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Solid Axle Swap on a Dodge Dakota Pickup

Posted in How To: Transmission Drivetrain on March 1, 2017 Comment (0)
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It has been 17 years since Dodge came out with the Quad Cab Dakota as a 2000 model year option. That’s how long this diehard 1990s Dodge fan has wanted to use a four-door Dakota for a solid axle swap project. Years ago, you may have even seen my old 1994 Dodge, Jinxy, occasionally grace the pages of 4-Wheel & Off-Road. I still have Jinxy, but it is now a 23-year-old two-seat truck (still in great condition) that I’m starting to drive like a pansy in the dirt. I need a Dodge that I won’t worry about so much, and one that carries more than two people! And 1997-2004 4WD V-8 Dakotas and Durangos have become very cheap and easily replaceable. I picked this one up for around just under $2,000 with a beat-up body and worn-out suspension. But I didn’t need any of that suspension, and bodywork wasn’t a concern because it was time for me to build my own 4xQuad! Are you even old enough to remember that project?! The solid axle Quad Cab Dakota on Boggers that Craig Perronne and Off Road Unlimited put together for 4WOR in 2000 was a game-changer. Best known as the 4xQuad, it was an even more impressive build than most people realize considering the project’s crazy time constraints. But almost two decades later I have had some more time to plan my build, and we’re going to try to make a few improvements on that original recipe—and maybe use a little cheaper powerplant, too (the 4xQuad was outfitted with a high-zoot 575hp 500ci Dodge V-8).

We built the 4xQuad as a go-not-just-show project for the 1999 SEMA Show. The final installment of the project series was in the June 2000 issue. With a 500ci V-8 good for 625 lb-ft of torque, Dana 60s on four-links and coilovers, and 39.5-inch Boggers cutting the trails, it was a game-changer.

So why build a Dakota, especially considering that the off-road aftermarket gave them no respect? To start, a Dakota is basically a fullsize truck platform with a midsize body on it. The frames are literally the width of the fullsize truck frames. But to stay with a midsize truck track width, Dodge made an unimpressive torsion-bar independent front suspension with short little A-arms and about 6 inches of suspension travel. That didn’t bother the street truck guys, though, so a lot of engine hop-up and exterior parts are still available for Dakotas. The available Magnum V-8 engines (5.2L and 5.9L, and later 4.7L) put out a ton of torque and laughed at fuel economy, and for many years were the only V-8 offerings in a compact or midsize truck from the factory.

Now that Dakotas and Durangos are widely available cheap trucks to start with, they make great platforms to for cool projects. With the help of Metul Munky Fabrication, we are going to transform this old Dakota we’ve nicknamed Dangerfield into a fully caged, solid axle truck that’ll carry four people in the dirt and still be able to hit the highway in between the trails. Then we’ll see who gets no respect.

Admittedly, I bought a little bit of a fixer-upper for my solid axle Dakota project. But the engine runs strong, the interior was perfect (before we ripped out half of it), and the core of the body was decent on this 2001 Quad Cab Dakota.

Pros & Cons of a Dakota Platform for SAS

Pro
V-8 engine from the factory
1/2-ton drivetrain
Fullsize frame width (good and bad)
Enough room for full-sized guys
Same rear spring pad width as Ram 2500

Con
Weak overdrive transmission
Rack-and -pinion steering on 2000-up
Fullsize frame width (good and bad)
Poor aftermarket support
43-inch-wide frame horns at radiator

