If you’re yearning for a convertible pickup truck, but the new Jeep Gladiator is too damn expensive and the Kaiser M715 military truck is too tank-like, run to your bank right now and withdraw $4,500. That’s how much this ridiculously rare 1989 Dodge Dakota convertible is selling for on Craigslist. Between its red bench seat, ragtop, and 4x4 drivetrain, this little truck is damn near perfect.
Many of you are in dire need of comfort as our world struggles through a pandemic. Some will turn to huge tubs of Neapolitan ice cream and romantic comedies. Others will work out in their homes to burn off the stress. But the smart ones among us know that there’s no greater comfort than a yard full of automobiles to talk to when you’re feeling lonely in quarantine. And the best conversationalists are the vehicles with amazing stories. Like this Dodge Dakota.
This truck will tell you all about how it beat the odds, because really, it shouldn’t exist. The market for it is essentially just “Texas cowboys who moved to California; learned about the Ganja and the sweet, sweet jams of Foghat thanks to their new liberal roommates; and somehow turned into surfer bros.” I’m pretty sure that’s one in the ad on the left (note the surfboards in the bed). Possibly the one.
And yet, the Dodge Dakota Sport convertible somehow came into existence, and stayed in this earthly realm four a couple of model years starting in 1989.
The trucks were basically just first-generation Dakotas with their roofs and B-pillars lopped off and replaced with a roll bar and soft top. The whole process was done by a Michigan-based outfitter called American Sunroof Corp, or ASC, which was more recently renamed American Specialty Cars.
The website dedicated to coach-built cars and appropriately named coachbuilt.com writes about how the truck came to be, and how it ultimately flopped like its fabric roof, with Dodge selling only about 3,000 in total. From the site:
Dodge’s 1989-1990 Dakota Sport Convertibles and 1990 Dakota SE Convertibles were transformed by ASC. The Dakota Convertible was the first production convertible pickup that had been built since 1931. The truck was built using 2-door Dakotas that had been built by Dodge in its Warren, Michigan assembly plant. The ASC conversion included and integral roll bar and special graphics and were available with either 2wd or 4wd drivetrains, but otherwise the truck remained stock. 2,842 of the vehicles were built in 1989, but production fell to half that number, 909 in 1990. The vehicle’s slow sales killed the project in 1991, although an additional 8 vehicles may have been produced in 1991.
Anyway, back to this red one for sale in northern Michigan. It comes to me from a reader named Rich, who wrote in his email: “Came across this in my general Craigslist search of northern Michigan where I live. Somebody should write about this.” Rich is correct.
Someone really needs to write about the incredible burgundy interior on this machine. How that color dominates every surface including the beautiful bench seat, the dashboard, the steering column, the door panels, and even the seatbelts. It’s absolute 1980s perfection:
Someone should definitely write about the truck’s 42RH four-speed automatic transmission, and how that someone would rather have the NV2500 five-speed manual also available in early Dodge Dakotas. Whoever writes this should admit that, if they had to have an automatic transmission in a pickup, they’re totally cool with it so long as it’s a column shift. And just look at that lovely stick hanging off of that burgundy Saginaw steering column; it’s a beauty.
Speaking of sticks, the writer should point out the one emerging from the center transmission tunnel. The lever is connected to a New Process NP-231 transfer case shared with many Jeeps of the era. In four-wheel drive, it locks the front and rear driveshafts, and it also offers a 2.72 low range.
Someone should definitely mention that bolted to the drivetrain is a 3.9-liter V6, which was basically an LA-series 5.2-liter V8 (which has roots all the way back to the 1960s, and which was built at the Detroit-based Mound Road Engine Plant) with a few cylinders “chopped off.” The V6 was developed from the old motor to keep costs down, specifically for the first-generation Dodge Dakota, as the Chrysler-focused website Allpar notes:
The 3.9 V6 was a close relative of the 318 V8, even keeping the bore and stroke, created because the upcoming Dodge Dakota needed a V6 engine. Creating a new V6 would have taken too much time and money.
Willem Weertman, the head engine designer, said, “They wanted to have an upgrade power plant from the 4-cylinder; the V-6 was designed as a way of furnishing a V-6 for the least possible tooling costs. Because of capital investment, we didn’t want to get into a whole new engine. We just wanted see what we could do with what we had and that caused us to look at the V-6 version of the Mound Road Engine. That was the way it was done.
Given the rarity of this truck, and the apparent good condition (minus some paint clear coat problems and what looks like a ding in the passenger’s side fender—which, along with the driver’s fender, looks to have been replaced or at least repainted), the $4,500 asking price doesn’t seem bad. Someone should heed Rich’s advice and consider stating that in written form.
I’d suggest this author mention how the seller claims the machine is rust free, which is a miracle in Michigan, though the image above clearly shows some rust at the base of the tailgate. This appears to be a classic case of a Michigan Craigslister being in denial about their vehicle’s rust issues.
The Dakota has only 108,000 miles on the odometer, and the Gaylord, Michigan-based seller says it has “always been garaged and well maintained.”
Whoever ends up writing about this truck should mention how the last and only time they saw one of these rare converti-trucks was in the yard of a Michigan man who was being forced by his local township to sell off his rather enormous car collection. That machine looked like this:
It’s probably safe to say that quite a large percentage of the ~4,000 Dakota Sport Convertibles ever sold are in similar or worse shape, so this one for sale in Gaylord could be the one for you, especially if you don’t want to spend over $10 large on a pristine example.
It’s a cool truck, and someone really ought to write about it.