Trucks, Jeeps

Shelby Dakota V8 pickup trucks: Performance bargains of 1989?

Following his trademark formula, Carroll Shelby transformed a standard 112-inch wheelbase Dodge Dakota Sport model into a true modern-day muscle truck — with V8 power. Yes, this Dakota was the first V8, rear-wheel-drive machine Shelby had built since the 1960s.

dodge dakota shelby

Shelby Automobiles in Whittier, California, bought vehicles from Dodge and turned them into high performance bargains that outperformed vehicles costing thousands of dollars more. The 318 cubic inch (5.2 liter) fuel injected Shelby Dakota boasted 175 hp and 270 pound-feet of torque and sold for under $16,000.

Slipping the V8 into an engine bay designed for the 3.9 liter V6 was not as hard as it would seem, since the 3.9 liter was built on the Chrysler LA block (318/360 cubic inch) platform. Basically, the V6 is a 318-style engine less two cylinders. But the swap meant the Dakota's cooling system required a little work, as there was now no room for the engine-driven cooling fan between the block and the radiator. So Shelby Automobiles engineered a cooling system that operates with an electric fan mounted on the forward side of the radiator.

Shelby version of Dodge Dakota pickup truck

The Shelby Dakota also used a new V8-rated 4-speed automatic transmission, with a high stall speed torque converter and rear-mounted New Process overdrive system. To provide the best possible performance, the 4-speed unit was fitted with an auxiliary transmission cooler. Power was put to the ground via a special limited-slip differential fitted with 3.90-to-1 gears. Another new feature on the Shelby truck was a unique rear-wheel anti-lock brake system that used a speed sensor, electronic control module and pressure-limiting valve.

To improve rebound and compression control, nitrogen gas-charged shock absorbers were fitted to the truck, as were hollow-spoke-style 15x6-inch aluminum wheels, mounting P225/70R15 Goodyear Eagle GT+4 high performance radials.

1989 Shelby Dakota

The 3,610-pound Sport Dakota was equipped with a number of other special Shelby pieces, including a three-spoke leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, charcoal cloth inserts in the seats and door panels, and an AM/FM stereo/cassette deck with four speakers.

Styling touches make the truck look as good as it runs. These include a light-bar extension behind the cab (mounted to the bed of the truck), Bosch auxiliary-light-equipped front air dam, four non-color-keyed wheel lip extensions, and graphics on the hood and sides. The brawny V8 Dakota was painted white or red [like the Spirit R/T], accented with blackout front and rear bumpers, grille and trim. Small “V8” logos on the front fenders and Shelby markings on the windshield and lower front grille completed the package.

dakota pickup

With its quick off-the-line performance (0 to 60 in 8 seconds [editor’s note: yes, slightly more than a 1995 Neon]), this truck can handle just about anything it comes up against on the road. The Goodyear GT+4 performance radials give plenty of road-gripping traction, and cornering capabilities are good thanks to the gas-charged shocks. The Shelby Dakota is a true muscle truck, which puts it in a class all by itself. Since Shelby only expects to build some 1500 units by August 1989, if you're interested, you'd better get your order in quick. [Webmaster note: this was written in Fall 1989]

Dodge Dakota Sport concept

This was not a Shelby, but it was a sign of things to come: the 1989 Dodge Dakota Sport concept.

1989 Dodge Dakota Sport concept

The production 1988 Dakota Sport had a V6 engine, 15-inch aluminum wheels, and many trim upgrades.

Feedback

“Shelbydak” wrote: I own #939 with 97,000 miles on it. My engine started knocking so I took it out and stripped it. It had aluminum flat top pistons, double roller timing chain, roller lifters, and mild cam. I owned this truck since new and the engine has never been out before, so I think the 175 hp is a little off. I compared the crank to one in a full size 1989 Dodge truck’s 318 and it was very different, maybe stroker or balanced.

Standard 1987-1996 Dodge Dakota

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