody Kingcab with it’s V6 and 5 speed but looked closely at these when introduced. Looked cheap, poorly screwed together inside and had sloppy exterior build quality. Convertible is a hoot though! Saw my first one in many years on the road two weeks ago. It was well used. My 14 year old son was floored!
Nice writeup on this interesting truck including comments and I didn’t realize these stuck around until 1996.
Come out to Oregon, these Dakotas are somewhat common, but it’s their successors that are kinda common.
“Both a 5 speed manual and a 3 speed Torqueflite automatic were offered to go along with either engine choice. ”
I thought I’d remembered that the 2.2/2.5 was tried with the Torqueflite, but the performance, especially with a load in the bed, was unacceptable, and the idea was dropped. I seem to remember that certain kinds of race car builders (4-cylinder circle track cars, maybe?) were really seeking out the RWD 2.2/2/5 Torqueflite bellhousings, but they were hen’s teeth to find.
And then I re-read the Allpar article, which states, “A new five-speed manual transmission was standard, with a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic available with the V6.”
So I’m really unclear as to the status of 4-cylinder/automatic Dakotas. Did they exist or didn’t they?
The 1990 brochure (http://www.auto-brochures.com/makes/Dodge/Dakota/Dodge_US%20Dakota_1990.pdf) lists the 5-speed manual as standard, with the “four-speed automatic overdrive” (the 42RE TorqueFlite?) as the optional transmission, for either engine choice. Then it has a “” disclaimer after that, but I can’t read the fine print.
Interesting, this was a non brand until it was reintroduced in the 90s Dodge disappeared in the 70s out here and they only had trucks no cars, the remnants of Chrysler got taken over by Mitsubishi and the American brand just evaporated, I like the current efforts mostly because of the Cummins option an actual truck engine in a pickup whats not to like.
Of course the print ads were in US magazines but we never saw the actual vehicles, now I’m back in NZ there is the occasional Dakota pickup floating about.
In Central Kentucky, early Dakotas are still in service in pretty large numbers. I never go anywhere without seeing several in the course of any trip. I also have my late father’s long bed 1989 Dakota with a 2.5 TBI and a 5 speed. He bought it from the original owner who wasn’t taking very good care of it as a farm truck sometime in the late 90’s. He ended up having to do an engine and transmission swap on it. If there is a weak link in the early Dakotas its the manual transmission as I’ve seen on several forums over the years.
When my dad got the Dakota he made some minor modifications to it. The first was to get rid of the miserable bench seat and replace it with seats from a 1989 Dodge Dynasty that matched the interior and found it surprisingly easy to retro fit. He also got everything he needed to put factory air conditioning in the Dakota completely from parts he salvaged from other Dakotas which still works to this day. He also put some heavy duty coil spring shocks in the back along with a rig that let him put a small fishing boat he built that would fit in the bed of the truck and could be winched in easily when he was ready to go home after a day of fishing. My contribution was to put in the AM/FM radio I didn’t need from my ’89 LeBaron and get rid of and undo the hacking someone did with a Delco radio that was sort of hanging in the dash. With the Dynasty seats and the A/C, summer driving in it was quite comfortable.
Over the years, the Dakota got driven less but still kept up by my dad as his cancer battle worsened. So the last five years it sat more than it was driven. When he passed away near the end of 2015, it sat another year before I bought it from my mom. My partner Valerie and I drove it more that first year than my dad did the last five which meant I had to do some work to it where the long sitting was detrimental to it. I’ve replaced the clutch, pressure plate and flywheel, the hall effect sensor in the distributor, had new universal joints put in the two piece driveshaft, both motor mounts and transmission. Still need to replace the anti lock brake sensor and also unfortunately the wiring harness for same along with new rear wheel cylinders and brake shoes.
It’s a fun truck to drive and the long bed has been handy for hauling things. It drives very much like a car, my dad swore it drove exactly like his ’56 Plymouth Savoy and that even the frame looked the same. Wouldn’t surprise me as someone dropped a ’56 Plymouth onto an early Dakota frame and sold it on eBay some years ago. The 5 speed with the 2.5 has decent pep and my dad always got about 28 mpg on the road with it. My mileage hasn’t been quite that good, but close. Three of my four vehicles have been the family a minimum of 20 years with the Dakota being the baby of that group. I hope the photo I’m going to attact goes through.
The Torqueflite transmissions were excellent units and the manual was the one that broke all the time. The 904 and later, the 44RE were reliable units.
One slogan I liked was, “A little bigger. A lot better”!
The Dakota-influenced full-sized pickup is interesting and looks a lot like the full-sized 1988 Chevy/GMC pickups as well as the Dakota of that era.
The Dakota never really had any good engine options. As mentioned in the article, the 4-cylinder was quite under-powered and the optional V-6 was still a bit under-powered and rough to boot. The V-8 was probably the one to get. It offered the lousy gas mileage of a full-sized pickup in a trimmer, more manageable size and with a slightly lower price.
Original Owner, 1995 Ext Cab V8 auto 4×4 with Super SLT package. Sitting in my driveway as I write this. Glassworks fenders, 4″ Trailmaster suspension lift, 2″ body lift, 33×10.5 BFG A/Ts, Eagle Alloy wheels, custom fabbed light bar…still get compliments, every couple months. Pushing 200k miles. Still, hard to part with.
There were lots of these coming in when I was at Chrysler. One poster the Dakota lacked a good motor but the later 5.2 Magnum motors were very powerful. Later iterations of the 3.9 were also not so bad.
