Sadly, the market for performance trucks is relatively thin. The first two models that come to mind are the Ford Lightning, Dodge Ram SRT-10 and GMC Syclone. Although no longer in production, these trucks command well north of $15,000 in good condition in the used car market. Since most believe them to be the only models in their class, interested parties have to pony up if they want to get behind the wheel of these low-production trucks.
Every once in awhile, there is a vehicle that slips through the cracks and often goes unnoticed by the performance-minded crowed. One such model is the 1998-2003 Dodge Dakota R/T, which, along with the Shelby Dakota, is the only mid-size truck ever powered by a V8 engine. The 360 cubic-inch V8’s 250-horsepower and 345 lb.-ft of torque is channeled through a heavy duty 46RE automatic transmisssion and limited slip differential with a 3.92 gear ratio.
With a zero to sixty time under seven seconds and a quarter mile sprint in 15 flat, the R/T is quite the spirited performer right out of the box. Well-kept, low-mileage examples can still be found for $5,500 to $8,000, and you’ll be more than satisfied with the savings over a Lightning, SRT-10 or Syclone.
Jacob Mahin of Thayer, Missouri, sold his 2001 Lightning last spring for $8,000, an astounding price for an average condition model with nearly 200,000 miles. While it’s hard to fathom why one would pay such a steep price, he was only asking for the truck’s Blue Book value. After selling the Lightning, he wanted something a little smaller, and started looking through the classifieds for a low-mileage regular cab R/T.
The hunt finally ended in late-summer when he spotted a 1999 R/T in Texas with 53,000 original miles. After haggling with the seller, he bought the truck for $5,800. Best of all, this was no ordinary R/T. With a Mopar M1 intake manifold, Mopar PCM, Comp Cams roller rockers and a K&N AirCharger kit, the modifications gave the truck an estimated 30-horsepower increase without impairing daily drivability.
The truck had already been lowered on Eibach springs, and Mahin installed Belltech Street Performance shocks to complete the handling upgrade. A custom roll pan, clear corner lenses and flat-black R/T decals were also added, giving Mahin’s Dakota a stealth appearance and bad-boy attitude.
While not quite as fast as his Lightning, he doesn’t regret making the trade, especially with the extra $2,000 dollars stashed away for future upgrades. He said the R/T is easier to drive, especially in the corners. “It’s smaller and easier to manipulate,” Mahin said. And of course, judging by the length of the black marks in front of where he works, it might be a little more fun too.