While aftermarket support is scarce, a few parts are available for Dakotas. Glassworks Unlimited has fiberglass fenders and bedsides for 1997-2004 Dakotas, and it was a great way to get more tire coverage and change the look of the truck, so Alex Kreidl went to work cutting off the original exterior sheetmetal of the fenders.
The front fenders actually went on without too much work, and fit pretty cleanly to boot. But the bedsides would prove to be much more difficult.
The Glassworks Dakota bedsides are made for the normal short beds found on single cab and extended cab Dakotas. When Dodge introduced the Quad Cab Dakota in 2000, it was with a shorter bed. Therefore, Louie’s Customs in Chatsworth, California, had to cut down and reshape the bedsides to fit our Quad Cab bed.
The Dakota frames are so wide that the spring perches on fullsize Dodge truck axles of the same era line up with the Dakota’s leaf springs. We used some U-bolts and blocks to mock the 2001 Ram 2500 Dana 60 in place, since we are eventually four-linking the rear end. But it’s neat to know that we could just throw a fullsize axle under a Dakota without any big modifications if we wanted.
If not swapping in a rear Dodge Dana 60 like we did, you may want to consider swapping to the Dodge 1/2-ton 9 1/4 axle to gain a 5-on-5 1/2 lug pattern. Why stay Dodge? Well, Dodges of this era have ring gear sensors and require an input to give speed and shift the transmission correctly. If you use a Dodge axle of the same era you won’t have to come up with some funky custom tone ring and sensor on the back of your T-case. We have blue tape stuffed in the sensor hole for now, just to plug it since our donor axle didn’t come with its sensor.
The lessons here? Don’t weld without protective eyewear, don’t grind without protective eyewear, and don’t lie upside down and take parts off a 130,000-mile-old truck and think you’re not going to get dirt and grease in your eyes without protective eyewear, dummy.
After pulling the differential and IFS out from under the Dakota, Jeffro Agnew used a Miller 625 X-Treme plasma cutter to blast off the IFS brackets.
The front crossmember was completely removed, leaving only the engine mounts and radiator support holding the frame together (we were half-wondering if the frame was suddenly going to spring out a quarter-inch or something upon the final cut). We will definitely need to build a new front crossmember (or two), but the factory IFS crossmember had to go.
With most everything off the Dakota frame, it was time to start prepping it and getting it ready for our solid axle plans.
There is a big dimple on each side of Dakota frames where the IFS used to be. Agnew will add a filler panel here to make it look cleaner and give us a flat surface to work off of.
While we could have stayed with 1/2-ton axles, saved money, and still had a pretty stout Dakota on 35s or 37s, this one is getting 40s and Dana 60 axles. The front ball joint (pre–Super Duty) Dana 60 was donated from an F-350.
The frames on Dakotas and Durangos are around 33 inches wide at the centerline of the front wheels and 38 inches at the centerline of the rear. The frame width problem comes with the fact that the front frame horns bow out 10 inches around the radiator support to be around 43 inches wide. Tire clearance could be an issue.
Another possible issue: The steering column shaft coming out of the firewall has a square end, not splined, and used to go to a rack-and-pinion steering setup. We may be popping apart this factory steering U-joint so we can put a custom steering shaft together.
We are using a variety of high-end rod ends from EMF Rod Ends to build radius arm front and four-link rear suspensions. The biggest are the Frankenheim joints to the left of the dollar and quarter. If we had planned this picture a little better, we would’ve used a Canadian dollar for size comparison since these joints are from north of the border.
To allow the radius arms some flex at the axle side, we are going to be utilizing poly bushings. Daystar has a new request form online that allows you to order custom-sized bushings to meet your needs. We’re going to figure out what we require, fill out the order form, and probably add in a few spare sets for down the road.
You can’t tell at this angle, but this tire isn’t going to be able to turn much. And not because of fender clearance but because the frame bows out 5 inches per side directly under the headlights. We are going to have to cut the front of the frame and reshape it. Would we have to do this with 35s or 37s? Possibly not. But this truck is getting 40s.

Sources

Daystar
Phoenix, AZ 85043
800-595-7659
www.daystarweb.com
Glassworks Unlimited Inc.
Huntington Beach, CA 92649
714-379-9134
http://www.glassworksunlimited.com
EMF Rod Ends & Steering Components
403-935-3540
http://www.emfrodends.com
Off Road Unlimited
877-563-1208
www.offroadunlimited.com
Miller Welders
920-734-9821
millerwelds.com

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