Dodge trucks haven't enjoyed the same degree of mass audience acceptance accorded GM and Ford pickups, so rather than butt heads with the big boys, Dodge has found success in niche markets. One of the company's better ideas was the midsize Dodge Dakota pickup. The Dakota fits nicely between compact pickups like the Dodge D-50 (which is essentially a Mitsubishi pickup) and fullsize Dodge Ram trucks.

Dakotas started with four- and six- cylinder engines, but soon a V-8 was added to the lineup. The addition of optional V-8 engines turned a pleasant, friendly size pickup into a muscle truck. Initially, the 5.2L (318ci) V-8 was the only option, but eventually, the potent 5.9L (360ci) Magnum V-8 was also offered.

The Dakota project was started in 1983. It was supposed to be another shared platform with Mitsubishi, but it was too big to qualify for a favorable road-tax bracket in Japan. During development, the Dakota was known as the N-truck. The Dakota was officially introduced October 2, 1986.

Dakotas were first offered as standard-cab trucks with either a 61/2-foot box (112-inch wheelbase) or an 8-foot box (124-inch wheelbase). The cab was promoted as a true three-man truck. The fit was still snug but much better than mini trucks. The introduction of the Club Cab body style in 1990 greatly increased the interior room and boosted the Dakota's popularity.