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Early first-gen Dakota V8 Swap


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#1 TWX

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Posted February 4, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Well, ironically as Dad was pulling into tonight's car club meeting at the dealership, he had a fairly severe engine fire in his '89 Dakota Convertible. He said it didn't cross the firewall, but it sounds like he may decide to stop with it.

If I end up with it, I'm knocking around a V8 swap. This truck has the 3.9L V6, so it's at least the same engine family. I figure that it would have to have the same kind of setup as the Shelby trucks had, with the radiator relocated and the electric cooling fans, and maybe an electric water pump.

What I need to figure out is parts. I would want to go with a Magnum 5.9L engine probably. I suppose that a newer Dakota up to and including '96 would be a good donor for at least wiring harness and computer, maybe dash cluster, in-cab wiring harness, and I could probably pull the engine out of a van to have an EFI 360 that will just get along with the Dakota's computer.

One question that I have is that I've heard about a special block with a motor mount for the Dakota. Is this unique to the 5.2, or did they build these blocks with the 5.9?

#2 dana44

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Posted February 5, 2010 at 12:36 am

Hey Tannon, read up on the history of the Dakota, all it takes is the electric forward of the radiator fan and removal of the fan blade, it was one of the options of the 89 convertible two years before the front end was extended for a V8. Not sure what you mean by the special motor mount 5.2 engine, and since width isn't the issue, the 3.9 is just as wide, engine mounts are easy to manufacture to work. I imagine it has something to do with the fact the extra two cylinders will be forward of the usual location for the engine motor mount to frame location (which makes sense if you think about it, unless you want to move the firewall backwards four inches, relocate the tranny back four inches also, but the advantage is the shift of weight towards the rear that much more. I would think an extra heavy rear bumper (like 100lbs more) would reset the balance front to rear, might even help a little bit. Yes, you can go 1997 for a throttle body on top of the manifold over the barrel manifold (good choice for hood clearance, etc.), get the electronics to go with it, manual or automatic doesn't matter, but what about the smog laws you have to deal with. Is there going to be a problem with that, or does the newer engine fix that small issue? Granted the stock engine is a little bit fried, but what about another 3.9 on steroids? Simply update to the MPFI Magnum 3.9, roller cam with more lift (.480 is a good start over the stock .421ish and as long as the duration isn't changed, will smog and stock computer will work), port the heads and intake (cast heads, 1.92 intakes and aluminum intake to start, so good potential there), and get some good flat top 318 pistons to get the compression up a bit and you could have some real fun with a V6, headers are available, could be some fun to be had there.....

#3 valiant67

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Posted February 5, 2010 at 07:06 am

I've said it before and I'll say it again:
http://www.engine-sw...uck_Dakota.html

Edited by valiant67, February 5, 2010 at 07:06 am.


#4 dana44

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Posted February 5, 2010 at 11:33 am

I've said it before and I'll say it again:
http://www.engine-sw...uck_Dakota.html



Electric fan a must, but yeah, sits the way I said, so smog would be the only question after this.

#5 TWX

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Posted February 5, 2010 at 07:32 pm

Well, Dad took some fire pictures for me. Looks like the hood is dead, the fenders are probably workable, the fenderwells might be workable. Grille looks reasonably untouched. Plastic fender flares survived too. The cowl/firewall is of some concern, but given where's it's at if it's reinforcible then cosmetics are less important. Basically all of the plastic under the hood melted or at least deformed, and all thin metal in the vicinity burned.

I've included pictures here. There's a lot of "nuisance dust" on everything from the fire extinguishers, and the camera he has kind of sucks, so the pictures might look a little worse than things actually are. At their worst, apparently the flames were about eight feet high from the cowl.

It looks like all functional parts forward the firewall and above the height of the cylinder heads will need to be replaced. This truck has almost 210,000 miles on it, so even if the bottom end is unscathed from the fire it's probably still not worth attempting to reuse the shortblock either.

