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A Crawling & Camping 2001 Dodge Dakota

Posted in Features on March 10, 2016
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Nick Bauer has had a passion for mechanical objects since he was a young child. When he was small he tackled small projects, but as an adult he has upped the challenge to bigger and better things. As a packaging engineer for forward-thinking Local Motors, Bauer has been inspired to pursue some unconventional designs such as the Dakota here.

Bauer purchased this 2001 Dakota truck about a decade ago in its stock 2WD form. The 4.7L V-8 proved to be a fun powerplant on the street and the strip. Then Bauer got the mild off-road bug so installed a mid-travel suspension kit and some 32-inch mud-terrains. After a careless driver backed into his Dodge and crumpled some sheetmetal, he replaced the fenders and bedsides with fiberglass and bumped up to 35-inch tires. But as fate would have it, the 2WD just wasn't taking him as far as he wanted to go in the boonies. It was time to start a major transformation.

Bauer sat down at a computer and modeled a new front suspension based on using links and coils. He designed a new front crossmember and removed the stock one to make way for a traditional power steering box .The frame was plated and mounts fabricated before a high-pinion Dana 44 axle was pulled underneath and hooked in with wristed radius-arm links. King coilovers tied to an engine cage support the front end of the truck. In the rear, a venerable 14-bolt axle was swapped onto 63-inch Chevy leaf springs on custom mounts. It's a reliable and relatively simple configuration.

After some wheeling with the newly fortified rig, Bauer decided he wanted to add some sort of camper to the bed for extended trips. He chose to adapt a Coleman Colorado tent trailer to his Dakota. Taking some cues from his Unimog, he fabricated a new internal structure of steel to replace the original wood frame. Ball bearing assemblies at each corner allow the bed to slide rearward about 3 feet to allow access to the entry door to the camper.

The result is a well-appointed truck that can tackle hard trails and get far into the backcountry for remote camping. Bauer learned from the experience of others, but it's quite evident he devised some interesting ideas of his own.

The front axle is a high-pinion Dana 44 sourced from a 1978 F-250 and uses dual-piston disc calipers. The Ford knuckles were drilled for 7/8-inch rod ends and placed in double-shear with some custom work. The weaker parts of the knuckles were reinforced with welded steel plate, then heat treated, and Nick Bauer designed his steering arm placement to preserve the proper Ackerman angle on the steering. Nitro shafts, a Spartan locker, and 4.10 gears all reside in the swapped housing. The front skidplate is a leftover piece from a Local Motors Rally Fighter.

Bauer designed the front suspension to replace the original IFS. The wristed lower links are 48 inches long and are built from 2.50x0.375-wall chromoly tubing. The Panhard is custom bent for tight clearance and constructed from 1.75x0.25-wall DOM tubing. King 18-inch-travel, 2 1/2-inch-diameter adjustable coilovers with remote reservoirs support the truck with 250- and 350-rated coil springs. The suspension is designed for 7 inches of compression travel and nearly 11 inches of droop. Steering comes from a 1979 F-250 power steering box mounted inside the frame. The framerail was sleeved and plated for reinforcement, then Bauer added a custom double-shear pitman arm. Tie rod and draglink were fabricated using 1.50x0.25-wall DOM tubing and welded-in threaded inserts for the 7/8-inch rod ends.

The rear axle is a beefy Corporate 14-bolt from a 1994 GM van. Ballistic Fabrication brackets were used for a disc brake conversion using 3/4-ton GM calipers. Inside is a Yukon Grizzly locker spinning another set of 4.10 gears. The full-float axle sits under a pair of 63-inch Chevy truck leaf packs that are damped using Doetsch DT3000 shocks. The final suspension results in a wheelbase of 135 inches.

Pop the hood and you'll find a nearly stock, original Chrysler 4.7L V-8 running the improved 2004 version intake manifold. But more goodies are stuffed under the hood today. The King coilovers poke up into the engine bay and attach to an asymmetrical tubular engine rollcage that Bauer snaked in. It was carefully designed to ensure that such components as the brake master would still be removable and serviceable.

Underneath the truck is more interesting hardware. Behind the stock 45RFE auto transmission, Bauer swapped on a 4WD tailhousing from a Jeep Grand Cherokee and fabricated an adapter to use a Jeep XJ transmission mount. An NP231 transfer case from a Jeep XJ was cut up to remove the front output chain drive, and an aluminum cap plate was TIG welded to seal the case back up

The NP231 was attached to the transmission tailhousing to serve as a doubler and connected via a short driveshaft to a divorced Ford Dana 24 transfer case sitting on a custom crossmember. Low-low transfer case ratio is now a slow 5.1:1.

Bauer turned a 2WD Dakota into a formidable expedition rig. This truck spends time on the highway, running desert trails, and getting out to backcountry camping locations. For the easier exploring the truck wears 40x13.50R17 Yokohama Geolander MT+ tires mounted on 17x8 Hummer H2 wheels with homebrew TIG-welded rock rings. For the tougher trails, Bauer swaps to 39x14.5R16 Bias Pitbull Maddogs clamped onto 16x8 Hutchinson GM Border Patrol double beadlocks.

After all the suspension and drivetrain custom work, Bauer turned his attention to constructing camping and sleeping quarters in the bed. A custom mounting system with a linear slide moves the camper backwards on the rear truck frame for access to the entry door. The camper sits on a 2-inch-square tube frame on a new section of the Dakota frame built from 2x6x0.125-wall rectangular tubing. A subframe sits above the main truck frame and articulates independently of it. Since the original body paint was aged and faded, Bauer broke out some Rustoleum spray and laid down a camouflage theme inspired by patterns used on WWI ships.

Tech Specs
2001 Dodge Dakota
Drivetrain
Engine: Stock 4.7L V-8 with 2004 intake
Transmission: Chrysler 45 RFE automatic with 4WD tailhousing
Transfer Case: Modified NP231 plus divorced Dana 24
Front Axle: High-pinion Dana 44, 4.10 gears, Spartan locker, Nitro shafts, double-shear arms
Rear Axle: GM Corporate full-float 14-bolt, 4.10 gears, Yukon Grizzly locker, disc brakes
Suspension
Springs & Such: 18-inch-travel, 2 1/2-inch-diameter adjustable King coilovers with wristed radius-arm links (front); 63-inch Chevy leaf packs and Doetsch DT3000 shocks (rear)
Tires & Wheels: 40x13.50R17 Yokohama Geolander MT+ tires mounted on 17x8 Hummer H2 wheels, 39x14.5R16 Bias Pitbull Maddogs on 16x8 Hutchinson GM Border Patrol double beadlocks
Steering: 1979 F-250 power steering box, crossover steering, Surplus Center hydraulic assist ram, OEM pump
Other Stuff: Glassworks Unlimited fiberglass front fenders, custom bumpers, radiator skidplate, engine cage, custom sliding bed frame with Coleman Colorado camper

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