The modern age of custom trucks has reflected a return to usefulness. Trucks were originally intended to haul, providing their owners with a convenient space to carry oversized items not suitable for in-cab transport. Enthusiasts are all over the map in regard to which direction they have taken their personal projects. Some like their trucks to sit flat on the ground and tuck exceptionally large, billet wheels in the fenders. Others lean toward more practical modifications, which increase performance, handling, braking, and overall driving comfort. We like to call these trucks corner carvers because they capture the much sought-after sports car performance handling while offering the versatility of a truck. Jim Harmon of San Dimas, California, built his '97 Dodge Dakota on a vintage musclecar theme, incorporating contemporary engine performance and suspension enhancements, which label it a corner carver.

The success story begins with dialing in the chassis to improve ride and handling. To improve upon the stock platform, Jim installed Hotchkis Performance sport-tuned coil springs, rear leaf springs, and front and rear sway bars to tighten up the chassis. A mild performance-oriented 2/4-drop adds a little attitude while keeping the truck extremely driveable. To set off the mild drop and to enhance overall looks, Jim called upon Arelli wheels for a set of 18x8.5-inch Vetta chrome wheels. Upon receiving the new rollers, Jim strapped on Bridgestone Potenza S-02 Pole Position 255/45ZR 18 tires for that sure-grip feel when pitching the Dakota into corners at warp speed. Tossing the stock gears in favor of some 3.92 sure-grip limited-slip differential gears makes the little Dakota launch hard and cruise nice on long, throttle-mashing road excursions. Pushing the suspension to its maximum capabilities, a host of engine modifications was performed to wake up the factory 5.2L.

Leaning more toward the mild side of the performance gain goals are a K&N air filter and a ported throttle body from Quick D performance. Blending these mild modifications with Quick D Performance ported cylinder heads with 2.02 intake valves and 1.625 exhaust valves, Mopar performance headers, a Walker Dynomax Ultra Flow muffler, and a Mopar Performance Magnum R/T cam kit provide tire-blazing power that is available with quick pedal slams. A MSD ignition controller, a Blaster SS coil, and 8-1/2mm performance wires were added by Performance Associates in San Dimas to light the uncontrollable performance fire. As if that were not enough, Jim solicited the services of Nitrous Express to add a 75hp shot Nitrous system to the already potent performance package. Aggressive shifting is aided by a Pro-Torque torque converter and a TransGo Shift Kit, resulting in head-snapping gear changes. A set of Mopar cast aluminum valve covers and Russell Performance braided hose sleeves was added to dress up the engine compartment. To reflect the classic musclecar theme, Jim had to add classic flare to the exterior.

Updating the exterior of Jim's truck was a fairly simple process in blending modern styling enhancements with a classic musclecar graphic to achieve the right look thanks in large part to L&G Enterprises in San Dimas. The transformation began by adding a Xenon Dakota Viper body kit, a Pro Glass shaker hood, a roll pan, a Stull billet grille, air dam inserts, an Innovation Industries sport tonneau cover, a GTS cab rear air spoiler, and Street Scene Cal Vu electric side mirrors. Another unique enhancement is the Tube Technology Cuda exhaust tips, which contributes to the musclecar focus of the truck. Custom-cut graphics from Kool Tint Pro Graphics and Custom Stripes were crafted to resemble the factory graphic accents from a '70 AAR Cuda. Lighting up the highway for those late night high-speed runs are Catz Products MSC CL141 driving lights. The result is a late-model performance specimen with a classic street terror musclecar look.

Detail and cleanliness carries on to the bed area where a custom carpet kit from Bedtime Custom Carpet Kits, featuring a colorful Mopar logo, covers the factory steel walls, the bulkhead, and the tailgate panels. Displayed in the center of the box is a spare Arelli wheel and a Bridgestone tire along with the Nitrous supply bottle. Jim's Dacuda hauler successfully reflects the characteristics of the musclecar era in a modern pickup platform. Aggressive best describes the Hemi Cuda graphic scheme that is accompanied by the larger-than-life 18-inch chrome Arelli wheels and the Xenon body kit. Keep your eye out for Jim's Cuda on a canyon road near you.

Sidebar:
In the Driver's Seat
Piloting Jim's bed-equipped land rocket is a trip for the senses. The interior of Dacuda features custom Cerullo XR bucket seats, which were upholstered in black leather with dark-gray trim. For safety during frequent high-speed cornering, Jim installed Deist safety harnesses to keep both driver and passenger pinned in their seats. A cherry wood dash kit adds a luxurious touch, while a Pro Comp II tachometer helps Jim keep an eye on rpm An NR Automotive white-face gauge panel lends a pleasing contribution to the dash while Jim watches the needle climb to the red line.