I've started working a plan:
  • Disassemble everything in front of the firewall to the frame, excepting the front suspension and steering linkage
  • Inspect the fenders, fender liners, battery tray, and other bolted-on sheet metal for distortion
  • Inspect welded-on sheet metal (fender rails, core support, cowl, firewall) for distortion
  • Inspect all removed under-hood parts that aren't obviously destroyed for distortion and reusability
  • Inspect front suspension for heat damage, replace ball joints, tie rods, bushings, steering linkage, and the like as needed
  • Inspect transmission (probably in the truck) for issues, replace or re-seal if necessary
  • Remove enough interior parts to inspect wiring harness, speedometer cable, air conditioning evaporator, and heater core
  • Revise a general list of parts needed to repair the truck
  • Obtain sheet metal parts in definite need of replacement (so far, hood definitely)
  • Strip rest of the truck down for baking-soda blasting, and have that performed
  • Reinspect the scorched sheet metal welded to the cab and bolt-on (fender lines mostly, maybe fenders) to verify condition
  • Fix major under-hood sheet metal as needed, have under-hood area primered and painted
  • Track down a '96 Dakota 5.2L/auto parts truck (hopefully with a bad motor) for wiring harnesses, computer, dash cluster if needed, all firewall and underhood components, possibly radiator and AC condenser, all engine accessories, and possibly transmission if needed
  • Track down a '96+ EGR-less 5.9L V8 and properly balanced torque converter for whatever transmission is used
  • Reassemble drivetrain and electrical system, if engine starts (I'm hesitant to use "fires") and runs and truck moves under own power then take (probably tow) to an exhaust shop
  • Reassemble exterior sheet metal and the like, have rest of the truck cleaned up and painted

Yeah, it's a long list.

On top of that, I have to look at the damage I caused to it a few years ago when I was in a fender-bender. I messed up the passenger's side fender and the bumper on that side, so I might have to replace at least one fender, and I think Dad has a new front bumper.

As for what happened, he said when he got off the freeway he heard some kind of a pop, but had no problems continuing to drive the remaining 1/4 mile to the dealership. When he got out he saw what he thought was steam. He popped the hood and opened it enough to look under and saw fire. Apparently the deakership's security guard saw the fire on the camera and radioed for someone to get up there with fire extinguishers, and he called the fire department. Dad and a friend yanked the truck out of its parking space since he was adjacent to several restored mopars in the lot and didn't want to damage them with heat or fire. The fire extinguishers arrived and Dad unloaded a full one and part of another into the bay to finally put it out. I suspect most of the hood's damage came when it was up and the flames were licking it from where the fire was behind the TBI injector, most of the fire was on the back half of the engine. The fire department arrived shortly after he got it out, and didn't do much more than verify that it was out and wasn't going to restart. In one of the pictures the battery has clearly been disconnected. Fire didn't seem to reach the front too badly; the radiator top tank and the fan shroud look melted through radiated heat, not directly burnt, and the hoses don't look nearly as bad as one would expect either. The alternator looks darn-near unscathed too. The booster, master cylinder, proportioning valve, engine controls on the firewall, wiring, hoses, wiper motor/assembly, distributor, coil, air conditioning compressor, and probably smog pump are all writeoffs. I hope the transmission is okay, but I'm going to at least inspect the front of the bellhousing. Transmissions get pretty hot on their own anyway, so I'm less worried than one might otherwise expect. I'll probably replace the pump to case seal, possibly the pump, and probably the torque converter. I'll have to inspect the brake lines and transmission cooler lines, and I'll probably have to replace a good chunk of the fuel line. As the replacement engine will be EFI, I'll probably need the fuel tank and in-tank fuel pump from the donor anyway, so I might try to just find another regular cab short bed to use for a donor so I can move the whole thing over.

Edited by TWX, February 5, 2010 at 07:47 pm.


#6 Bearhawke

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Posted February 5, 2010 at 08:08 pm

Apparently one critical piece may be the special 318 oilpan; it was a Dakota Shelby piece only.

