The '89 Shelby Dakota


By Daren Knutson (dknutson@noclant.navy.mil)

I am the owner of a white ('89) Shelby Dakota, number 182 (of 1500) with 44000 miles. Pertainent truck facts are as follows:

The truck is (as are all Shelby Dakotas) powered by a 318 cid (5.2 liter) V8, TBI, rated at 175 hp. Note: Typical horsepower ratings for the 318 of the time was 170 hp; the Shelby Dakota picked up 5 hp by using an electric cooling fan instead of the standard belt driven fan. As far as I can figure, the engine is basically the same one used in the full size trucks, with a few exceptions. The Shelby truck used a dual snorkel air cleaner that functioned just as the ones did on the older musclecars, but with with a modern twist: the primary snorkel was plumbed to the grill for cooler air. (The single 4bbl big-block E-bodys w/the dual snorkel air cleaner did not have a fresh air provision, also the heat stove was on the driver's side; the Shelby Dakota's heat stove is on the passenger's side).

The transmission is the A500 4sdp od with a loose converter w/lockup. The transmission has the 2.74 low first gearset and the early style "add-on" .69 overdrive. The transmission is programmed for firm upshifts at about 2000-2200 rpm. When in first or second gear, the transmission will not upshift below 2000 rpm. When slowing to a stop sign or light, the transmission will aggressively downshift as the rpm falls off. Note: of the people I know in my area that have a Shelby Dakota, I seem to be the only one with the orignal transmission; apparently these early 4spd ods were problem prone--although I have yet to experience any trans trouble.

The rear axle assembly is a 8.25 inch diameter ring gear with 3.90:1 ratio and limited slip (Sure Grip) differential. This, combined with the loose trans converter and a low 1st gearset makes for snappy take offs. However, the thrill kinda dies off somewhere around 35-45 mph. On wet roads with curves, and under little or modest acceleration, the 1st-2nd gear upshift has startled me more than once when I was unprepared for the back end to momentarily loose traction.

OEM tires are Goodyear GT+4, 225 70R15. Note: actual OEM tires can be identified by the max psi rating of 35 psi; replacement GT+4s have changed to a max rating of 44 psi.

Steering is via power rack & pinion, and gives an nice, crisp cornering feel (although one needs to consider my road handling experiences come from a '68 Road Runner--front sta bar, a '71 cuda--front & rear sta bar, and a '70 Challenger bracket racer--no sta bar--but you don't do corners in drag racing). Steering wheel is a small diameter and leather wrapped. One of my friends has a Shelby with a wood grain with partial leather wrapped wheel, which apparently was an optional variant.

General: 1500 trucks were produced; the option list was short: do you want it in red or white. The numbers go something like 640 in white and 860 in red. I believe the trucks were assembled at Shelby Industries in Whittier, CA. As best as I can figure, all of these trucks started as basic Dakota Sport models, and contained the options on this model: PS, PB, AC, full dash instrumentation, delay wipers, cloth seats, shortbed...etc. Shelby Industries apparently handled the engine and trans assembly/installation, as well as finding anywhere and everywhere to incorporation the Shelby logo: on the seats, on the door panels, on the dash, on the steering wheel, the exterior stripes, on the wheel center caps, the front grill emblem, the rear bumper step pad...etc.

To accommodate the slightly longer V8 engine in an engine compartment designed for a V6, a standard belt driven radiator fan could not fit. So an electric fan was used; it was installed within the radiator yoke between the radiator and the AC condensor. (The Dodge-built V8 Dakota retains the belt-driven cooling fan, and therefore necessitiated a longer snout.) The fan is somewhat noisy. With the windows up and the radio at a low volune level, the fan can be heard when it kicks in--like when the AC compressor cycles on. It is sorta neat in that it attracts the attention of drivers in adjacent vehicles while sitting at a traffic light. I've had some people ask if I had a blower or supercharger under the hood.

