Geez...there is an entire bottle of Heinz 57 in here...so many ingredients
If I were a kid that A) Was just starting out in the world, B) Already had a decent ride and just needs a work beater, and C) Needs this said beater to be reliable for the most part, and can easily obtain parts for, than I would go with a Dakota.
My reasons why:
1) Easiest of them all to do self-diagnostics on. Key on-off-on-off-on, check engine light flashes stored codes.
2) Easy to get parts. Even the 2.5 liter is shared with damn near all the FWD cars Chrysler put out at that time. The 3.9 is near bullet-proof if well taken cared of, and easy to work on. The Vortec V6 GM used has that fuel manifold issue that is a bear to work on if it malfunctions. The Dodge 3.9? Just six injectors and a Holley TB. Plus every junkyard should have any part you are looking for.
3) Easy to mod. Yes, the 318 is an easy fit as Shelby used that motor in the first years of the Dakota. Meaning you can use factory mounts to put a V8 in it when it comes time to, instead of having to buy a kit from a vendor. The 360 is a stroked-up 318. The 3.9? A 318 with two less cylinders.
Dakotas were designed from the onset to be as simple as possible, but just as rugged. If you want a good indication of durability, on any vehicle, take a good look at what the military uses, particularly the Air Force and Navy. They hold onto their vehicles for a LONG time, and generally will go to DRMO when, and only when, they are good for nothing else but parts.
Welcome, downwardly mobile yuppies, to the dawn of the Age of Nefarious.
1993 SSEi - FrankenJinx - dead and gone.
1994 SSE (136K strong) - 180* t-stat,HD alternator, most unequipped SSE on the club, XM radio, Kenwood CD/MP3.
2006 Chevy Malibu Maxx LTZ - Custom 2.25" manifold-back exhaust w/FM-80. Probably the only Maxx with this system.