Classic Cars Wiki
Classic Cars Wiki

The Dodge Dakota is a mid-size pickup truck from Chrysler's Ram division. From its introduction through 2009, it was marketed by Dodge. The first Dakota was introduced in 1986 as a 1987 model alongside the redesigned Dodge Ram 50.

The Dakota has always been sized above the compact Ford Ranger and Chevrolet S-10 but below the full-sized pickups such as Dodge's own Ram. It is a conventional design with body-on-frame construction and a leaf spring/live axle rear end. The Dakota was the first small pickup with an optional V8 engine. One notable feature was the Dakota's rack and pinion steering, a first in work trucks. Dakotas have been used by police and fire departments, as off-road vehicles, patrol cars, or even brush trucks.

First generation[]

The Dodge Dakota was conceived by Chrysler management as the first "mid-sized" pickup combining the nimble handling and fuel economy of a compact pickup with cargo handling capacity approaching that of full-sized pickups. To keep investment low, many components were shared with existing Chrysler products and the manufacturing plant was shared with the full-sized Dodge D-Model. The name Dakota means "friend" or "ally" in the Sioux language.

The first generation of the Dakota was produced from 1987 through 1996. Straight-4 and V6 engines were offered along with either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission. Four wheel drive was available only with the V6. Both 2 m and 2.4 m beds were offered. Fuel injection was added to the 3.9 L V6 for 1988 but the output remained the same.

In 1988, the Sport package was added as a mid-year release. Exterior colors came in Black, Bright White and Graphic Red. Available in both 2wd and 4x4, the Sport included:

  • AM/FM Stereo radio with cassette player
  • Carpeted logo floor mats
  • Center armrest bench seat
  • Charcoal/Silver Deluxe Cloth interior with fold-down arm rest
  • Color-keyed leather-wrapped sport steering wheel
  • Deluxe wipers
  • Dual remote control outside mirrors
  • Floor Carpet
  • Gauge Package
  • Mopar Air Dam with Bosch Fog Lamps
  • Mopar Light Bar with Bosch Off-Road lamps (4x4 only)
  • Unique bodyside tape stripes
  • Euro-style black out grille and bumpers
  • Sliding rear window
  • 3.9 L V6 engine
  • 15" aluminum wheels (5 bolt: 5 x 4.5in / 5 x 114.3 mm)

The N-body platform was the result of operational efforts by Harold K. Sperlich, who was in charge of Chrysler's Product Planning in the early 1980s; in which Japanese-inspired compact pickups of the time lacked the size and features necessary to meet the demands of American buyers. In the late-1970s, Chrysler was still recovering from their near-bankruptcy and resources were in short supply. Sperlich challenged the N-Body team to search for all opportunities to reuse existing components to create the Dakota. The resulting highly investment-efficient program enabled Chrysler to create an all-new market segment at low cost. Key individuals involved in making this product a reality included Glenn Gardner, Glen House, Robert Burnham, Don Sebert, Jim Hackstedde, and Clark Ewing. The basic Dakota vehicle was ultimately used as a foundation to create the Dakota extended cab version and the Dodge Durango SUV.

1989 saw the unusual Dakota convertible. The first American convertible pickup since the Ford Model A, it featured a fixed roll bar and an uncomplicated manual top. Roughly 2,482 were sold that first year. Another important addition that year was Carroll Shelby's V8-powered Shelby Dakota, his first rear-wheel drive vehicle in two decades.

An extended "Club Cab" model was added for 1990, still with two doors. This model allowed the Dakota to boast capacity for six passengers, even though the rear seat was best suited for cargo or children and shorter adults.

For 1991, the front of the Dakota received a new grille and hood which extended the engine compartment to better fit the optional 170 hp (127 kW) 5.2 L V8, which was inspired by the earlier Shelby Dakota V8 option. By 1992, the standard square sealed beam glass headlamps were phased out for the aerodynamic style molded plastic headlamps attached to the grill components. It was equipped with halogen lights, making 1991 the only year for a unique front-end for the Dakota. Also debuting in 1991 were six bolt wheels (replacing the earlier five bolt wheels) based on Dodge's marketing attempting to differentiate the Dakota from competing manufacturers' trucks and the upcoming new Ram introduction. 1991 was also the first year for an optional driver side airbag (made standard in 1994) and the last year for the Dakota convertible.

In order to fulfill the Dodge Division's commitment to the American Sunroof Company (who were responsible for the modifications to these trucks), production of the "drop top" Dakota was extended into the 1991 model year. Production was extremely limited, with just 8 produced in total, making them the most rare of all Dakotas. Unlike the previous years, colors and options varied more than before as the manufacturer picked each of these trucks in a somewhat random fashion. No advertising was given to these trucks, and they do not appear in sales literature. This is most likely due to the fact that the majority of them were "pre-sold" before hitting dealer lots.

Both of the V-configuration engines were updated to Magnum specs the next year, providing a tremendous power boost. Along with the introduction of the Magnum engine came multi-port Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI). The EFI computer ( called a PCM by Chrysler techs ) was partially responsible for the improved performance. The new engine/computer combination produced about175 kW.

1994 saw a few minor changes, with the most notable being the addition of a driver's side airbag, located in a new, two spoke design steering wheel (also found in the Ram). Other changes included the discontinuation of the "SE" and "LE" trims. In following with the all new Ram full sized pickups, top end trim was changed to "SLT", with these models (along with select others) wearing the new chrome finished, styled 6 bolt steel wheels styled similar to the 5 bolt type found on the larger Ram. Other changes included revisions to color and overall trim options.

In 1996, the first generation's final year, the base K-based 2.5 L SOHC I4 engine option was out of production and had been considered vastly underpowered compared to the competition, so Dodge replaced it with another 2.5 L I4 engine; this being of American Motors heritage with an OHV valvetrain and rated at 120 hp. This was the only major change for 1996, and the AMC 2.5 L would also be carried over as the base engine in the new, larger 1997 model.


  • 1987-1988 - 2.2 L (135 cu in) K I4, SOHC, 97 hp (72 kW)
  • 1987-1991 - 3.9 L (238 cu in) LA V6, 125 hp (93 kW)