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Here's Why The Dodge D-series And First-Gen Dakota Make Great Gen III Hemi-Powered Muscle Trucks

Author: Bryan McTaggart | 02/24/2021 < Back to Motor Life Home
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Dodge trucks have always held a bit of a mystique. Ram tough. Workhorses. Pickups that echoed the utility of the legendary Power Wagon line of trucks, had the best of Chrysler's engines under the hood, and could tolerate all of the abuse that could be tossed their way. That was back when a truck was just a truck...a tool, an oversized wheelbarrow with license plates that was parked when it was time to actually go enjoy the drive. But Dodge was also the first of the manufacturers to really see the pickup truck as something more. Between 1964 and 1965, you could order the D-series pickup as a Custom Sports Special, complete with a 426 Wedge under the hood...the first sport truck. In the late 1970s, Dodge figured out that there was a lot of wiggle room for trucks in the emissions regulations that had hammered the musclecars of just a few years prior. This produced a fleet of vehicles that fell under Dodge's somewhat awkwardly named "Adult Toys" lineup, including the rowdy small-block powered L'il Red Express and the dealership package Midnite Express shortbed, stepside trucks. Dodge themselves even got into the act, with the Dodge Ram SS/T and the Ram VTS (Viper Sport Truck) concept of the mid-1990s and the ultimate in factory overkill, the Ram SRT-10, complete with an engine happily donated by the Viper group. Could you make use of over 500 horsepower and 525 ft/lbs of torque? We're sure you could.


And while we're on the subject of trucks, let's not forget the medium-sized Dodge Dakota. Showing up in 1987 as an in-between between compact trucks and a full-size platform and never truly rivaled in size, the Dakota proved popular...even more so when a V8 was stuck under the hood. Carroll Shelby was the first to cram the 318ci small-block under the hood of 1,500 examples from the 1989 run and Dodge followed suit in 1991. The Dakota even has one very special variation that precious few trucks can touch: it came as a convertible. The original V8 Dakotas weren't the barn-burners of yesteryear, with only 175 horsepower at first and only moving up to a maximum of 230 horsepower during the first-generation's production run. But they traded off outright firepower for a surprisingly competent handling setup, especially on the Shelby and Sport models.


The engineers at Holley can appreciate the history that both trucks have, but let's be quite fair about one thing: they love horsepower and love to add more wherever they can. So whether you've located a farm-fresh D150 that needs a replacement engine for the absolutely exhausted 318 or you're wanting to build the ultimate corner carver out of a first-generation Dakota, rest assured that the teams have been busy looking at how to apply the current crop of Gen III Hemi engines that have been pouring out of the factory into these classic haulers. From engine and transmission mounts to Terminator X engine management systems that can run the Hemi in place of a factory ECU, Holley has gotten the Gen III Hemi swap program for these trucks down pat. In fact, we have an example of each of them in-house, and they both work flawlessly and move with alarming haste. Follow along as we explore them in closer detail.

1984 Dodge Ram D100


Gen III Trucks 1984 Dodge D100 front quarter


Many people remember trucks like the L'il Red Express, the Warlock and other hot Dodge trucks of the 1970s fondly. But in the 1980s, they were just trucks again. And that's a shame, in our eyes...cleaned up, we think they have a nice charm to them and since there were few changes made between 1972 and 1993, sorting one out into a very potent example of the breed shouldn't take much work. The engine bay is expansive, the chassis is durable, and the best thing? It's a 1980s Dodge truck...nobody would see you coming a mile away, especially when painted in Beige Sand, the most unassuming color next to "basic work truck white". But that's what makes this 1984 Ram special. Well, that, and the 392 thumping away under the hood. Arriving at Holley as a well-kept truck with one of the cleanest interiors we've seen in a minute, what was a super-clean truck has now turned into a wolf in sheep's clothing. Yes, on the outside, those wheels hint that some work has been done, but let's be honest with ourselves here. How many trucks have you seen that sport a set of wheels and little else? That's the difference...while this looks like some gentle 318-powered truck that has been loved all of it's life, what you're really seeing is a legitimate muscle truck, built around the powertrain of a 2015 Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack 392. From the factory, it's 485 horsepower and 475 ft/lbs of torque were more than plenty for a truck that might have come from the factory with as much as 177 horsepower...or as little as 95 horsepower.

