Musclecar fans undoubtedly recall the Challenger T/A of the early-'70s. Dodge was the last one to the pony-car party, but it spent its time wisely, perfecting its entry. The Challenger debuted with engine options that included the powerful 440 six-barrel and the mighty 426 Hemi. It had all the sound and fury of a championship Trans Am car, and today has become a coveted collector vehicle.
Times have clearly changed, and trucks now dominate the landscape. Not that we have a problem with that, but we really dig the look and feel of a big-block barn burner. Well, now you can have your truck and beat 'em too with the Dodge Dakota T/A, a customized one-off show vehicle from Performance West Group. (This company regularly produces some of the hottest show vehicles on the planet, some of which have inspired a special edition, such as the popular Rumble Bee.) Designed to show the potential of Dodge's new mid- (or nearly full-) size pickup, the Dakota T/A picks up where the original Challenger T/A left off, adding 21st century technology and sophistication.
First, though, a bit about the stock vehicle, since it's the new bully on the block. What's significant about the '05 Dakota is its V-8 engine, which none of the compact trucks have. OK, we're disappointed it's not a Hemi, but the 230hp 4.7L is the same one available in the Dakota's bigger brother, the Ram, and there's a High Output version now available as well (see sidebar).
Also, a stock Dakota with a V-8 costs several thousand less than most V-8-powered fullsize pickups in the extended-cab configuration (now standard on the Dakota). So the Dakota supplies more power than the little ones for less money than the big ones. Score two big points for Dodge.
In addition, while competitors have been increasing the size of their small trucks, Dodge made the new '05 Dakota a good deal bigger than rivals' lately enlarged compact trucks. In fact, the Dakota is now nearly fullsize. How close to fullsize is the '05 Dakota? It's the same length as a fullsize Toyota Tundra extended-cab pickup and just 6 inches shorter than a Ford F-150 crew cab.
The only downside is that the Dakota remains midsize in towing - 7,150 pounds maximum versus 9,000-plus for the true big rigs - and width, some 7 inches narrower than a typical fullsize pickup. That eliminates the comfort of a fullsize pickup's sprawling interior. On the other hand, the power/weight ratio is improved by keeping the Dakota leaner and meaner. Not only that, the Dakota's athletic track-width translates into crisper handling.
Taking things one step further, what did Performance West Group do to enhance this new "right-sized" pickup? Starting from the outside in, the Dakota T/A glistens with House of Kolor's Plum Crazy, one of the most unforgettable, high-impact colors to ever grace a Dodge. Fittingly, it's accented with a white T/A body-side graphic, ensuring that this Dakota will suffer as a shrinking violet.
Adding to the image of the Dakota T/A is an audacious Six Pak hoodscoop by RKSport that is based on the original design found on the Challenger T/A. Black anodized diamond wire mesh serves as the background accent for the chrome grille shell. Beneath the fascia is an aerodynamic air dam that smoothes out the frontal area for improved airflow, setting the classic performance tone for the entire vehicle. And Classic Design's hood pins hint at the potential lurking under the hood.
While the engine doesn't produce the output of a 426 Hemi, it does show some upgrades that are ready right now. Kenne Bell provided additional power for the 4.7L Magnum V-8 engine with an Optimizer II system that tweaks the nose of the factory computer. This module upgrades the stock calibrations that typically reduce power output at the gear changes to soften the shifts. Not only does it add a quick boost of 18 hp, Kenne Bell claims, it also reduces trans slippage. (Incidentally, Kenne Bell also offers a twin-screw supercharger for the 4.7L engine that can raise the power by 40 percent or more, depending on the pulley size.)
On the Dakota T/A, a MagnaFlow after-cat dual exhaust system ensures freer breathing. It not only adds horsepower, but also produces a sound that will be music to the ears of any performance enthusiast. The intake system has also been breathed on with a cool-air intake that increases ram effect, while Iridium spark plugs provide optimum combustion.
Additional exterior enhancements include a Gaylord's lid, which tapers into a spoiler and a smooth rollpan. The TecOne lowered suspension from Advantage Performance creates that predatory stance projected by musclecars of an earlier era. Ensuring that the Dakota T/A remains faithful to its namesake, the suspension system has not only been lowered, but also tuned to carve corners with the use of performance springs, shock absorbers, and antisway bars.
Completing the burly big-bore look are 22-inch Oasis multipiece alloy wheels and Toyo Proxes S/T tires. The rims were crafted with elliptical windows inspired by those found on the original Dodge Rally wheels. A set of Stainless Steel Brakes disc brakes brings this purple people-eater to a clenching halt.
Inside the Dakota T/A, the Challenger theme continues, with Katzkin custom leather upholstery for both style and comfort. The supportive bucket seats are covered in glove-soft leather that artfully integrates the exterior colors, complemented by embroidered matching floor coverings. Another highlight of the interior is a giant Mopar Monster tach and shift light mounted conspicuously on the dashboard. Partly for privacy and to minimize damage from UV rays, the dark-tinted glass also adds contrasting emphasis to the cabin area.
The Dodge Dakota T/A is a no-nonsense modern-day muscle machine, with the power, handling, and braking to make short work of other lesser sport trucks. And while the '70 Challenger T/A rumbled the streets more than 30 years ago, some things never change, such as the famous axiom, "There's no replacement for displacement." Armed with its high-torque Magnum V-8, the Dodge Dakota T/A is ready to wreak havoc on any vehicle whose owner is fool enough to think otherwise.
The Dodge Dakota T/A captures the spirit of its legendary ancestor, amplifying it in a modern platform. In a vehicle category where small-displacement engines with only four, five, and or six cylinders are the norm, the Dodge Magnum V-8-powered Dakota T/A plays with these wimpy wannabes like a cat plays with a mouse. Needless to say, at the end of the day, the mouse is history. Is that plum-crazy or what?