A mid-size pickup truck from Chrysler's Ram division, the Dakota was marketed by Dodge and was introduced in 1986 as a 1987 model. The Dakota was sold alongside the redesigned Dodge Ram 50. The name ‘Dakota' is defined as 'ally' or 'friend' in the Sioux language, though it could also be in reference to the North and South Dakota states. In 2000 the Dodge Dakota received the distinct honor of being nominated for the North American Truck of the Year award and was the first mid-size pickup that had an optional V8 engine. The Dakota was sized below the full-sized pickups like the Ram, but it was sized above the compact Ford Ranger and Chevrolet S-10. Over the years the Dakota has been utilized by police and fire departments and used as patrol cars, brush trucks, and off-road vehicles.
The Dakota featured a thoroughly conventional design built on top of a stout ladder frame with double A-arm front suspension and a solid rear axle in the back on leaf springs. The Dakota also had rack and pinion steering, which was a first for work vehicles like this truck. Dodge designers were hoping for a mid-sized pickup with agile handling and efficient fuel economy with capable cargo room comparable to full-sized pickups. To keep the design costs low the Dodge Dakota shared many of its components with the full-sized Dodge D-Model and existing Chrysler products.
From 1987 through 1990 the first generation of the Dakota was introduced. The truck was produced with either a four-cylinder engine or a V6 and could be purchased with a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The Dakota came as a 6- or 8-foot truck bed. Sales in 1987 peaked at 104,865 and Dodge realized they had a hit on their hands as Dakota even outsold both the smaller Ram 50 and the full-size Ram.
In 1988 the 3.9 L V6 engine received single-point throttle-body fuel injection though the output remained the same. Sales in 1988 fell to 91,850 as other trucks were attracting buyers with their attractive sheet metal and extended cabs. Halfway through the year the Sport package was introduced with a variety of exterior colors included Black, Bright White and Graphic Red. The package was available in both 2WD and 4X4 and included special carpeted logo floor mats, floor carpet, AM/FM stereo radio with cassette, center armrest bench seat, deluxe wipers, dual remote control outside mirrors, a cloth interior with charcoal/silver deluxe with a fold-down armrest, gauge package and a color-keyed leather-wrapped sport steering wheel. Other extras in the package included a mopar air dam with Bosch fog lamps, mopar light bar with Bosch off-road lamps, special body-side tape stripes, Euro-style blackout grille and bumpers and a sliding rear window. The Sport package was powered by a 3.9 L V6 engine and rode on 15' aluminum wheels.
Chrysler was nearing bankruptcy in the late 1980s and the basic Dakota was used to create the Dakota extended cab and the Durango sport utility vehicle. Possibly to entice new customers, a new Dakota convertible was introduced; the first convertible truck since the 1931 Ford Model A. The convertible featured a fixed roll bar and a simple manual top. A total of 2,482 Dakota convertibles were produced the first year. Also new this year was Carroll Shelby's V8-powered Shelby Dakota, which was the first rear-wheel drive vehicle in 20 years.
In 1990 Chrysler introduced an extended 'Club Cab' model, still with two doors. This version gave Chrysler a six-passenger vehicle, though the rear seat was best for small children or cargo only.
In 1991 the first generation Dakota underwent updates that included a new grill and hood. The longer hood was introduced as a longer engine compartment to house the new optional V8 engine. The following year the Dakota received a much-needed power boost thanks to V configurations. A new aerodynamic style of molded plastic headlamps attached to the grill components replaced the standard square sealed beam glass headlamps.
The only year with a unique front-end, 1991 brought with it special halogen lights, though it was mechanically possible to fit sealed beams from '92 through '96. Also new in 1991 were six-bolt wheels that replaced the previous five-bolt wheels based on Dodge's marketing test to differentiate the Dakota from the new Ram and other competing trucks. This year was also the first year for an optional side airbag, and the final year for the odd-looking Dakota convertible.
The most rare of all Dakota models, only 8 'drop top' Dakotas were produced in order to fulfill the Dodge Division's commitment to the American Sunroof Company. These trucks were not advertised by Chrysler, and were offered in a variety of colors and options, and the majority of them were pre-sold.
