Shelby – synonymous with high-performance sports cars, Mustangs and, later, front-wheel-drive Mopars – also applied his craft to a truck during the late ’80s.The achievements of Carroll Shelby are well known in the automotive enthusiast community. Cobra roadsters and highly modified Mustangs of the late 1960s and early 1970s cemented the Shelby name in the minds of high-performance acolytes the world over. In the ’80s Shelby breathed new life into the Dodge line with a variety of hopped-up front-wheel-drive products.
The resultant hi-po Omni GLH-S’s, and Shelby Daytonas of the mid-1980s provided stout street performance for a generation raised around economical compact cars. These turbocharged four-cylinder-powered vehicles could nearly run rings around the only remaining American pony cars of the day, the Mustang and Camaro.
Not that such a vehicle would be anything new for Dodge for, after all, this was the division that brought the world the L’il Red Express and Warlock pickups a little more than a decade earlier.What Shelby’s skunkworks started with was a Dakota Sport two-wheel-drive shortbed pickup. It was a nicely styled, somewhat aggressive-looking product in its own right, though on the performance side the Sport’s 125-hp V-6 wasn’t going to win it any stoplight bragging rights. In place of the 3.9-liter V-6 went a 318-cu.in. V-8 with dual throttle body injection that was rated at 175 hp at 4,000 rpm and 270 lbs.-ft. of torque at 2,000 with a 4,750 rpm rev limit. Unlike his earlier work for Dodge, there would be no manual five-speed gearbox offering; instead, a four-speed automatic linked to a 3.91-geared Sure-Grip differential rounded out the drivetrain. Available in red and white, the Shelby Dakota was a one-year-only offering with a limited production total of 1,500. Of the 1,500 Shelby Dakota pickups built, 860 were dressed in red while a rarer 640 came adorned in Bright White. Its sticker price was $15,813.
The Dakota’s exterior was enhanced with a large Shelby graphics set, front air dam with integral fog lights, a blacked-out grille and trim treatment that was very reminiscent of the muscle car era, a body-color-painted fiberglass light bar, V-8 decals on the fenders, a Shelby badge in the grille, a Shelby sticker across the top of the windshield and five-spoke alloy rims with Shelby center caps. Likewise, it was hard to miss the Shelby name in the interior. A special CS-badged three-spoke steering wheel fronted the driver and there were not one, but two Shelby plaques on the dashboard. The standard bench seat was reupholstered in red with gray cloth inserts that had the Shelby name repeated diagonally for the insert’s full length. The door panels were treated in the same fashion. Today, despite their relative newness, Shelby Dakotas have earned their place as a collectible within the ranks of the Shelby-Dodge enthusiasts. Though it doesn’t have nearly as much cache as a Shelby GT350 or GT500 Mustang and some loyalists to the Shelby Cobras and Mustangs even hold it and its Shelby Dodge front-wheel-drive counterparts in contempt, the Shelby Dakota was a welcome addition to the Dodge lineup.