Performance: Specs on performance, as I recall, are 0-60 mph in 8.8 seconds. Not what I would call blazing, but reasonably respectible for a pickup truck. Standing quarter mile times were said to be 16.2 seconds. Again, not too impressive, but certainly more than sedate.

In August of 1989, I purchased my truck for about $15,000 including taxes and dealer charges. The window sticker (which I have...somewhere) was in the $16,700 range.

In May 1990, I took my truck to the local quarter mile drag strip (the now-defunct Suffolk Raceway, Suffolk, VA) and ran a best of 16.24 second @ 83 mph--the truck was unmodified, with the air filter in place, OEM tires, on regular fuel, with the endgate down. This essentially backed up what was claimed.

In 1992, I began towing a race car back and forth the track (first to the Richmond Dragway, Richmond, VA and then to the Virginia Motorsports Park, Dinwiddie, VA). The truck weighs 3600 lb, the race car ('70 Challenger T/A clone w/318 cid, A/T, 5.13 gearset--best run 11.95 @ 111 mph) weighs 3000 lb, and the trailer weighs 800 lb. So the truck tows twice its weight! In 1994, I towed to the Division 2 Bracket Nationals in Gainesville, FL; in 1995 I towed to the Finals held in Rockingham, NC.

On towing, I would rate the Shelby Dakota as barely adequate, particularly for the weight I'm towing. On flat ground at speed, the handling is fine. However, anything more than modest acceleration or climbing steep or long grades is a chore. The trailer load must be properly positioned to preclude the possibility of trailer sway when descending grades. Even though I have electric brakes on the trailer, I've noticed that the front discs on the truck can turn blue, indicating they're overheating. I would surmise the Shelby Dakota would be better suited to towing lighter weight trailers and cargo. However, knowing the severe duty the truck encounters in the tasks I put it to, I changed the trans fluid & filter and the rear end lube annually.

Problems: I have had few problems with my truck. The tape player went out within about a year of use, and the windsheild decal was peeling. Fortunately for me, the 2 Year/12,000 mile warranty (or was it 24,000 miles?) was still in effect. The dealer quizzed me on whether the truck had less miles than the warranty limit; I told him it had less than 2000 miles (at that time). The only other problem I had was with the ignition wires at about 40,000 miles. I asked the dealer why the wires would go bad after only 40k miles. He made some reply about the high output ignition system...Yeah, right. A friend of mine with a 50,000-some mile Shelby had the same symptoms as mine did. He replaced his wires and cured the problem.

Epilogue: My truck has been garage kept since I bought it. I have recently retired it from race car trailering duties (I purchased used a '93 Ram 2X4 Club Cab to do the towing--went to Rockingham again for 1996). The interior upholstry of the Shelby is in EC, the exterior is also in EC, however a closer perusal will reveal a few minor scratches and nicks in the side decals; the hood decal is beginning to show signs of weathering. EVERYTHING on the truck is original with the following exceptions: all fluids, tires, air filter, trans filter, fuel filter, plugs, distributor cap & rotor, battery, flasher, driver's side taillight bulbs. Dealer installed/replaced items: bedliner, radio, windshield decal, ignition wires. Owner installed non-factory items: Class III receiver, electric brake controler, sundry wiring for trailer lights & brakes, heavy duty flasher.

I hope this knowledge and trivia I have presented is of value to you. I certainly can't claim to be the sole expert on the Shelby Dakota, but these are my observations as best as I can recall them. If you have any other questions about the Shelby Dakota (or older Mopar muscle cars in general or specific), then by all means e-mail me or write me a line.

Daren Knutson
1004 Seaford Rd
Seaford, VA 23696

Vehicles I currently own: 89 Shelby Dakota, 93 Ram (318 Magnum), 68 Road Runner (383 4spd, current driver), 70 Challenger drag racer (318 A/T), 71 cuda (383 A/T, future project), 71 Challenger R/T (383 A/T, orig Plum Crazy, future project)

Note: There are a couple of pictures of Shelby Dakotas on the pictures page. Also check out Dempsey Bowling's Shelby Dakota page.
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Jon N. Steiger / jon@dakota-truck.net