Ma Mopar's foray into the arena of muscle trucks dates back to the mid '60s, when some pickups had 426-inch wedge motors slipped between the framerails, and continues today with the new SRT-10 Viper-powered, full-size pickup.
After the golden age of musclecars, Chrysler's muscle truck concept lay dormant until the Li'l Red Express. Mopar engineers had a ball with that one, attempting to pass off the venerable W-2 Pro Stock head onto a production vehicle. A prototype was tested in 1978 against Detroit's finest musclecar offerings, and the audacious Li'l Red Express was proclaimed the fastest American "car" in 1978. The W-2s never made it into production, but the truck, nonetheless, was a success.
The last year for a Chrysler muscle truck was 1979, until Caroll Shelby decided to wedge a V-8 into his version of the Dakota in 1989. Although the Dakota was no lightweight, it didn't have the girth or heft to carry a load like a full-size truck. It was natural that it swallowed the 318 like it was made for it. The 175-horse wonder was good enough to motivate the Shelby Dakota into the mid-to-low-16-second range.
In 1991, Dodge began offering its midsize Dakota with optional V-8 power, culminating in the Dakota RT, packing 360 inches of small-block muscle. The rest, as they say, is history. But what if the Dakota was equipped with a big-block? No, wait a minute-how about a Hemi? Now we're talking.
Enter David and Kathy Collette's Hemified '93 Dakota. David bought this little white extra-cab wonder from his son. It was virtually in stock condition, down to the rather pedestrian 318 Magnum V-8. But Dave had plans for the Dakota-big plans. Starting in the engine bay, David commissioned Hemi expert Ray Barton (RBRE) to build the thumper under his Dakota's hood. The standard bore 426 was punched .030-over, and was filled with JE 10.5:1 slugs, RBRE steel rods and crank, and a big Comp Cams solid bumpstick featuring .652-inch lift and 258 degrees of duration at .050-inch valve lift. The stock iron Hemi heads were treated to a good valve job and topped with an Offenhauser intake with two Edelbrock 750-cfm fuel mixers. The potent combination is good for 561 horses and 504 lb-ft of torque on pump premium-a bit better than the 230 horses the Dakota was originally equipped with.
All that power is sent to a 727 Torqueflite treated to a 9-inch Dynamic converter that stalls to 4,000 rpm. The stock 811/44-inch differential was deemed woefully inadequate for the task at hand, and in its place was slipped a beefy 4.11-geared Dana 60 to complement the rest of the bulletproof drivetrain. Huge-by-large Hoosier radials were mounted on 15x14-inch Weld wheels to transfer power to the pavement, while a set of diminutive 195/75R15s keep the Dakota on a relatively straight course when the go-pedal is matted.
David and Kathy then added a Harwood fiberglass hoodscoop to cover the hairy Hemi, along with a wing from a Neon, and a bed cover. Wheelie bars ensure no unwanted wheelstands, especially in the presence of the local constabulary.
So there you have it, the muscle truck that Chrysler never built. It's a shame that Hemi Dakotas never made it down the assembly line, but we can remain optimistic.