When Nick Vandehey saw his first 'bagged truck rolling around his hometown of Glendora, California, he knew that he would one day own one. There was just something about the way a truck looked when it was laid out over a set of flashy wheels that he liked. That spark of interest soon led to the purchase of a '99 Dodge Dakota and the start of a lifetime hobby.
Fortunately for Nick, his dad's involvement with racing fabrication had not only familiarized him with suspension components, but had also provided the opportunity to acquire some welding skills. Those skills would prove to be a valuable asset since Nick would soon learn that there aren't a whole lot of aftermarket parts available for the Dodge Dakota line.
A search through the pages of several magazines as well as the Internet didn't turn up much for suspension components. The truck was put in the air and the wheels were removed for a close inspection of the OEM suspension. Nick determined that the frame would need to be notched near the lower control arm and the upper control arms would need some work in order to clear the exhaust manifold. Once the modifications were made, Nick reassembled the frontend, replacing the stock springs with Firestone 'bags and plumbed them with 1/2-inch line.
Out back, the bed was removed and a custom monster notch was welded to the framerails. A custom reverse triangulated four-link was set up and welded into place to keep the rearend in proper alignment through its articulation. Firestone 'bags were mounted to the links and hooked up to four Parker valves. Since wheel selection was minimal, 20-inch Alba Blaze wheels, originally for a Honda Accord, were filled and redrilled with the Dodge lug pattern. Nitto 555 35-series tires were mounted to the wheels and set on each corner.
Now that the truck laid on the ground, Nick wanted to change up the factory red to Alpine Pearl White. Insane flames in Azusa, California, was enlisted not only to complete the color change, but to also throw on some graphics. The rear bumper was removed and a Sir Michaels roll pan was molded into the rear of the truck. Above the roll pan, the tailgate handle was shaved, as well as the emblems and antenna. A set of tribal flames was laid out and shot with a five-color fade that runs from light silver to dark gray over the hood, doors, and rear fenders. Insane Flames sprayed the dash, console, steering column, and door handles to complement the exterior.
Audio Innovations in Glendora was put in charge of the upholstery and stereo installations within the Dakota. The crew reformed the stock seats and covered them with gray and white vinyl as well as stitched in a flame pattern within the inserts. The headliner and door panels were given the same vinyl treatment, and a custom speaker box was built behind the seats. Within the box, two 12-inch Rockford Fosgate subs were installed and crowned with a 1,000-watt MA Audio amp. Four Alpine 6.5-inch speakers were installed within the cab and powered using two 250-watt Rockford Fosgate amps, which were installed behind the sub enclosure. A PlayStation was mounted to the center console and, along with a Pioneer DVD player, was wired to the Pioneer flip-out head unit.
The final touches were added to the interior with billet doorsills, a rearview mirror, and pedals. Under the hood, a JET Performance chip and K&N filter were installed. The stock exhaust was removed and replaced with 2.5-inch tubing and Flowmaster mufflers for a nice growl.
According to Nick, he enjoyed building his Dakota. It was challenging, but the payoff was well worth the hard work and frustration that went into the project. One word of advice he has, though, is to make sure you check the availability of aftermarket parts before you start a project. Otherwise, you may be biting off more than you can chew.