Another option would be (if you want the 1991-96 snout) would be to find a later Dak and transfer the convertible specific onto a solid frame/drivetrain package. :)

#7 TWX

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Posted February 5, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Well, I guess I need to do more research on the changes made for the first gen refresh. I had assumed that the difference in the newer one was mostly limited to the front clip bulging forward enough to let the two extra cylinders clear without the drastic changes to the cooling system that Shelby made, but if that were the case then a conventional oil pan like the regular V8 dakotas had would work. But, if the shelby trucks actually relocated the transmission rearward to then allow a little more room on the front compared to where the snout of the engine would have stopped if they hadn't (hypothetically) made such a relocation then I can see how this could be a problem. I guess the best way to find out is to first compare the engine cradle part of pre and post refresh first-gen Dakotas, and then, when the truck is disassembled for blasting to test-fit a small block in front of the transmission to see how far forward it protrudes. If the snout of the water pump sticks forward in front of the core support then that could be a problem, depending on how far. If it's not too far then possibly an electric water pump might be shorter, if I could figure out how to route belts for the alternator, power steering, smog pump if needed, and air conditioner. If it doesn't fit then maybe the shumcher mounts and/or relocating the transmission rearward will be necessary.

#8 dana44

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Posted February 5, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Apparently one critical piece may be the special 318 oilpan; it was a Dakota Shelby piece only.

Another option would be (if you want the 1991-96 snout) would be to find a later Dak and transfer the convertible specific onto a solid frame/drivetrain package. Posted Image


I was thinking the same thing right after I saw the pictures. I would pull the cab and gut it, blast and paint it, and put it on another pre-97 Dakota truck and leave it at that. If the body is any decent on the donor truck, a heck of a lot less work than this will be, everything is plug and play, and heck, the only difference I can see between my 88 Dakota and the 95 I have now is the changed heater stuff and AC my 88 didn't have, and the power window/locks. Everything else, clear down to the full dash and all the panels everywhere are strikingly the same with the few upgrades added on.

Strip the body complete, blast and paint, yank body off the other newer truck and bolt the body on, reinstall all the stuff onto it and save one heck of a ton of stuff. Swap the bed also if there is anything different about it (I'm not sure).

Sure would save a lot of hassles, keep the VIN for either vehicle.

#9 TWX

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Posted February 6, 2010 at 12:01 am

Oh, there are two considerations for swapping the convertible stuff into a donor truck. First, there's an AWFUL lot of cutting involved, and there's probably a bit of actual modification involved that I can't do, and second, if I keep the frame and the usable part of the existing cab then as far as legal purposes it's the same truck. It might still be "the same truck" if I swapped a good cab on to this truck frame and moved everything numbered into the new cab, but then I'm left with the metal work again. And, as damaged as this truck's firewall is, at least as far as the accessories on it, it wouldn't be any easier for me to move this cab onto another frame.

Either way, this will ultimately be behind getting the Cordoba on the road and getting the '82 Crew Cab roadworthy and registered. If Dad gives it to me or sells it to me cheap then I can probably keep it at his house for awhile, but I would have to divest myself of a vehicle before I could have it at home. The vehicle that leaves would probably be the Nissan, as the Stratus is our only four-door car and currently actually has the fewest miles on it, and the Integra is my wife's car and she's definitely not giving it up. The Nissan can't go away until I have another functional truck, and the Dakota certainly won't be made functional quickly enough, so the Ram it is. With the Ram I can get parts for the Dakota and haul them, and once the Dakota is done then I can get parts that I want for the Ram, like when I finally get to that Cummins swap I want to do eventually.

#10 dana44

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Posted February 6, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I'm not sure how much or what metal cutting you are talking about, I wasn't aware of any structural changes between the frames of a regular and convertible, but I think Bearhawke and I were simply saying strip the cab clean, unbolt it from the frame and swap it with doors to the new truck frame and front clip, reinstall wiring and rubber parts. Yeah, lots of rubber melted to the firewall but I don't think it really damaged the metal itself, inside under dash may be melted, but probably not burned, per se.

I have to say, I too hate it when a new great project comes about (one way or another) but has to wait in line for others to be completed first.

