Chest-thumping power, but not exactly safe for hauling.
What’s better than buying one Dodge Dakota Convertible? Buying two Dodge Dakota Convertibles, of course
Convertible pickup trucks are few in number. Technically, there was the Ford Model A, and I guess we’ll give a nod to the Chevrolet SSR, if you really want it, but perhaps the best example of this rare body style arrived as the automotive world tipped into the final decade of the 20th century. From 1989 to 1991, Dodge partnered with American Sunroof Corporation (ASC) to build a drop-top Dakota, with Dodge shipping completed hard-top models to ASC’s Southgate, Michigan, facility to have their roofs cut off and vinyl roofs installed instead. Roughly 3700 examples were built over the two-year run.
That’s not a lot of topless Dakotas. Which is why, when a Craigslist ad materialized on my screen offering up not one but two Dakota Convertibles for sale, my eyes lit up like the beacons of Gondor. The subjects—a blue 1990 model year and a red example from 1989—looked to be astonishingly clean, and the listing offered comprehensive descriptions of both vehicles. Whoever was selling these clearly knew what was up, and also had a certain disposition for the unconventional.
We reached out to the seller, eager to learn the how and why behind these things. Bill Brandt is the man behind the pair, and he kindly shared with Hagerty the story of how he came to hold two sets of Dakota convertible keys.
Back in 2013, Bill was doing what most of us do with spare time—browsing Craigslist in search of an old truck to fiddle with. “I saw the ad [for the 1990 example] and thought, well that would be cool, I vaguely remember when those came out,” he explained. It was less than an hour’s drive from him, so he went and checked it out. The seller had owned the truck since new, and after looking it over, Bill decided to take the plunge. Five Michigan winters at the hands of the first owner meant that the door skins and front fenders needed replacing due to rust, and Bill also refreshed the brakes at all four corners.
By his reckoning, the Blue ’90 is quite the rare bird. “[Dodge] only built 909 [Dakota convertibles] in 1990, but this one is even more rare because it’s a four-cylinder, five-speed stick,” he explained. He tried contacting Chrysler Historical to get build numbers for that drivetrain combination, but to no avail. “I’ve never seen another four-cylinder stick since I’ve had [this one].”
Odd vehicles tend to multiply; for Bill, the converti-trucks were no different. “Whenever you see one, you automatically say, whoa, I gotta go check this out,” he said.
The red 1989 Dakota Sport came onto his radar in 2016, much the same way that the blue one did: online shopping, this time via eBay. It was for sale in California at the time, and while the prospects of a likely rust-free example with a recently-replaced soft top were appealing, Brandt had no interest in paying to ship it cross country. He moved on—but not before printing out the listing.
The printout would come in handy not even a year later. Six months after passing over the red truck, one popped up for sale in Dearborn, of all places. It looked familiar, so Bill grabbed the printout, and compared the two. Same truck. He couldn’t ignore it a second time, and after a brief interaction with the seller, the truck was his.
The truck’s 3.9-liter V-6 was leaking oil when Bill brought it home, and he suspected bad valve gaskets. As he dug-in, he found more problems than he cared to address, so for less than the price of what the repair would cost, he sourced a remanufactured engine from Indiana-based Jasper Engines, complete with a three-year, 100,000-mile warranty. He figured the extra power would be nice—despite being fun to drive, the four-cylinder wasn’t exactly a rocket. “If you’re gonna pass someone, you have to make sure to give yourself plenty of space to do so,” he joked.
It’s likely that most of the remaining examples of the Dakota Convertible are now in collections somewhere—Bill met someone during a show at the Gilmore Car Museum who claimed to have three of them in their fleet. Still, these relics from a bygone time don’t change hands very often, especially not in pairs.
“It’s very rare for a Dakota Convertible to come up for sale, let alone two,” explains Hagerty valuation expert Adam Wilcox. “In the last 15 years, we have seen less than 10 at auctions. They almost always sell, but not for very much. The highest price we’ve seen was $12,190 at a GAA auction in 2016.” Interestingly, a white 1990 V-6 example is slated for auction at Mecum’s Indianapolis sale next month.
Still, the broader category that the Dakota Convertibles fit in—vintage trucks and SUVs—is one of the hottest segments going right now. Here’s Wilcox again: “Open-top SUV’s have been blowing up in the last few years with the rise of FJ40s, 4Runners, and first-gen Broncos. Traditionally ‘undesirable’ counterparts, like Scouts and later Broncos, have benefited from the popularity of the category.”
Brandt is asking $9700 for the Red V-6 1989 example, and $7500 for the blue four-banger 1990. The listings detail the extent of the repairs and work done to them since he’s acquired each. While finding the right buyer might take some time, Bill looks forward to getting the garage space back—he recently picked up a solid 1959 Dodge Coronet for his next project.
At the end of the day, the oddballs are the ones that endear us the most; they’re just as likely to stoke the curiosity of those around us at the gas station as they are to pique our interest the first time we find them online. “Ninety percent of the first question [onlookers] ask is, how did you cut the top off? And when you explain that it came that way, they can hardly believe it,” joked Brandt.
If you and your best friend are in the market to re-up your sun tans while hauling matching loads of gravel, we know a guy.