Mention the name Shelby to anyone remotely interested in cars, and the Pavlovian response is always Mustang. On the other hand, those with a bit more knowledge on Carroll Shelby’s automotive history might know all about his stint with Dodge through tthe 1980s, where he bolted turbochargers to a wide range of mediocre front-wheel drive runabouts to create some legitimately entertaining performance rides.
What many don’t know is that Shelby’s return to the rear-wheel drive V8 scene didn’t happen with the 2006 Mustang Shelby GT-H "Hertz" edition rental car. It actually took place in 1989 with the limited-edition Shelby Dakota, a gussied-up version of Dodge’s mid-size Dakota pickup truck. It was only offered for one model year, and only 1500 were built. This particular example is number 664, and despite 127,000 miles, it appears to have retained much of its 1980s glory.
What made the 1989 Shelby Dakota different from the standard Dakota? Mechanically speaking, not much. It offered a 5.2-litre, 175bhp V8 in place of the four- or six-cylinder engines used in the standard Dakota. Unfortunately, that engine was pulled straight from the full-size pickup line without any additional performance tweaks, despite the Shelby sticker on the air cleaner. The underpinnings were also nothing special—just the same heavy-duty suspension found on the Dakota Sport. Power went through a typical 190’s four-speed automatic, driving just the rear wheels. At least there was a limited slip differential to encourage tail-happy antics outside of town.
Exterior enhancements included the angled fiberglass “light bar” and blacked out front end with integrated driving lamps. Special striping made the most of the Dakota’s squat exterior, and five-spoke alloys certainly gave the little truck some tasteful street cred. Inside was run-of-the-mill Dodge for 1989, save for the Shelby dash plaque, Shelby steering wheel, and special upholstery festooned with the Shelby name (just in case you didn’t already know this was, you know, a Shelby).
So basically we have a stock V8 in place of a stock V6 and an appearance package that ensures even blind people can tell whose name is on the ticket. Admittedly I’m being a bit harsh here, because this is a cool little truck. Even though the V8 was nothing special, it still had considerably less weight to haul around compared to a full-size truck. It would hit 60mph in roughly eight seconds, turn a quarter-mile in 16.5 seconds, and it wasn’t terrible to toss through corners.
It was on-par with many 1980s performance cars, never mind other pickup trucks which at this point were still hopelessly utilitarian. Some say it even paved the way for future muscle trucks like the GMC Syclone and Ford’s SVT Lightning, both of which would appear just a few years later.
In any case, I like this truck. The $10,000 asking price seems pretty steep considering the mileage and the fact that standard Dakotas might bring $3000 on a good day. Its rarity and Shelby lineage make this truck a wildcard though, and I’d love to roll into a massive Shelby meet behind the wheel, if for no other reason than to troll all the Mustang guys who bought GT500s to keep wrapped in storage for 20 years in hopes of a big payday at Barrett-Jackson. I don’t ever see that happening, but that’s a topic for another article.
Ultimately, what we have here is V8 power, rear-wheel drive, 1980s nostalgia, Shelby lineage and exclusivity. That’s a great combination to have in a unique, inexpensive ride, and that’s why the 1989 Shelby Dakota is near the top of my want list.