Though today’s sport trucks are a rare breed, your quest to own a hot-rod pickup doesn’t have to follow the same path. Instead of waiting for the popularity of the segment to suddenly relive its glory days, your time is much better spent browsing the used car market to fulfill your need for speed.
Though the segment will always be best remembered by heavyweight competitors like the Ford Lightning, GMC Syclone, and Dodge Ram SRT-10, the slightly less heralded Chevy 454 SS and Dodge Lil’ Red Express also offer potent performance.
With limited production numbers and a rich performance heritage, these sport trucks caught the attention of collectors long ago and almost always have a high price tag attached. The ones that come up for sale are often found with low miles from owners who stashed them away knowing that these trucks were an investment. With good cause; they symbolize the a brief era in American performance history, and their value will only continue to increase.
But there is one sport truck that has managed to slip through the cracks. Whether it was due to a lack of proper marketing or its smaller size, the Dakota R/T always flew under the radar during its six-year production run from 1998 to 2003.
With Dodge’s iconic Magnum 360 cubic-inch V8 engine mated to a heavy duty 46RE automatic transmission, the Dakota R/T is a budget-friendly sport truck capable of generating plenty of thrills without emptying your savings account.
Available in both regular and club cab variants, Dodge offered sport truck enthusiasts a long options list to build a truck that best fit their needs. Regardless of the choice, these haulers featured the same impressive list of standard equipment.
The Magnum 360 is the star of the show here, with its 250 horsepower and pavement-shredding 345 pound-feet of torque. This powerplant was exclusive to the R/T line and offered a substantial power increase over the 4.7-liter V8 with its lesser 235 horsepower and 295 pound-foot rating.
The Dakota R/T’s standard 3.92 gear ratio and limited-slip differential is something you’d expect to find in a drag car. But you’re not likely to find any opposition — as the combination enables R/T owners to leave a pair of black marks longer than a new Hellcat. If you plan on taking this beast to the drag strip, be sure to throw a pair of drag radials in the bed and put them on at the track. Believe me, you won’t regret it.
With street tires, the Dakota R/T could sprint to 60 in seven seconds and cross the quarter-mile line in 15.5 seconds at nearly 89 miles per hour. While they’re certainly not Lightning or Syclone track times, the R/T is still a very respectable performer even by today’s standards. Even the discontinued Ford F-150 Tremor was only a second faster to 60 miles per hour.
But while the other trucks had a slight edge in straight-line acceleration, the Dakota R/T makes up for it with its lithe handling. A one-inch lowered suspension, quick-ratio steering box, and larger diameter front and rear sway bars makes the R/T a blast on winding roads. Oversized 17-inch diameter wheels also help the Dakota stick to the pavement around the tightest of corners.
While the Lightning, 454 SS and Ram SRT-10 are also equipped with comparable suspension and handling upgrades, the Dakota is the only truck that truly drives like a sports car. This is largely due to its smaller size, as a full-size pickup is simply too large to experience a similar feel.
With the sport truck segment dwindling, the Dakota R/T is one of the best options remaining for those who want their truck to be more than a utilitarian hauler. Though collectors have avoided the R/T for reasons unknown, that doesn’t mean you should too. The lack of interest will only work in your favor. Well-kept, low-mileage examples can be found in the $5,000 to $8,000 range, and you’ll be more than satisfied with the savings over more renowned models. Who knows, it could be just the sport truck you’ve been waiting for.