Hot Rods & Hogs – 1989 Shelby Dakota


Here’s a cool truck from the Hot Rods & Hogs show last weekend in Maltby, WA. With the family-friendly nature of the event and the free registration, it was guaranteed to draw in a wide variety of cars from around the area. Sitting quietly between a shoebox Chevy and a rock crawler, I saw this white Dakota. Check it out below the jump.


1989 was not a particularly special year for me; I turned 7 that year, played soccer, and had dreams of reading enough books in 2nd grade to get another star on my Reading Rainbow button. Free pizza was a powerful motivator for a poor kid, and I blame my teachers for my love of the pizza pie, but I digress. 1989 was a much more interesting year for Carroll Shelby, as you can see from these pictures. The Shelby name hadn’t been applied to a rear-wheel drive vehicle in 20 years, and like Dodge itself did 10 years before, he turned to a pickup to promote his brand and add some excitement to the performance market. After all, why not?

As it turns out, the performance modifications on the Shelby Dakota are simple and few. The engine was a 5.2-liter V-8 from the full-size Dodge pickup, with minor changes under the hood to make it fit. This simple swap added 50 horsepower, bringing the figures to a reasonable 175hp and 270 lb-ft torque.

Out back, the standard 4-speed automatic was matched with a locking torque converter and a limited slip differential, returning a decent 16.5-second quarter mile. Shelby made no changes to the suspension.


Like some Shelby offerings nowadays, the Dakota was an exercise in performance marketing, rather than marketing performance, if you catch my drift. It had the bold graphics on the body, a black molded air dam, and cool light bar, and cloth seat inserts. There’s no denying the Shelby Dakota was faster and sportier than the factory Dakota Sport, although it could have used at least a manual transmission!

I’ve always liked the first generation Dakota; as a child, I knew an old man with a white extended cub model with a burgundy interior and matching pinstripes on the sides, and I thought it was the coolest truck. The first generation is also the most traditional looking of the bunch, and that’s a good thing to me.

How about you? What do you think of this sporty little pickup?


[Photos Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Marcal Eilenstein]

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17 responses to “Hot Rods & Hogs – 1989 Shelby Dakota”

  1. DemonXanth Avatar

    The Shelby Dakota's biggest legacy was proving that not only a V8 could work great in a truck that size, but that people wanted it. In '92 they made the hood 3" longer so it fit without the electric fan needed on the Shelby.

  2. racer139 Avatar

    In 89 my mom worked at a pizza joint and though we were poor I hated pizza. Fast forward five years and my grandfathers neibour had a dakota sport in that blue- purpleish hue. I liked the looks of that truck and wanted one badly as a 15 year old car obsessed teen I could see these as the perfect recipie for burnt off rear tires and a whole bunch of dirt road shenanigans. But like I said we where poor and what I got the fallowing summer was a 81 toyota tercel.

  3. Dan Avatar

    I love the first and second generation Dakotas. They're good looking trucks, fun to drive, and very capable too. Not such a fan of the 2005 and newer ones those. Those are butt-ugly.

    1. ptschett Avatar

      There are 2005-up Dakota owners around who happen to like the look of their pickups, ya know 🙂
      <img src="; width="500"/>

      1. Dan Avatar

        I meant no offense. 😉 If that's your truck, it actually looks pretty good, but there are some color combinations on those that look down right terrible. At least on the newer ones they had coil-overs on the front instead of the silly torsion bars, as on the older ones. That fact alone made me almost buy one of the latest ones (the 2008 and newer ones).

  4. P161911 Avatar

    And just a few years later the factory dropped a V-8 in the Dakota and these went from something special to a "paint and stripes" special. I remember seeing a few of these at Solo II events in the early 1990s in Atlanta. I also remember working with a guy whose father bought two of them. One to drive and one to put away as a collectible. The late 1980s were a strange time for performance cars. Shelby's next project for Dodge was the Viper or at least the face of the Viper.

  5. jeepjeff Avatar

    The silly thing was the V6 that Shelby upgraded was the 3.9L LA V6, it's a 318 with 2 cylinders lopped off, the V6 and the V8 have exactly the same bolt pattern and flywheel design. The 5 speed in the Dakota at the time was the Aisin-Warner AX-15, which Novak still suggests is suitable for backing LSx and MOPAR small block swaps in Jeeps. It certainly could handle the output of the 318 in '89, as it was later put behind the HO 4.0L (190Hp, 235lb-ft). Ok, that's 35ft-lbs shy on the torque rating (which is what we care about for transmission sizing), but the AX-15 is a close relative of the Aisin Warner R154 found in the MkIII Supra turbo.
    (Sorry: hobby horse: I'm still annoyed that Chrysler never seems to have put this transmission behind a V8. I have its slightly noisier cousin, the NV3550, and it's a wonderful transmission. Probably wouldn't be a hard swap, there are usually a couple on Ebay at any time, and there shouldn't be any need for modifying the tunnel.)
    (EDIT: they're are? Ugh, stayed up too late watching Le Mans.)

  6. James Avatar

    I mean, considering back then a regular Dakota didn't have a V8 at all, I'd say 2 extra cylinders and 50 extra horses was a pretty significant upgrade for the Shelby.
    A friend had a later (I wanna say 97?) Dakota – 318ci, 5-speed, RWD, single cab/short bed. Man, it would burn tires SO HARD. What a fun truck. I always thought a 5.9 R/T with those wide-assed 275/60/17's and some 4.10's in the back would be a hoot with a 5-speed!
    However, wasn't the real special thing about the Shelby Dakota the whole convertible pickup truck part? Or were those not Shelby's?

    1. P161911 Avatar

      Ford thought the 1989 Mustang GT with 225 HP and 300 ft. lbs torque would do just fine with the T-5 transmission. But for the 210hp 315 ft. lbs. the Thunderbird S/C put out they decided to use the Mazda M5OD-R2 5-speed out of the F-150. Go figure.

    2. MVEilenstein Avatar

      The Dakota roadster was a one-year option from the factory. Pretty rare.

  7. boxdin Avatar

    I love the 2004 Dakota I've had for years. In 2005 they became Mitsu based and IMHO were much less of a truck.

    1. 900darmah Avatar

      Um, what? The Dakota was never Mitsu based.

  8. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    It's hard to imagine that it took Ol' Shel' to figure out you could stuff a V9 in a bitty pickemup. But just like him to do just as little as he could get away with. Not upgrading the brakes and suspension is practically criminal. We sorely need trucks like this now.
    What, no mention of the connection to Aston running at LeMans today in its centenary year, much less Shelby's heart condition?

    1. jeepjeff Avatar

      Aston Martin's Le Mans run, man deserves a bit more than an aside or a mention of a connection. They took a podium spot in their class, but Allan Simonsen's crash on lap three was a tragic start to the race.

      1. MVEilenstein Avatar

        Incredibly sad.

    2. MVEilenstein Avatar

      Sorry, this post was supposed to run Thursday but got stuck in traffic.
      I'd like to know more about that V-9, though . . .

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