The 6.4L Hemi and its modified Tremec TR6060 are central to the D100's core. They are mounted into the Dodge using Hooker BlackHeart motor mounts (BHS524) and transmission crossmember (BHS525), a polyurethane transmission mount (71223029HKR) and a TR6060 transmission adapter (BHS528). Outside of the Holley Gen III Hemi Alternator and Bracket Kit (97-369), actually fitting the engine into the truck is simple, thanks to the Dodge's ample engine bay. A Mopar 392 Crate Hemi Engine Kit (Mopar p/n 77072454AF) provides the power distribution center, the accelerator pedal, the engine wiring harness, the chassis harness, sensors, and the PCM. The Hemi is fed via a custom sending unit that is modified with a 255 LPH fuel pump (12-935) and and returnless regulator (19-390) that is installed in a 1992-1993 Dodge Ram fuel tank. The Tremec 6060 has a Magnum tail shaft conversion by Bowler and a Hurst Blackjack forward-position short-throw shifter (3918309) and Hurst shifter stick (5384331). Exhaust gases are pushed out through a custom set of prototype cast-iron exhaust manifolds and aftermarket replacement catalytic converters for a 2015 Dodge Challenger. The spent gases then feed into a Hooker BlackHeart exhaust kit (BH2356) that mimics the rear-side-exit style of exhaust that came on these trucks from the factory...and just take our word for it, the sound is properly good. The clutch master cylinder is a later-model Dodge D-series unit and it operates a factory replacement Hellcat dual-disk clutch and hydraulic slave cylinder, which sends power through an Inland Empire driveshaft out to a 4.10 geared rear axle with a limited-slip. The D100 is lowered with a set of modified Dodge B-series van control arms up front and a custom-made flip kit in the rear.

VK090029

If you want to get everything together in one shot, why not consider one of the Hooker BlackHeart Swap Kits? Instead of buying the pieces separate, you get most of the kit together and will only need to order the transmission adapter bracket for your planned build (VK090029, for D100, pictured)



If you've been craving a Mopar musclecar but have no intention of paying the "Mopar Tax" to buy one, or you simply want to wake up that old farm truck that is sitting, waiting for it's second shot at glory, we have the solution right here. The cost isn't too bad...to duplicate this truck, including the original $6,500 purchase price of the Ram, would be about $17,000 total, $5,000 of that in the engine and transmission that we chose. And the program works. We know...this is one of two D100 pickups that Holley has put together, the other being a longbed with an automatic! Driving the D100 provides sensations that seem familiar to anyone who has spent time in an older Mopar like a 1971-up Charger or Road Runner. The suspension is a bit tighter and the steering is certainly improved, but you have the proper width of the old machines, the correct sound coming out of the exhaust, and the same overall sensation. Put the transmission into gear and drive it like it's a cruiser, and you get that fat torque band that allows you to loaf along at will. Lay into the throttle and you will find the moment the rear tires lose the battle with the torque, and from then on it's an old-school wrestling match between man and machine, just like the wild days of the 440-6 cars and the High Impact paint codes. Except this time, the fuel mileage is much improved and you can bring home a pile of 4x8 sheets of plywood if the need arises.

1995 Dodge Dakota Sport


Gen III Hemi Trucks Dakota front close


Yes, it says "sport" right there on the front fender. Yes, it has that lower air dam that was inspired by the 1989 Shelby Dakota's piece. But look at it...six lug wheels and all. Would you expect this truck to not only move out in a straight line, but hang with you in a corner as well? Would you expect it to shock Mustang and Camaro owners into stone silence as they just watched a stock-looking white pickup truck wipe the smile right off of their faces? That's the purpose behind Holley's 1995 Dodge Dakota Sport. It looks nearly showroom fresh, with minimal age on it, but if the Ram is a mild sleeper, this is professional-level trickery the likes of which haven't been seen since Houdini. We've seen trucks in similar condition driven by gentle old men who use them to haul a small fishing boat to the lake for a peaceful day on the water. This Dakota will haul more than a little john-boat, make no mistake.

But the Dakota's best trick might not even be the engine, but the way it handles. Even with the bump in power, the Dakota shines in the corners. It's not just "good, for a truck" but good, period. Effectively, it's a similar build to the D100, just in a smaller package: a crate 6.4L Hemi and TR6060 six-speed manual transmission are mounted via Hooker BlackHeart engine mounts (BHS544), Polyurethane Transmission Mount (71223029HKR), Transmission Crossmember (BHS545) and Crossmember Adapter Bracket for the Tremec TR6060 (BHS528). The Hemi is still operating on the factory EFI and management system. Just like the D100, the TR6060 utilizes an OEM clutch master cylinder and pedal and Hellcat dual-disk clutch. Just like the D100, all of the factory gauges are fully operational, so you can't even peek inside and see anything amiss.


If the D100 is the achievable option for an older Chrysler street machine, then the Dakota's personality is more like an answer to a hopped-up IROC-Z or Fox Body. The first corner surprises you more than the first full-throttle 1-2 shift. While you have to be wary that this is still a truck with a ton of grunt, the suspension almost encourages you to find a road course for some fun times. The Dakota feels car-like compared to the D100, so much so that there really isn't a truck comparison that comes close. The best vehicles to pit against it would be the performance models of the later 1980s, the GM G-bodies like the Buick Grand National, Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS, and Oldsmobile 442, the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, or a 5.0L Ford Mustang with a good set of tires on it. If this truck new had half the power it has now...half...it would've cleaned up against every last one of those offerings back in the day. You want to talk about giving new life to old metal? That old fishing truck becomes something wicked with a Gen III Hemi transplant!


Gen III Hemi Dodge Trucks rear


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