In fact, I preferred the 3.9 because it didn’t have enough power to grenade anything. I made peak torque much lower so it could be driven n mountains without exploding. This cannot be said for the Magnum LA motors. One guy in the 5.9 Magnum 1500 truck ran it foot to the rug with two snowmobiles on a rack. Needless to say, it had a wicked knock once he took back to use it hope we’d given him a deal because it was just out of warranty. In fact, it was just so odd that many things stopped working at 36,001 km, or 36 months and one day.
Goodwill warranty from Chrysler Canada? Biggest joke of the year..
My first truck was a 1995 Dakota SLT, with the 3.9 V6/auto and extended cab. By the time I bought the Dak, I’d been borrowing my father in law’s Toyotas and my brother in law’s Ford Rangers, most of which were standard cabs. By the time I decided to buy my own truck, I’d had enough seat time in both of those trucks to know what I didn’t like. The Dak was a much nicer truck than the strippo Yotas my FIL favored for his long commute and it could haul more people and cargo than the Rangers.
The downsides were few. With the big V6, it was hard on fuel and the kids rapidly out grew the forward facing rear seat. Maybe that wasn’t truck’s fault… But It could haul far more than the smaller trucks and was a lot nicer to live with in daily usage.
We moved with the truck up to Michigan which worked out well for the moving part. But, the kids were outgrowing the back seat and my wife really didn’t like dealing with a truck in our winters. My first house in Michigan had much less land and less necessity for hauling things around than the one in Georgia. The kids were getting too tall to sit in the back of the extended cab for any length of time, too. Sadly, I traded the Dak for a Pontiac Aztek. I initially didn’t like the Aztek, but it won me over. That’s another story for another time.
A guy I know has a MY 2001 Dakota, equipped similar to my 1995 version, for sale. Maybe once we’re over the KungFlu, and if he still has the truck, I may talk to him about it. If nothing else, I may borrow it just for old time’s sake…
These truly injected some life into Dodge’s pickups, in more ways than one. Oddly, the only remaining Dodge pickups of this vintage seem to be the full-sized ones. I still see them as frequently as I did 30 years ago.
My brother-in-law has a last generation Dakota and loves it. Sadly, its 4.7 V8 has a knock at around 240k miles – but he is not easy on vehicles.
Ever since these came out, and their introduction had a higher degree of fanfare than typical from what I can remember, I’ve been curious about them. Thanks for filling in the blanks. Perhaps one of these days I will have some seat time.
You highlight that difference between “old” Chrysler “new” Chrysler. Old Chrysler was often not that appealing and of iffy build quality but was tough as nails if you got a decent one. New Chrysler built popular things and assembled them well, but the deep down toughness was a thing of the past.
The minivans seem to be the one exception, but then they sold so many there are bound to still be some on the roads.
I owned a 2000 extended cab in maroon. It was a gorgeous truck. It had the 3.9 V6 with some of the limitations noted above, but it also had a witless automatic transmission that liked to increase rpm by 1000 or so for every downshift. One time it put me in the ditch on a hill with black ice.
The V6 also drank gas like a V8, so after a while I started to wonder why I ever got out of my true love, full-size vehicles. The purchase of a 92 Crown Vic also started to remind me of the joys of full-size motoring (and the V8) and so I sold it after a while.
For the few kms I put on it, it was reliable, but I could see where some sketchy Chrysler quality would bite me after a while. I remember it was starting to shift funny (even at only 90,000 kms), and it liked to eat CDs.
It handled great, but of course I don’t really give a shit about handling, since I enjoy driving aircraft carriers.
Lol, my first new vehicle, 1988 Dakota, 3.8 4×4, 6’bed, I had that truck for 16 years till the break lines finally broke, it had the original exhaust, think I had it welded one time, funny I remember them bragging about the ss exhaust system. All I replaced was the starter and radiator and breaks of course. Radiator was probably from hitting a guard rail in Vermont in the snow. Pulled my first boat all over the.place. great truck. Later had a Durango with the 360 in it.. go mopar..
Despite Chrysler’s misgivings about the V6, the company could have really benefited from from it had the V6 appeared sometime in the 1960s to early-1970s prior to the fuel crisis.
I’d love to find a 1st or 2nd gen Dakota, the most fun would be a 1st gen 5.2 Magnum+stick shift of course, would be a perfect tow rig to pair with my Neon R/T circle track car (if I ever finish it).
I’ve been an owner of 3 Dakotas since 1993. The 1992 was an 8 ft bed V6 Magnum with automatic, the 2nd was a 1998 V6 5 speed Club Cab and the current one is a 2004 V8 automatic Club Cab with 4 wheel disc ABS. All have been very good vehicles and all have been 2WD. The 1998 is still on the road and is owned by a friend who uses it for the usual dump run and such. I’m looking forward to the new small Ram to see if I want an upgrade.
I always liked the dash in these first gen Dakotas. Correction: These have leaf springs in the rear.
Thanks for catching that, fixed.
I own a fully restored 88 Dakota LE V6 2wd 5 speed
Speaking of the Dakota, I still remember that commercial when it was launched.
Took the first year one out for a test drive with my brothers. Long bed V6. All three of us fit in the cab and we are all over 6 feet tall. Thought it was a nice little truck and better than our old family Datsun 620 and Chevy S10 we had
My Uncle Charles (my mom’s older brother) had a ’97-’99 Club Cab 4×4 Sport that looked a lot like this one (see below). It also had the 5.2L V8 Magnum–same engine in my granddaddy’s ’96 Ram 1500–which truly made it the standout in the smaller-than-full-size segment. Now the Chevrolet Colorado also had a V8 option for a few years but the Dakota was the first. Uncle Charles died from pancreatic cancer in 2017 but the truck to my knowledge still remains in the family.
All the “small” trucks out there now are roughly the Dakota’s size, but V8s are a thing of the past.