#11 dakotaquadsport

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Posted February 6, 2010 at 05:45 pm

Hey Tannon, read up on the history of the Dakota, all it takes is the electric forward of the radiator fan and removal of the fan blade, it was one of the options of the 89 convertible two years before the front end was extended for a V8. Not sure what you mean by the special motor mount 5.2 engine, and since width isn't the issue, the 3.9 is just as wide, engine mounts are easy to manufacture to work. I imagine it has something to do with the fact the extra two cylinders will be forward of the usual location for the engine motor mount to frame location (which makes sense if you think about it, unless you want to move the firewall backwards four inches, relocate the tranny back four inches also, but the advantage is the shift of weight towards the rear that much more. I would think an extra heavy rear bumper (like 100lbs more) would reset the balance front to rear, might even help a little bit. Yes, you can go 1997 for a throttle body on top of the manifold over the barrel manifold (good choice for hood clearance, etc.), get the electronics to go with it, manual or automatic doesn't matter, but what about the smog laws you have to deal with. Is there going to be a problem with that, or does the newer engine fix that small issue? Granted the stock engine is a little bit fried, but what about another 3.9 on steroids? Simply update to the MPFI Magnum 3.9, roller cam with more lift (.480 is a good start over the stock .421ish and as long as the duration isn't changed, will smog and stock computer will work), port the heads and intake (cast heads, 1.92 intakes and aluminum intake to start, so good potential there), and get some good flat top 318 pistons to get the compression up a bit and you could have some real fun with a V6, headers are available, could be some fun to be had there.....


1989 Dakota Convertibles were "Sport"'s and 3.9 V-6 only.
1990 Trucks were either SE with 4cylinders, or Sports with the 3.9L

There was NOT any option for the V-8 in convertible form in 89 or 90, that was limited to the 89 Shelby edition only. There were 8 91 models and specs for them are very rare (never mentioned in sales literature, or any sort of marketing because they were sold before ever hitting the dealers).

#12 TWX

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Posted February 6, 2010 at 11:41 pm

I was referring to doing what the conversion company did, cutting a regular cab's roof off and putting the convertible parts on to it.

I went and looked at the truck today, and I got to see a bit of a security camera video taken of the incident from a couple hundred feet away. Actual combustion happened mostly on top of the intake manifold between the firewall and the front of the throttle body fuel injector, with the pad on the underside of the hood being the other combustion area. Areas in flame that didn't actually combust directly themselves include the hood, the firewall, part of the air cleaner housing, some wire, the coil, the very edge of the brake booster, and a number of rubber parts. Heat leading to melting was obvious on the front of what was left of the air cleaner pan, several hoses, the fan shroud, several electronic modules, the lid to the master cylinder, a schrader valve on the high pressure side of the air conditioning compressor, the battery, and a good chunk of wiring.

The alternator and air conditioning compressor looked fine, but based on the heat that was sufficient to melt the fan shroud I assume they're probably not good. The smog pump is probably also out. The only bolt-on sheet metal that looks ruined is the hood; the fenders are very lightly discolored at the top but not misshapen. The fenderwells look okay too. The firewall/cowl looks deformed low, but looks just like a greasy, uncleaned cooking pan at the top where the air duct is. I predict that it can be cleaned up, and not have any noticeable deformity above the hood line. The power steering pump and box looked okay, as did its hoses. The steering linkage didn't look bad, but I probably would replace the isolator just to be safe. The radiator looked just dirty, not melted, but it's not a very big radiator, so I'd probably need to replace it for a V8 swap regardless.

Based on the timestamps on the security camera video, the truck burned for just over three minutes before the fire was completely out, about two minutes and 45 seconds before fire retardant was applied. Apparently a five-star dealership is the best place to have this happen, as they not only responded quickly with fire extinguishers, but less than a minute after the extinguishers arrived the dealership's mobile water truck (normally for pressure-washing the inventory) pulled up. Even if Dad had been unable to completely put it out with the extinguishers, the water truck shouldn't have had much of a problem with it.

Apparently after all of this, today he realized the driver's power window was down. He took a chance and hooked the battery up, and managed to roll the window up, despite a quarter-sized hole being burned through the top of the battery. I was surprised that worked, given how bad the wiring was.

