Muscle Truck: 1989 Dodge Dakota Shelby

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Jeff LaveryBy Jeff Lavery

I truly wish we could experience the second coming of two things: 90’s styling and factory-backed special editions brought to life by aftermarket companies. It seems like the only examples of the latter in the last 10 years have been some awful Ford Focuses and Mazda Protoges with aftermarket stereo installations. When Shelby and Dodge got together, magic happened – as seen with this low-mileage example of a Dodge Dakota Shelby pickup here on eBay where bidding is active but the reserve is unmet. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Jim S. for the find! 

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I’ve always felt that Shelby’s projects with Chrysler in the late 80’s struck an appropriate chord for a factory-backed hot rod: some additional power, suspension tuning, restrained branding on the inside and a mild aero kit to set it all off. With only 25,307 actual miles, this example remains in near-new condition with unmarked seating surfaces and all the desirable Shelby pieces still in place. The Dakota Shelby wore a special front air dam with integrated fog lights, a light bar in the bed, Shelby steering wheel, unique inserts on the cloth bucket seats, a limited slip rear end and gas-charged shocks, features that are essentially textbook Shelby modifications. Of course, the big story was under the hood.

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Here, the recipe included swapping out the standard V6 for a 5.2L V8, giving the Dakota Shelby a healthy 175 b.h.p. and 270 pound-feet of torque. Although it was a tight fit, modifications to the engine’s cooling system were made to accommodate the larger engine. Other enhancements like a high stall speed torque converter and advanced overdrive system helped the Dakota eclipse 60 m.p.h. in eight seconds, an impressive time in a hot hatch but especially so in a standard-issue Dakota pickup! Most experts agree that this is the truck that opened the floodgates to other high-performance utility vehicles like the Ford Lightning and the GMC Syclone.

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The majority of the trucks were produced in the other of the two colors offered, red – making this white example one of just 480 in this shade. This special edition Dakota is hardly subdued, with plenty of Shelby graphics splashed across the exterior, along with aluminum wheels and high-performance tires. The attention-getting exterior doesn’t bother me, however, as there’s little else like it on the roads these days. And it’s a fitting tribute to a man who always made sure to spend as much time under the hood of his cars as he did in making sure his name was visible wherever you looked. This Dakota Shelby edition is a rare example of a truck that would like right at home parked next to an Omni GLHS and a Dodge Spirit R/T.

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Comments

  1. Paul R

    Nice little truck and with the 3.90 rear axle I bet it is quick, if it will hook up the skinny tires.
    I don’t know, “Shelby” to me means the original Cobra and GT 350’s and 500’s. Seems Carroll Shelby would put his name on anything later on to make a buck… But he had to make a living I guess.

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    • The Walrus

      I have one of these. There’s not much it won’t beat to about 40mph, not much it can beat to 60. Shelby played with the caster and camber a lot… the front wheels are clearly canted. It’s fun around town because it is so quick, pretty nimble, and reasonably sized. These days, the once mid size Dakota seems small in comparison to even something like a Tundra….

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    • Michael Rogers

      These also came with the magnum FI engine small block! it also offered the rare 727 with an OD AND 4X4!
      I’ve chevvies and fords but find the Dakota a much nicer pickup

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  2. Howard A Member

    While I tend to agree with Paul, “Shelby” means the Cobra or the Mustangs, I feel these, and the other creations Shelby put his name on are totally bogus. I highly doubt Mr. Shelby needed any more money, and I wonder how much Mr. Shelby actually wanted all this stuff with his name on it. None seemed very successful. I had a Dakota, and my brother still has his ’94 ( with like 240K miles on it), and they were good trucks, but I feel Shelby should have stuck with what he was famous for, fast cars. Still, someone really took care of this truck, and I suppose that says something, but it may be a tough sell, as trucks, to me, are still trucks, not race cars.

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  3. JW

    I never ran across one of these myself but it looks cool even in white. I owned a black early 90’s Dakota 4×4 and it was a very nice truck. Came from the dealer with bigger tires aluminum wheels a roll bar with lights and a visor with running lights. Should have kept it but life moves on and needed something else so it got sold.

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  4. American_Badaz

    I love these trucks, and for some strange reason I liked the Dakota convertibles as well.
    I do respectfully question the statement “Most experts agree that this is the truck that opened the floodgates to other high-performance utility vehicles like the Ford Lightning and the GMC Syclone.” I would have attributed that to another Dodge…. Lil Red Wagon.

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  5. racer99

    Damn that thing is clean. Not my cup of tea but maybe collector worthy because of the Shelby name and condition? Be interested to see what it sells for.

