Dodge Dakota mid-sized pickup trucks, 1987-1996
by David Zatz | Dodge Dakota 1997-2004
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The 1987 Dodge Dakota burst onto the scene in 1986, styled like the full-sized Dodge Ram. Created to fill a space between the imported, compact Dodge Ram 50 (an un-altered Mitsubishi pickup) and the Dodge Ram, the Dakota came with two Chrysler-built engines, a 2.2 liter four-cylinder and a specially created 3.9 liter V6. The Dakota would eventually get both a V8 and a convertible version.
The Dakota was supposed to have most of the fun-to-drive aspects of a compact pickup and good fuel efficiency, with most of the utility and ruggedness of a full-sized pickup. The concept worked well: in its first year, over 104,865 Dakotas were sold in the United States, beating every other Dodge truck (including the entire
range of Dodge full-size pickups, including diesels and heavy duty models, which, combined, came close to 100,000 sales). It also beat the Ram 50, which had sales of less than 77,000 units, and the Ram Vans, at under 70,000. Sales declined somewhat after the first year until 1992, the first-generation Dakota's best year, with a massive increase to over 132,000 pickups sold. But no year did as well as the second generation did from 1998 to 2001.
Sales were good in the first year, falling somewhat despite the addition of fuel injection to the V6, a four-speed automatic and bigger four-cylinder, a Club Cab, and a V8. The Magnum V8 seems to have captured buyers' imaginations and checkbooks. A limited run of Shelby Dakotas with 318 V8s was sold in 1989.
At launch, the Dakota had a choice of 112 inch or 124 inch wheelbases, with a 6 ½ foot or an 8 foot cargo box; rear and four wheel drive were both available. Payloads in 1987 ranged from 1,250 to 2,550 pounds, with trailer towing up to 5,500 pounds. The long bed was specifically designed to carry 4x8 panels with the tailgate closed (unlike S10 and Ranger); it had provisions for stakes and tie-downs. The tailgate was easily removed for longer loads.
The front suspension on rear drive models was fully independent, with coil springs and upper/lower control arms, while leaf springs were used in the rear. The Dakota was the first American-made pickup with standard rack and pinion steering. Power front ventilated disc and rear self-adjusting drum brakes stopped the truck.
The 4x4 models used a shift-on-the-fly with no need to stop and lock the front hubs. They substituted torsion-bar front suspensions, which gave them a good ride with decent handling; 4x4s also used parallelogram steering rather than rack and pinion. (Thanks, Bob Lincoln).
Payload was 925 pounds more than the 1987 Chevy S10 and 795 pounds more than the 1987 Ford Ranger. Rear wheel drive models could tow 400 pounds more than either the Ford or Chevy. Dodge also claimed, credibly, superior handling.
Cloth seats with vinyl trim were standard, and the wide cab could hold three passengers, unlike the Ranger and S10); seat backs tilted forward to reveal a storage area. A cupholder pulled out of the center stack. Dual mirrors came standard, along with 14 inch wheels (15 inch on 4x4s).
The Dakota had a stainless steel exhaust and the highest percentage of corrosion protection material ever used on a Dodge vehicle, helping to support a five-year, 50,000 mile warranty. The Dodge City manufacturing plant (Warren, Michigan)
had an automated sequence of over 11 miles of conveyors, optical gauging to monitor dimensional integrity, over 695 industrial computers, automatic welding for 99.6% of the welds, and robot-assisted painting.
A former Chrysler engineer told us that while the engine was developed within Chrysler, the Dakota itself was engineered by Aero-Detroit, a contract house; some Chrysler engineers were sent to the firm to work with them on the design. The first mule, according to this source, used a Chevrolet S10 body shell. The dimensions of the Dakota were similar to the 1976 International Harvester Scout II Terra, but the Dakota had a separate bed.
Variations: Shelby Dakota, Dodge Dakota Convertible
In 1989, a Shelby Dakota
was created to increase visibility. It used the 175-hp 318 V8, shoehorned into the engine bay two full years before it would become a normal Dakota option. The engine, producing 270 lb-ft of torque, required a new cooling system, with an electric fan forward of the radiator (other Dakotas used an engine-driven fan between radiator and engine). Chrysler provided a new heavy-duty four-speed automatic transmission with an auxiliary transmission cooler and high-stall-speed torque converter with 3.90:1 axles for faster takeoffs. Cornering was aided by nitrogen-charged shocks and hollow-spoke-style 15x6-inch aluminum wheels with P225/70R15 Goodyear Eagle GT+4 radials. The truck ended up weighing 3,610 pounds, and could do an 8.0 second 0-60. The Dakota, which came with the usual Shelby markings, sold for under $16,000.
The Dodge Dakota convertible, according to forum poster "dakotaquadsport," was the result of a 1988 contract with ASC, the American conversion shop later tapped for the highly successful Chrysler Sebring (when Sebring stopped using ASC, sales plummeted). They used a manually operated top.