If I'm interpreting what I read correctly, regular-cab short-bed Dakotas all years of the first generation never got a V8. Only extended cab trucks got one, and only the 318 Magnum. That's why Shumacher mounts exist in the first place. Their documentation makes it look like the transmission remains in the same place, as they say that the shifter linkage and the fluid lines remain in the same place. They also say an early water pump works best, with a short snout. Electric fans are definitely required.

Dad is willing to help get the Ram into better shape, which would let me sell the Nissan, which would then give me room for the Dakota. We'll see what happens.

#13 dana44

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Posted February 7, 2010 at 12:25 am

1989 Dakota Convertibles were "Sport"'s and 3.9 V-6 only.
1990 Trucks were either SE with 4cylinders, or Sports with the 3.9L

There was NOT any option for the V-8 in convertible form in 89 or 90, that was limited to the 89 Shelby edition only. There were 8 91 models and specs for them are very rare (never mentioned in sales literature, or any sort of marketing because they were sold before ever hitting the dealers).


I read that, also. 1991 got the last year of the 318 and 1992 got the 5.2 Magnum, so the idea I would think is get some manuals and verify the cab is in the same location on the 91-96 short bed, and if the bolt pattern is the same for the cab, I would swap the cab, not turn an original cab into a convertible. You were talking about soda blasting everything else, this way you would only have to blast the cab front and if everything is the same, swap that cab out (with the doors, of course) and swap the whole interior, everything else is still from the 91-96 V8 model and you don't have to worry about anything at all, less work, less swapping, less redoing parts that look the same anyway, all around big bucks savings. I don't even think the grille or bumpers are changed from what I can tell, definitely the whole body is the same.

#14 TWX

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Posted February 7, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Okay, I retract "no regular cab Dakotas got a V8", I found an LA craigslist ad claiming a v8 in a '92.

I'll have to further consider my options.

#15 dana44

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Posted February 8, 2010 at 12:14 am

Okay, I retract "no regular cab Dakotas got a V8", I found an LA craigslist ad claiming a v8 in a '92.

I'll have to further consider my options.



There is a lot of fun to be had with the 3.9. Think of it as the 318...you can get a lot out of them if done right, and what would everyone say if you had a 13second Dakota V6? That smogs?

Speaking of which, what smog rules do you have to worry about? Will a newer engine meet the requirements of a swap for a cleaner engine?

#16 TWX

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Posted February 8, 2010 at 09:14 am

The basic rule is that one can go newer to a factory configuration in the same class of vehicle, but can't older. So, on the crew cab ram for example, I couldn't put a big block in it because those were discontinued before it was built, but I could go to a Cummins or a Magnum motor because those were later. On the Dakota, I could use anything from any Dakota '89 or newer, and I could probably use anything from any equivalent light truck from another manufacturer.

The vehicle would be inspected by Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (they also do our emission tests) and would be emissions-certified as whatever the source vehicle was. So, if I dropped a drivetrain from a '96 in, that is what it would emissions as.

#17 dana44

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Posted February 8, 2010 at 11:09 am

The basic rule is that one can go newer to a factory configuration in the same class of vehicle, but can't older. So, on the crew cab ram for example, I couldn't put a big block in it because those were discontinued before it was built, but I could go to a Cummins or a Magnum motor because those were later. On the Dakota, I could use anything from any Dakota '89 or newer, and I could probably use anything from any equivalent light truck from another manufacturer.

The vehicle would be inspected by Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (they also do our emission tests) and would be emissions-certified as whatever the source vehicle was. So, if I dropped a drivetrain from a '96 in, that is what it would emissions as.


And that is how it should be, here in California there is something like 500 "conversions" allowed, everything else has to be of the original configuration (2bbl, single exhaust, 6 cylinder), in other words the engine has to smog cleaner than the original engine, but if it were a single exhaust, 2bbl, V6, I couldn't update to a 4bbl, V8 dual exhaust without one of these conversions. In your case it is just a matter of finding the vehicle, cleaning up the firewall, get her to paint, drop the engine in, swap everything over to the 'vert and get her resmogged. The 96 and earlier Magnum engines are nice for hood clearance.

Edited by dana44, February 8, 2010 at 11:09 am.



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