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1989 Dodge Shelby Dakota

In this edition of Muscle Car Milestones, we’ll take a look at the 1989 Dodge Shelby Dakota. Dodge was no stranger to producing fast pickups. They invented the original when they unleashed the Li’l Red Express. That red, twin-smoke stacked truck created a quite a stir when it was released back in the smog-choked 1970s. A little over a decade later, Dodge partnered with Carroll Shelby to create the 1989 Dodge Shelby Dakota. This pint-sized pickup packed quite a punch and helped restart the muscle truck craze that followed in the 1990s. Let’s see what makes the Dodge Shelby Dakota worthy of a second look.

“The trendy have discovered pickup trucks. It’s new territory for enthusiasts too. The big-engine-in-a-small-car concept gave us the GTO, Road Runner, the 442, and other factory hot rods of the sixties. And now we have the new Shelby Dakota, a truck born in exactly the same tradition.” Phil Berg, Car and Driver, July 1989

Carroll Shelby was lured to Dodge in the early 1980s by Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca. Lee’s first encounter with Shelby had been when Lee brought Shelby to the Ford Motor Company to create legendary cars like the Shelby GT350. While at Chrysler, Shelby created compact standouts like the Omni GLH-S and served as a consultant on the Dodge Viper. In 1989, Shelby turned his sites on creating a pickup.

The Shelby Dakota has the distinction of being Shelby’s first V8, rear-wheel drive vehicle produced in almost 20 years. Dodge provided bare-bones Dakotas that were shipped to Shelby’s California facilities for transformation into Shelby Dakotas. They are identifiable by their blacked-out bumpers, grille, and fender flairs. A body-colored light bar, 15-inch Shelby 5-spoke wheels with Goodyear Eagle GT+4 radials, and front air dam were also standard equipment. To make sure you knew this was no ordinary Dakota, Shelby graphics were applied to the sides, tailgate, and upper windshield.

Shelby also customized the interior of the Shelby Dakota. A red bench seat with charcoal inserts, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and personalized nameplate with the Shelby Dakota’s production number were part of the package. Full instrumentation, including a 125-mph speedometer, tachometer, and voltage gauge come to life when you turn the key. Cranking up the tunes is easy with the AM stereo/FM stereo with cassette player and four speaker system.

Under the hood, Shelby installed a fuel-injected 5.2-liter V8 coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission with electronic overdrive, high stall converter, and auxiliary cooler. Getting this engine to fit in the space normally occupied by a four or six cylinder took some finagling. One solution was to get rid of the Dakota’s conventional belt-driven fan system and replace it with an electric fan. This change also resulted in a bump of five horsepower. This setup was good for 175 horsepower and 270 lb.-ft. of torque. In addition, Shelby installed performance equipment such as a limited slip rear axle, front stabilizer bar, and gas-pressure shocks on the front and rear.

Car and Driver tested the Shelby Dakota for their July 1989 issue. The Dakota ran from 0 to 60 in 8.7 seconds and sprinted the quarter mile in 16.5 seconds at 82 mph. That’s pretty slow by today’s standards, but in 1989, those run times were pretty impressive for a pickup.

Alas, the Shelby Dakota didn’t survive into the past the 1989 model year. This one-hit wonder closed out 1989 with just 1,475 trucks being produced. Only 995 in Exotic Red and 480 in Bright White rolled out of Shelby’s door before the Shelby Dakota was no more. Shelby’s involvement with Dodge continued into the 1990s but nothing was quite like the Shelby Dakota.

Specifications

Engine
Type: OHV 90 degree V8
Liters: 5.2
Cubic-inches: 318
Valve train: roller rocker arms and hydraulic valve lifters
Compression ratio: 9.2:1
Bore and stroke: 3.91 x 3.31
Maximum horsepower: 175 @ 4,000 rpm
Maximum torque: 270 @ 2,000 rpm

Fuel System
Electronic dual-throat throttle body injection

Transmission
4-speed with electronic overdrive, high stall converter, and auxiliary cooler

Rear Axle
Limited slip w/ 3.90:1 compression ratio

Suspension
Front: upper and lower wishbone type and coil springs, stabilizer bar and gas charged shocks
Rear: semi-elliptical two-stage leaf springs with gas-charged shocks
Wheelbase: 112 inches
Tires: P225/70R15 Goodyear Eagle GT+4 radials
Wheels: 15” x 6” Shelby hollow-spoke
Brakes, front: 11.4” x .87 vented disc
Brakes, rear: anti-lock 10” x 2.5” drum
Payload: 1,250 pounds
Steering: power assisted rack-and-pinion

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