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  6. AMCSTEVE

    I never heard of these trucks or I don’t remember them but they couldn’t have made many. I don’t think Shelby would have turned down the offer as any good business man would take the deal. Remember he was a business man first and at that point in his life he was done racing.

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  7. John H

    Really clean truck! It’s a shame someone spilled so much Armorall on the dash 😉

    I saw one of these a year or so back that looked good, but not as nice as this one. If I were going for another Dakota (had a ’95 that I really liked) I’d search for a convertible model. A friend owned a convertible and if you wanted a unique truck, that was one to consider!

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  8. American_Badaz

    I have been seriously considering checking this one out. It is a few hours from home, but it isn’t like these are on every block.

    http://knoxville.craigslist.org/cto/5527646301.html

    It does look like some top fitment issues on it though. I know they didn’t fit great, but the ones I saw the fabric was tighter than this one.

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  9. DW

    I had one of these til last year. Bought it to pull my sand rail 3000 miles to home and then sold it for a tidy little profit – but only once I found a guy who had a thing for Dakota’s. He’d never even heard of the Shelby Dakota and thought it was a fake at first.
    It was fun around town. Not a real hotrod by today’s standards but definitely quick off the line and starting it up definitely got attention – it was obvious there was no 6 banger in there 🙂

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  10. kenzo

    Nice truck. Were the convertible models factory or from an authorized top chopper?

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  11. HeadMaster1

    These were REAL Shelby’s perhaps even more so than the Mustangs. Hear me out. This truck, at the time was NOT available with a V8 engine, only 4 bangers and a weak V6…….That required Shelby to engineer a complete engine swap…..He didn’t do that on the Mustangs, he just took the best bits Ford had to offer and added a few tweaks and stripes. I used to work with a guy that worked on the original Shelby line (at LAX), he told me some funny stripes, mostly about what piles of junk the cars were, as quality control was non-existent. One story was about finger prints on he edge of the hoods that had blur stripes, saying the idiot on the line always reached up to close the hood before the paint dried…….

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  12. AMCFAN

    Ole Shel’s relationship with Chrysler was through Lee Iaccoca. They were close friends since the days at Ford. Not a secret Lee pulled off a miracle by dragging Chrysler from the brink.
    A retired former Chrysler big wig was teaching various business classes when I was in college. To me one of the most entertaining unconventional instructors I have met. At the time I had a $50. book that was required for the course. Never opened it. His curriculum consisted of stories of his days at Cryco. He gave many intimate details of the inner workings. He explained that Iaccoca left Ford through a bitter disagreement and took a chance to head dying Chrysler. Lee had lots of friends. He hired the best people, his friends who had worked with before. Those who had strong points for areas required to make changes.

    Shelby came in to help shed the K car image. Not sure of his actual hands on. Pretty sure there were many limited editions with special decals simply to show everyone Chrysler was alive and well with new product and no tooling cost. This truck has done its job. Now what can you do with it? Doesn’t have today’s power. Small. Hard to shake 1990’s box appearance. Garage space required. Typical Red cloth ugggh! Low miles but too high to be a one off find. Bet there is one somewhere with less then 100 waiting to be pulled out of the rafters. A shame the original owner never enjoyed it by driving the wheels off of it

    The seller offers a suggestion. It always gets me when the seller offers advice on why I need to purchase his vehicle. He offers those interested in “Why buy a classic Automobile” In it he states that prices in 2012 surged over 395% Great to know in 2016.! My advice is he should keep it until someone invents a time machine.

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  13. Jack

    This looks like it would be a cool fun truck, if it could be had for less than $10k, I wonder what this dealer has in mind for a reserve? This dealer has some other interesting cars for sale with the reserves not met.

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  14. Lee

    My rust free 1989 Dakota convertible is in the paint shop after being stripped to bare metal. A 318 with 340 heads and Edelbrock intake and carb are waiting in the shop. Why have a badass truck without some get up and go? My other truck is a 1989 w250 with the Cummins. The 1st year model with the diesel

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  15. AMCFAN

    Lee, The 340 heads on your smog 318 is only going to net maybe a minimal 20 HP.For many that gain is like installing a K&N air filter. You would be better off installing the whole 340 long block with those heads if you want actual power to go along with the sound of a V8 under your hood..

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  16. Lee

    The motor had been rebuilt top to bottom with the 340 j head updated with 2.02/1.60 valves and mother thumper cam. New water pump, fuel pump, bearings, oil pump. Electronic ignition. With the 600cfm carb and intake I hope to push 400 HP based on a similar build by David freiburger.

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