by Patrick Rall
On Tuesday, August 23rd, the very last Ram Dakota rolled off of the assembly line at the company’s Warren Truck Assembly Plant – bringing an end to the 24 year run of the mid-sized pickup that began its life as the uber popular Dodge Dakota. Unfortunately, at the end of its days, the Dodge Dakota leaves behind a group of enthusiasts unhappy to see the smaller pickup fall out of the lineup, a consequence of changing too much from what the Dakota began as in 1987. It is for those enthusiasts that we take this opportunity to remember.
When the Dodge Dakota was introduced in 1986 as a 1987 model, it was a
substantial amount smaller than the Ram 1500 pickups of the time. The
Dakota offered a similar engine lineup to the Ram with a standard
4-cylinder, along with an optional V6 and premium 5.2L V8.
There were no
performance models during the first generation that ran from 1987 to
1996, but starting in 1989, Dodge offered the convertible Dakota – the
first drop top American pickup since the Ford Model A. Also during the
first generation Shelby American offered 1,500 pickups powered by a
beefed up, fuel injected 5.2L V8 that made 175hp and 270lb-ft of torque –
the sport truck that arguably began the modern sport truck movement.
The second generation of the Dodge Dakota came around in 1997 with a
curvy new look and in 1998, Dodge introduced the Dakota R/T (Road and
Track) with a 250 horsepower 5.9L V8. This package, available in a
variety of bed options, was very popular with the short bed, short cab
configuration, which put a bunch of power in a fairly small pickup
The low curb weight of the Dakota and the high performance (for
that time) made it one of the quickest trucks on the street. The
Dakota quickly built a rep for being a formidable performance vehicle.
Even today, seeing one of these second generation Dakotas at the drag
strip is far from unusual.
Unfortunately, when the 3rd generation of the Dakota was introduced in
2005, it became larger and heavier but didn’t pick up sufficient power to
keep up the performance capabilities of the previous generation. The
larger, slower Dakota with the 4.7L DOHC engine was also more expensive
to modify. The removal of the regular cab, short bed Dakota all but
killed the Dakota’s efforts as a sport truck.
During the final years of
the Dakota, the Ram 1500 continued to get more and more power, and
while the Dakota did as well, it continued to fall behind in
performance. Sales dropped until she was finally removed from the production
lineup all together. But she will never be removed from our hearts.
The reason for the end of production was a steady decline in sales, due
in part to the fact that as the Dakota got bigger and more expensive the
full sized Ram 1500 got to be cheaper, more powerful and more capable. In talking to Ram brand CEO Fred Diaz, he cited part
of the problem as the fact that there was too much overlap between the
two truck models. They essentially cut into
each other’s sales – with the Ram 1500 winning out easily. So Chrysler announced that they would be killing our dear friend the Dakota. However, at the time there was no word of any replacement whatsoever.
And while that might seem like the end of the story, recent reports indicate that Chrysler might be considering a new small pickup truck. According to Chrysler spokesman Nick Cappa, “We believe there is still a substantial market for small pickups. We’re studying the demographics and business case for a small Ram pickup, but there’s nothing to announce at this time.”
So while we may look to the future with hope, at this time, we remember the Dakota fondly: the little truck with a big heart who touched us all. You shall be missed. But never forgotten.
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