From 1993 through 1996 not many updates were made for the Dakota. The bucket seats were redesigned this year and four-wheel-ABS was added as an option. The engine was replaced with a 2.5-liter I4 engine producing 120 horsepower in 1996, an engine that would carry over until the second generation. Producing a substantial power boost, both of the V-configuration engines were updated to Magnum specs. With this power boost was multi-port Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) and the EFI computer (called a PCM) that was part of the reason behind the improved performance. This new combination produced about 230 hp. Sales in 1993 peaked at 119,299 units sold during the model year.
Changes in 1994 were minor with the most notable being the addition of a driver's side airbag, housed in the new, two spoke design steering wheel. The 'SE' and 'LE' trims were discontinued. Just like all new Ram full sized pickups, the top end trim was changed to 'SLT' and these models featured new chrome finished, styled 6 bolt steel wheel that were similarly styled to the 5 bolt type found on the larger Ram. Other updates this year included color and overall trim options and the addition of SRS airbags. Optional this year was a CD player along with a combination cassette player and CD player unit. LE models had available leather seats and new alloy wheels. Sales in 1994 dropped only slightly to 116,445 Dakotas sold. In 1995 a total of 111,677 units were sold, and 104,754 units sold in 1996.
Rated at 120 hp, the 2.5 L I4 engine with an OHV valve-train replaced the base K-based 2.5 L SOHC I4 engine option that was considered incredibly underpowered. The AMC 2.5 L would also be a carryover as the base engine in the new, larger 1997 model.
Constructed by L.E.R. Industries of Edwardsburg, Michigan, two special editions of the original Express, based on the Dodge D-Series, were constructed with step-side beds. The Li'l Red Express Dakota and Dakota Warrior had step-side beds constructed out of fiberglass and galvineel, with available wooden bed rails. The Li'l Red Express had the classic-looking step-side bed with dual vertical exhaust stacks behind the cab. The Dakota Warrior was designed in a manner similar of Warlock trucks of the late 1970s. The Warrior shared the same custom bed as the Dakota Express, but it didn't feature the vertical exhaust stacks. A graphic package was also available on both models and made to resemble those of the original Express and Warlocks. Unfortunately the Express and Warriors did not sell well and their production numbers ran in just the hundreds. The most rare models were powered with the 5.2L v8 Magnum engine, which was only an option during 1992, the last year of Express and Warrior production.
In 1997 the second generation of the Dakota began appearing in Dodge showrooms. The model received the semi truck look similar to the larger Ram, but kept much of the same components underneath. The following year the limited edition R/T model was debuted and powered by the powerful 5.9 L 250 hp (186 kW) Magnum V8. The magnum engine was considered to be incredibly radical, the most radical in its class actually according to automakers. It was now as powerful as most full-size trucks and capable of a payload of up to 1,500 pounds. The R/T version was considered a true street/sport truck, and only available in RWD. Available in this package were factory modifications such as a 250 hp 360 cid/5.9 liter V8, heavy duty 46RE 4-speed automatic transmission, limited-slip differential, performance axle, upgraded brakes, sport suspension and steering, performance exhaust and many other standard options. Interior modifications included bucket seats, monotone paint and special cast aluminum wheels. 2002 models included chrome wheels and in 2003 included new stampede lower body cladding package and chromed version of the original cast aluminum wheels at no additional charge. Through 2003 this version of the R/T Dakota continued to be produced, and the newer 2003 R/T trucks were designated as their own trim line and no longer part of the Dakota Sport trim package.
The Dakota R1 was introduced in 1998 in Brazil through the Truck Special Program. Powering the R1 was a base 4-cylinder engine and a 2.5L VMI turbo-diesel along with a V8, all built around a reinforced 4-wheel drive chassis used on both 2-wheel and 4 wheel drive models. 28 roll-in-chassis R1 configurations were produced for the Brazil market to be constructed at the Curitiba assembly facility as CKDs, but this program was quickly cancelled once Chrysler was purchased by Daimler.
