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The first Shelby V8 since the 1960s was a truck — the 112-inch wheelbase Dodge Dakota, with a Chrysler V8. Dodge provided stripped-down Dakota Sports to Shelby Automobiles’ California outfit, which installed a 318 cubic inch V8 with a rated 175 hp and 270 pound-feet of torque — an engine related to, but far above, the usual power option, a 3.9 liter V6. The whole package sold for less than $16,000.
The main difference between the two engines was an extra pair of cylinders, which added some length; it would have been very hard to install at the factory, and likely would have demolished the Dakota’s crash-test ratings. The smaller Shelby could manuall install them, though, partly by using a smaller cooling system — replacing the engine-drive fan with an electric one, mounted in front of the radiator.
The 318 was equipped with aluminum flat-top pistons, a double roller timing chain, roller lifters, and a mild cam, with what appears to be a custom crank.
The V8 was hooked up to a new four-speed automatic transmission with a high stall speed torque converter, which included a New Process overdrive system and auxiliary cooler. A 3.90:1 limited slip differential came with the truck, along with an antilock brake system (before they were ubiquitous) using the speed sensor and pressure valve. Relatively conservative sized P225/70R15 Goodyear Eagle GT+4 tires sat on aluminum-alloy wheels.
Shelby made the truck look the part with a three-spoke steering wheel, dark gray cloth inserts, a front air dam with Bosch auxiliary lights, black fender flares, bold graphics, and a light bar extension mounted to the cab. Buyers could choose red or white paint schemes, like the Spirit R/T, with a “blackout” look on bumpers, trim, and grille. The windshield and grille proclaimed it to be a Shelby, and V8 badges adorned the fenders.
The package was fairly tame by the standards of the early 1970s or the 2000s, since the Dakota, as equipped, weighed in at 3,610 pounds. Still, it was good cheap performance for the time, and for those who eschewed the company’s hot turbo fours; it could do a 0-60 in 8 seconds flat. The projected production was 1,500 trucks.
This was not a Shelby, but it was a sign of things to come: the 1989 Dodge Dakota Sport concept.
The production 1988 Dakota Sport had a V6 engine, 15-inch aluminum wheels, and many trim upgrades.
Standard 1987-1996 Dodge Dakota
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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