For a healthy portion of our readers, Dodge trucks are our daily drivers, our show car tow vehicles, or something to haul the boat to the lake. Fortunately, some folks have the vision and the wherewithal to see beyond the utilitarian nature of the good ol' pickup and put their talents to work at snazzing up the otherwise mundane. Sitting on the top of this heap are the boys at Performance West in Vista, California. Performance West was quick to see what could be done to enhance the already exciting 2000 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab (see our review of the Quad Cab in the July '00 issue of Mopar Muscle). And enhance it they did!
The theme selected for the Dakota build-up was the famed Paris-Dakar-Cairo off-road adventure race, a grueling run that demands optimum performance from both man and machine. OK, so there probably won't be too many of you who plan to throw your hat into this torturous four-wheel drive blowout. Still, it's interesting to see how the right mix of aftermarket components can turn a factory 4x4 into a head-turning street cruiser and an off-highway blaster.
Billing their concept truck as the Dakarta, Performance West began the transformation by fitting the 5.9 liter Magnum V8 with a Kenne Bell-engineered blower package. A 2200 Blowzilla twin screw supercharger sits at the heart of the powertrain upgrade. Delivering six pounds of boost, the blower helps the Magnum engine produce in excess of 350hp, while at the same time improves fuel economy through more efficient combustion. Kenne Bell's Optimizer computer manages the system to deliver immediate supercharger power throughout the rpm range. This, coupled with Kenne Bell's tuned 4 Tube Pulse Divider headers and a K&N low-restriction cat-back exhaust system, gives the V8 significantly more punch than its stock counterparts. A rugged Optima absorbed-glass mat dry battery provides the juice to keep it all in motion. Backing up the engine is an automatic tranny bolstered by a B&M shift improvement kit.
To improve the Dakarta's off-highway capabilities, Performance West installed Alcoa M/T 15x8 alloy wheels fitted with hefty 33x12.5x15-inch General Grabber M/T meats. The taller rolling stock increases axle-to-ground clearance for when the rubber leaves the road. Champion Wheel bead locks allow the driver to "air down" the tires for improved off-highway traction without running the risk of compromising the tire bead.
The functional upgrades do not stop with the drivetrain and suspension. Enclosing the Dakarta is a custom-made exoskeletal roll cage/roof rack manufactured by Dee Zee. These are complimented by a Dee Zee-designed tubular rear bumper, front guard/aluminum skid plate, and side steps. The cage not only protects the chassis, it also serves to carry gear, and offers mounting points for a brace of PIAA racing lamps.
In back, good use is made of the Dakarta's cargo box. The bed is protected by Herculiner's rugged bedliner, and enclosed by a customized canvas soft top made by Can Back. The spare tire is mounted at the back of the box for quick and easy access, and in its original location Performance West mounted a fuel cell. The combination of the rearward-mounted cell and spare tire improves the vehicle's balance. Should the Dakarta get into a bit of trouble in the backcountry (or more likely need to assist another vehicle), a Superwinch is mounted beneath the spare tire, and can be installed onto a Draw-Tite receiver hitch when duty calls.