In 2000 four-door 'Quad-Cab' models arrived with a slightly shorter bed, 63.1 inches, but still riding on the same Club Cab 130.0-inch wheelbase. With room in the rear for 3 passengers in the rear, or plenty of interior room for cargo, the Quad-Cab featured a full-size flip up rear seat. The inside of the Dakota was revamped entirely in 2001 and included a new dash, door panels and plush comfortable seats. Newly standard on all Dakota models was a radio with a cassette deck, which replaced the radio-only design. The following year the four-cylinder engine was replaced entirely by the more popular and powerful V6 or V8 engine.
Interior updates in 2001 were quite dramatic and included a brand new dash, updated seating and revised door panels. Other small modifications this year included redesigned aluminum wheels on various models. All Dakota models received new radio options, and only the standard AM/FM radio were discontinued which made the AM/FM radio with a cassette deck standard on all models. Also available were AM/FM stereo CD and cassette/CD variants.
The following year was the last year for the four-cylinder engine in the Dakota as Chrysler ended production of the former AMC design. Most shoppers only wanted the V6 or V8 engine, a much more powerful option. The V6 engine was a standard option in 2003, and was nearly as fuel-efficient with a manual transmission and an automatic transmission wasn't available with the 4-cylinder. Optional in 2003 was SIRIUS Satellite Radio, and the radio was updated with new wiring harnesses to encompass this feature. Also available for the Dakota was a CD changer radio, which eliminated the need for a separately mounted unit found anywhere else inside the truck. Up to six discs count now be loaded at one time and the discs could be switched out at any time. Some radios featured Radio Data System as standard equipment. This year was the end of the old OHV V6 and the large R/T V8 as new engines were available with a 3.7 L PowerTech V6 to go along with the 4.7 L V8 variant. The cassette deck option went away entirely in 2004 as the CD player became standard equipment on all models. From 1998 through 2001 this generation was also assembled and sold in Brazil.
The third generation of the Dodge Dakota was introduced in 2005 riding on a 131.3 -inch wheelbase. Still sharing its platform with the new Dodge Durango SUV, the Dakota was 3.7 inches longer and 2.7 inches wider. The new generation came with new front and rear suspension and rack-and-pinion steering. The wheels were reverted back to the five lug wheels because of the expense and assembly time required with the six lug wheels.
Three new engines were available, one V6 and two V8s. The base Dakota engine was a 3.7 L Powertech V6, and the two 4.7 L V8 engines were the standard PowerTech V8 and the V8 High Output or HO. The 3.7 L V6 pumped out 210 horsepower and 235 lb/ft of torque while the high-output 4.7 L V8 produced 260 hp and 310 lb/ft of torque. Both of these engines were offered with the 6-speed manual transmission in 2005 and 2006, and deleted on the V8 models in 2007. This generation was built at the Warren Truck Assembly plant in Warren, Michigan. The Dakota was no longer available as a regular cab model, instead only the club cab and quad cab models were offered.
In 2006 the Dakota R/T 'Road and Track' model returned with just minor updates. The newest Dakota R/T was just an option package, differentiated by an ornamental hood scoop, hockey-stick style side stripes and a special gauge cluster. This package offered on either 2 or 4 wheel drive models.
The largest-ever Dakota was introduced in 2007 and features enviable extras like heated bench seats, a built-in cargo box, and best-in-class towing capacity of 7,050 pounds. It was debuted at the 2007 Chicago Auto Show. Producing 310 hp the new 4.7-liter V8 engine had 330 lb/ft of torque while the base engine remained 3.7-liter V6 with 210 hp and 235 lb/ft of torque. Production began in August of 2007.
2009 brought with it the introduction of the Dodge Ram, the future replacement for the Dodge Dakota. The Dakota was still considered a part of the Ram lineup in 2010, but the truck was interchangeably known as a Ram Dakota or Dodge Dakota, while the 'Dodge' emblem still resided on the tailgate.
Sales in 2011 peaked at 12,156 models sold. In 2011 the third-generation Dakota was discontinued and the final model rolled off the assembly line on August 23, 2011 following a 25-year production run. Possibly due to fading popularity with North American compact trucks, but the Chrysler Group has no plans to replace the Dakota with a similar vehicle. Sources:
By Jessica Donaldson