In 1989, Dodge sold 2,842 Dakota convertibles, but that apparently saturated the market; just 909 were made in 1990 and eight
in 1991, made to fulfill the contract with ASC. The convertibles came in 4x2 and 4x4 varieties, with standard five-speed manual transmission, fog lamps, padded rollbar, velour seats, power windows and locks, rear anti-lock brakes, full gauge package, 3.9 V-6, tilt wheel, and cruise control. Air conditioning and an automatic transmission were the only options.
"valiant67" added: For 1989, all Dakota convertibles were based on the Dakota Sport, and were painted red, white, or black; for 1990, there were Dakota SE models with blue available, and "supposedly four cylinder five speed trucks available." One person claimed to have a black 1990 Dakota SE V6 Dakota convertible without power options.
A new five-speed manual transmission was standard, with a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic available with the V6.
The now-tried-and-tested 2.2 liter engine
was adapted for rear wheel drive; its 96 horsepower was not exceptional for its class, but its 121 lb-ft of torque was (and was needed for the added weight). This engine would be replaced in 1989 by a long-stroke version, the 2.5, which had a single fuel injector and produce 100 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque.
The new 3.9 liter V6 engine,
based heavily on the LA-series V8s, was standard with 4x4, and optional otherwise. It was required for the 2,550 pound payload package. The 239-cubic-inch V6 pushed out just 125 horsepower at 4,000 rpm, but its 195 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, with a 9.2:1 compression ratio, was far above the four. It also easily beat the 1987 slant six's 95 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque (though the slant six could have been given a two barrel carburetor, it was too long for the vehicle).
Willem Weertman, then head of Chrysler engines, wrote
They wanted to have both fours and sixes for [the Dakota]. So we had the challenge of taking the 2.2 4 cylinder engine which had been designed for only an East-West or transverse location; we redid it and installed it in what is called the conventional drive line, or the North-South driveline, for the Dakota small truck. And they wanted to have an upgrade power plant from the 4-cylinder so the V-6 was designed as a way of furnishing a V-6 for the least possible tooling costs.
Because of capital investment, we didn't want to get into a whole new engine. We just wanted see what we could do with what we had and that caused us to look at the V-6 version of the Mound Road Engine [the 318]. ... The engine had to be shorter than the V-8 in order to fit into the compartment. It was only in later years that enough space was found in order to be able to put the V-8 into place.
We had a challenge on the V-6 because the crank-pins had to be split in order to get away from the very unequal firing if we had only 3 crankpins, each crankpin having two of the connecting rods as is V-8 practice. The reason is that the engine would be rather badly out of balance and would have not been acceptable even in a truck engine. So we had to do some redesigning of the bottom end in order to split the crank pins and make the firing order a little more uniform and it seemed to have worked out ok.
Engineer Pete Hagenbuch added:
The 3.9 was built in Mound Road, on the Mound Road machining equipment which included a 90 degree bank angle, and 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. And Chrysler at that time had principles; we didn't build engines that way. I'm confident that it went through the top and came back down with the message that "no way, you can't do that it's not commercial." Then years later we had already admitted that automatic Tempests and F85s were acceptable as long as you didn't watch them idle under the hood where they were just thrashing around. With the vibration absorption you get in a torque converter they were okay as far as driving was concerned.
The 3.9 liter V6 was created for the Dakota, but a single year after its launch, it replaced the venerable slant six in the full-sized Ram trucks as well. The engine may have been less than ideal in smoothness, but thanks partly to fuel injection, it had a real edge in horsepower over the smooth, durable slant six, and would establish a good record for reliability.
V8 power arrived in 1991, with the 318 (5.2 liter) V8 getting shoehorned into the engine bay. The 318 was, for this one year only, producing 170 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque.
For 1992, the V6 got the Magnum treatment, dramatically raising horsepower and torque; the major changes were sequential multiple port fuel injection, which increased responsiveness across the full range of engine operation, airflow, and head design. 80% of the prior components were redesigned, stopping oil leaks, slashing pollutant emissions, and increasing durability while finding more power. The 1992 V6 now produced more horsepower than the 1991 V8 (though not as much torque). Dodge claimed a 0-60 time of 8.3 seconds for the V8 and 9.3 seconds for the V6.
In 1993, a new manual transmission was made available for easier shifting. Trailer towing was boosted to 6,400 pounds with the V8 Club Cab and 6,900 pounds on the V8 regular cab, with appropriate options and equipment.
In 1994, the exhaust manifolds were shrunk to 1 5/8" and the exhaust was reduced to 2.5" from 3", eliminating five horsepower but no doubt saving some money; the torque curve was also adjusted via cam timing. In 1996, EGR was eliminated, through better fuel injection controls.