4BT Cummins + Solid-Axle Swap = The Dodge Dakota of Your Dreams
When you’re surrounded by hundreds of incredibly modified trucks, it can be difficult to stand out in the pack. Unless however, your truck happens to be a Cummins-powered Dodge Dakota sporting a custom air-ride suspension and solid-axle conversion! When we were perusing the 2017 Daytona Truck Meet, we came across Ben McWhorter’s 2000 Dodge Dakota quad cab. Having owned a few Dakota pickups over the years, Ben knew all of the truck’s weak links extremely well.
For this build, he made sure to take his time and get everything exactly as he wanted. After compiling parts for two years, Ben connected with Cole Sercer of Sercer Machine to make his truck dreams a reality. Although Ben had collected parts for some time, it wasn’t until 10 weeks before the Daytona Truck Meet that the Dakota build would be kicked into high gear.
The video above offers a glimpse into the build from the owner himself, while we’re diving even more into the details in the feature breakdown below.
Though you could get a Dakota from the factory with a 5.9L V8, there was never a diesel option. Looking for more torque and fuel efficiency, Sercer Machine dropped in a 3.9L Cummins 4BT turbodiesel. With a relatively large engine bay, the revamped and intercooled diesel engine was made to look as though it rolled off the showroom that way.
The Dakota’s original independent front suspension doesn’t have a great track record off-road. To ensure the truck had a more durable front end, a high-pinion Dana 44 was sourced from an older Ford F-250. The eight-lug axle was paired with a PSC Motorsports hydraulic assist steering kit, which works with the custom crossover steering system.
Supporting the front end is a custom air bag setup that’s dampened via Bilstein 5100 series shocks. The bag system uses an under-bed mounted holding tank, which is filled via an engine-driven air compressor.
Packaging a solid-front axle under a vehicle that never came with one can be especially challenging. To get the travel and control they were looking for, a custom three-link was fabricated. The tubular crossmember you see is supporting an NV4500 manual transmission which is connected to a NP241 transfer case.
Out back, you’ll find a semi-float Dana 60 plucked from a Ford E-Series van. Gone is the original leaf-sprung suspension, and in its place is a triangulated four-link with air-bags and Bilstein shocks. Just as impressive as the custom suspension is the fact that this build was taken all the way down to the frame. This allowed for the entire chassis to be powder-coated once the fabrication was completed.
Since Ben liked the interior as it was, most of it was left stock. One custom feature the Dakota does have is this one-off instrument cluster.
For tires and wheels, a set of 375/45R22 Nitto Trail Grapplers were wrapped around 22-inch Fuel wheels. Wrenching right up to the moment he had to leave for the show, Ben states that he was a little nervous about the 160-mile maiden voyage. Thankfully, the tires rolled smoothly, and the truck performed flawlessly to Daytona Beach and back to his home in Georgia.