You can always tell enthusiasts’ truck priorities by how their other cars look. Not surprisingly, Craig Howell’s ’98 Dakota occupies a three-car garage, while the rest of his fleet collects guano in the driveway. Craig started in the automotive scene by lowering a ’95 Neon and putting neat little things in to make it go boom. Shortly after he completed the Neon, a business sprung from the hobby. Who are we kidding? This is not just a hobby, this is life. The Dakota stands as Craig’s billboard for Sew & Sound, a custom interior and stereo business he owns with his wife Kemberly. Big Blue took First Place at Indy Bash and Best of Show in Frankton, Indiana’s car and truck show in 1999. Not bad for a first attempt!

Craig, his wife, and the usual complement of pizza-eating helpers spent the last two years modifying this stock Dodge Dakota. For starters Craig shaved the door handles, moved the gas filler neck to the bed, and did a dandy job on fabricating the bedcover and liner. Custom fabricated bedboxes contain the gas tank and stereo amplifiers and allow room for chubby rear tires. The truck’s sleek lines are improved by a narrowed bed-to-cab seam and lowered central bodyline. The tail has been finished by shaving the gate handle and moving the taillights into a respectably low and sleek rolled bumper. For that speedy look the Dakota sports a cowl induction hood and Speedgrill inserts. HardBodys of Denver, Indiana, finished the whole package in stock Dodge Metallic Blue.

Lowering a truck, as Craig knows and others will discover, is a challenge. To accommodate the dramatic lowering, the rear frame was C-notched to allow travel of the gear housing. To accommodate the front wheels the inner fenders were cut out. Craig tweaked the suspension with the addition of monoleaf springs and variable drop airbags from AirRide Technologies. The result is a full 5-inch drop in front and a 6-inch drop in back. At the push of a button, the suspension bags deflate for a total drop of 9½ inches all around. Toxic shocks sit atop Chassis Tech’s control arms that accommodate the front suspension bags. The ground connection is made by Goodyear 215x45 R17 Eagles wrapped around Dante 17x7-inch rims.

Craig is familiar with the quality of Dodge trucks from his work at the Chrysler Transmission Works in Kokomo, Indiana. As a result, the stock drivetrain is untouched. Craig runs a stock 318ci engine tied to the factory automatic. Rear power is transferred through the factory rearend at a ratio of 3.9. A K&N filter held in by an Edelbrock filtercan allows the engine to breathe and gives just a bit more oomph. Moroso valve covers with T-handle bolts make for quick valve access. And of course everything is spruced up by the addition of braided steel hosing.

Every cool ride needs cool tunes. As owners of Sew & Sound, Craig and his wife just had to put in a killer sound system. A Pioneer head unit controls the tunes. Sounds flow through two active equalizers. The front highs come from two Image Dynamic Competition speakers linked to a dual-channel 300-watt Image Dynamic amp. The rear lows are generated by two Autotech Monoblock 1,500-watt amps pushing eight 12-inch G&S Redline subwoofers. The rear seat has been deleted and a full cab separation wall added. The rear cab now holds Craig’s boom box and acts as a reverb chamber for all the sounds. Cutaways in the custom bedbox hold two Autotech 1500-watt amps that power the massive array of eight speakers. To complete the package Craig’s business added new covers to stock seats, wrapped the dash, and highlighted interior accents with good old Dodge Metallic Blue.

In the future, Craig plans to drop the frame 3 inches and add fastbags in the rear for on-the-fly lowering. A set of new 20-inch wheels and tires is also in the plans. And just in case those speakers aren’t loud enough, mid-bass and horn tweeters are due to be tucked under the dash. If you’re ever in Sharpsville, Indiana, look for blue and bring your earplugs.