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Top-down fun with America's mid-size truck
By Mitch Frumkin, published in OLD CARS magazine on October 28, 2004, page 67.

There's no denying that the Chevrolet SSR is a sexy hot rod.  Its cab magically transforms from a fully enclosed state to convertible form in less than 30 seconds.  Chevrolet even advertises it as the "American street machine."

Chevy rightly claims that it builds the world's first production truck with a retractable hardtop, but the SSR is not the first convertible pickup in the industry.

Ford began offering a factory-built roadster with a truck bed in the spring of 1925, and continued to offer the combination through 1934.

When Ford concluded production, the convertible truck idea faded away.  It wasn't until decades later that customized convertible trucks began to gain status on the West Coast.

By 1989, Dodge capitalized on the growing popularity of the specialty pickup market with the introduction of the Dakota Sport convertible.

This was the first postwar production ragtop pickup, and Dodge billed it as "the ultimate fun truck."  {It is still the only postwar production ragtop pickup.}

The Dakota Sport convertible featured a manual vinyl top that could be folded back and covered with a boot, or completely removed.  The unique hauler was based on a two-door pickup with a metal roof on its cab, and was assembled at Chrysler's Dodge City truck complex in Warren, Michigan.  From there, the trucks were shipped to American Sunroof Co. (ASC) several suburbs away.

ASC sliced the roof off and added the necessary components to turn it into a convertible for open-air excitement.

These Dakota Sport convertibles were sold as either as 4x2s or shift-on-the-fly 4x4s with a base price of $14,425.  All {only in 1989} trucks came fitted with a 125-hp, fuel-injected V-6 mated with a five-speed manual or optional three-speed automatic transmission.

Standard equipment included an integral padded sport roll bar; 15-in., cast-aluminum wheels; a tachometer; an AM/FM stereo cassette radio; deluxe wipers; power steering, power windows, and door locks; dual remote outside mirrors; and fog lights.

Exterior paint choices were red, black, or white with the grill, bumpers, headlight bezels, wheel lip moldings, door and tailgate handles painted black.

Decorative details on the convertible included an acrylic ram's head hood medallion plus added tape graphics on the body sides and tailgate.  Dodge impressed 2,842 Dakota Sport convertible buyers in 1989.

While the Dakota Sport convertible continued for 1990 with the 3.9-liter V-6, it was joined by a second variation, the Dakota SE convertible truck.  The SE came powered by a standard 2.5-liter engine and smooth-shifting, five-speed manual overdrive transmission.

Colors for 1990 were Colorado Red, Bright White, and Daytona Blue, or black.  A mere 1,039 {writer's mistake, there were 909} units were sold.

Legend has it that another eight Dakota Sport convertibles were built in 1991 by ASC to complete the remainder of its contract with Dodge.

Beginning in 2003, ASC was once again involved with the realization of a convertible pickup, but now it is with Chevrolet and its SSR, and this time the manufacturing procedure is reversed from how the Dodge Dakota convertible used to be constructed.

ASC first partially builds the SSR before it is shipped to General Motors for final assembly in the Lansing factory.

Obviously, the Chevy SSR is ultra cool, but with a 2004 base sticker price of $41,370, it's a rather pricey vehicle.

Used Dakota Sport convertibles in decent condition are advertised on the Internet for a more affordable $6,000 to $6,500, which enables those on a budget to still go topless in a pickup.
Complete text by Mitch Frumkin, corrections by me.

 

Another Write Up On The Truck.
By Jim Mateja
Chicago Tribune
November 19, 1989
Ford doesn`t have a lock on better ideas. Chrysler came up with one of its own-transforming the Dodge Dakota pickup truck into a convertible.

Weird? To be sure. Fun? No doubt about it.

We`ve always enjoyed the midsize Dakota truck. It`s larger, roomier and can handle more cargo than a compact Ford Ranger or Chevy S-10. Yet it`s smaller than a full-size Ford F-series or Chevrolet C/K pickup and therefore more fuel efficient and more manageable in such situations as backing into that one vacant parking spot.

But a convertible top adds a new dimension. If the truck owner can expose the cargo in the rear bed, why not expose his or her dome in the passenger compartment.

We test drove the Dakota truck and, despite temperatures in the mid-40s, we set out to remove the canvass and enjoy a fall cruise.

The top is easily removed. Lower the side windows, open the snaps above the sun visors and grab the top and lower it onto the bed in back of the driver`s seat. But beware the roll bar over driver and passenger head when lowering the top so you don`t bang it with your forearm.

The top rests against the rear truck bed and doesn`t fold down into it. So you have to ensure there`s no cargo in back that the top might hit and damage the plastic window or rip the canvass covering.

A boot covers the top to keep it fashionable. The problem is that the boot fits in a large duffle bag and finding room to store the bag in the passenger compartment is a chore. The top also can be completely removed.

It would be nice if Chrysler came up with a removable hardtop cover over the canvas so you`d have a choice of soft or hardtop motoring as in the TC by Maserati. Such a top was considered but the idea was shelved for 1990 based on cost. A removable hardtop is back under study for 1991, providing Chrysler can get the cost down.

Once the top was down, we followed the standard operating procedure for driving a convertible when the temperature is in the mid-40s. We pushed the heater lever to the farthest most point in red, turned the fan to high and took off.

Odd how fellow motorists took to the experience. Several of them must have been colder than we were because so many glanced at us and started shaking their heads from side to side. A couple walking huddled together along the lakefront in thin sweaters whose complexions were taking on the same hue as the water giggled at the fool in the ragtop truck with the top down.

Luckily the 3.9-liter V-6 that powered the truck was performing at optimum and after a few laps away from Tribune Tower it quickly brought us back. Fun and invigorating, but we don`t recommend a convertible test drive when it`s that chilly and the wind`s blowing in off the lake.

The vehicle carries a few words of caution. Don`t lower the top when the temperature is below 41 degrees or you risk cracking the plastic. And the manual warns not to visit an automatic car wash, risking damage to the top and window.

We experienced only one annoyance. Because the convertible top rests against the rear bed sides, it doesn`t lower flat. Part of the top sticks up and interferes with rear vision in the mirror. You have to use the side mirrors for optimum vision.

The Dakota truck offers a convertible version in the base two-wheel-drive model starting at $13,345, in upgraded two-wheel-drive Sport version for $15,500 and in the four-wheel-drive Sport version we drove starting at $17,650.

Standard equipment in the four-wheel-drive Sport includes the 3.9-liter V-6 teamed with a 5-speed manual, power brakes and steering, power windows and door locks, tinted glass, dual remote mirrors, sports styled steel wheels, AM- FM stereo with cassette and clock and leather wrapped steering wheel.

A 4-speed automatic transmission runs $819; air conditioning, $804; a 22- gallon fuel tank, upgraded from the standard 15 gallons, runs $53; and upgraded radio, $125.

Dakota 4WD Sport ragtop: Wheelbase: 112 inches, Length: 185.9 inches, Engine:3.9 liter, 125 h.p., V-6.   Transmission: 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic optional, Fuel economy: 15/19 m.p.g. manual; 15/20 m.p.g.