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B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/1/21 9:16 p.m.

Hiya fellas,

 

I've been on the site for a while and have commented a few times but now is the time to add my recent build. Here goes the (hopefully not too long-winded) backstory:

 

My last truck was a new 02 Dodge Ram 1500 which I kept for 6 years. Nice vehicle, no troubles at all but when I moved to Dubai I no longer needed a vehicle so it went to a good home. Since then ( and many countries after the UAE) I settled back home in the states and had a stable of cars. Didn't really feel the need for another pickup until this last year when life issues have made the car only stable a problem. So, I need a pickup again, but these same life issues have convinced the wife and I that cutting the clutter and jumble from our lives is a good thing. Some cars gotta go to make way for the truck. 

 

Once I got that straight in my head it became easy to give up my pride & joy:

 

 

93 Corvette, immaculate but highly underutilized. I probably only drove it a hundred miles or so last year. But before letting it go (along with the Sebring convertible) I had to settle on what I wanted for a pickup. Partly thanks to GRM I really needed and wanted a project, not a new - or new-ish - truck. I did not want a behemoth similar to newer truck, nor did I want a mini-truck like an S10 or Ranger. I thought a mid-90s to early 2000s Chevy or GMC would fit the bill nicely. Until, that is, I found out where they are priced! Since most of the Early 70s Chevys and GMCs have already been worked over, and the late 70s and up square bodies are going fast, the market has heated up for the 90s and up too. Prices for junk were way beyond what I wanted to pay.

 

Kept looking and delved into the mid-size trucks. Here it's really only the Chevy Colorado and Dodge Dakota. Perfect size, both either came with V-8s (essential for the project) with lots of potential. Unfortunately I just don't like the look of the Colorado! So Dakota, here I come. Searched long and hard (and researched alot!) on what I could do with one and found one not too far away. Cash in hand - $2000 - got me a 1999 Dakota SLT with the 3.9 V-6, auto trans, power everything but desperately in need of some love:

 

 

I seem to have lost my original pics of the Dakota so disregard the new wheels and tires for now - that was one of the first upgrades.

 

Next up, why it was cheap, what needed immediate attention, and what my plans are.

 

Cheers,

 

Mark

Sgt_Sizzle
Sgt_Sizzle New Reader
8/2/21 9:13 a.m.

I see a few of these roaming around town and always thought they were a good size for a sport truck build. With a 5.7 Hemi or an earlier 5.9 Magnum warmed over they could be fun. I want to see where this goes. 

JeremyJ
JeremyJ Reader
8/2/21 12:14 p.m.

I've got a 2003 regular cab that I'm currently working on. They're fun trucks and they're still affordable for the time being. I'll be watching this one for updates. 

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/3/21 6:10 a.m.
Sgt_Sizzle said:

I see a few of these roaming around town and always thought they were a good size for a sport truck build. With a 5.7 Hemi or an earlier 5.9 Magnum warmed over they could be fun. I want to see where this goes. 

I had never driven one of the Gen 2 Dakotas before this one but for me size-wise it's perfect. I have grown to loath new full size trucks - to me they have morphed into unnecessarily giant giants. Since my intentions with the project included a V-8 (Hemi, Magnum, or LS) I was reluctant to consider mini-trucks because shoe-horning one of those engines into a bay designed for a V-6 (or 4) generally means re-engineering multiple systems not originally meant to deal with that extra weight and power. I've done it in the past but it was beyond the scope of what I was looking to do here. Though there were a few things I didn't like about the Dakota (which I will expand upon during the build) what I did like was that it has always had a V-8 option and heavier duty components available.

 

JeremyJ
JeremyJ Reader
8/3/21 11:56 a.m.

Holley makes a bunch of parts to swap in a Hemi. It's my eventual plan. 

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/3/21 8:42 p.m.

I did find one old pic of the as-purchased Dakota with the factory 15" wheels and some really horrible A/T tires:

 

 

So, list of things that dragged the price into project status:

 

Runs really bad but it did get me home

Some body damage (more on that later) but not too terrible

Badly faded paint

No carpet

Torn rear seat

Worn out suspension

Badly applied bed paint (for some reason the PO was proud of this)

No heat (heater core leaking)

No A/C

 

It was being sold through a dealership for one of the salesmen so I didn't feel too bad about ripping it apart. We agreed on a price and off I went! Good things:

 

All the power accessories worked

NO RUST!

Pretty good idea that the transmission was new(ish)

Very good idea of why it was running so badly and an easy fix

Straight body except for one problem area on the drinker's side cab and bed

All the nitpicky items were easy fixes for me so I could use the truck to hunt for replacement goodies

 

Next up - getting it running right and getting rid of the god-awful noisy horrible tires!

 

Cheers,

 

Mark

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/4/21 8:54 p.m.

So after getting the Dakota home and confirming my suspicions as to why it was driving so poorly, the first of many orders to Rock Auto was placed. The truck was idling high, surging and the transmission shifts were delayed and really harsh. I suspected a big intake leak - the Magnum engines are notorious for this. The intake, known as the kegger, is cast with a big opening in the bottom which is sealed with a steel plate and gasket. Over time the gasket hardens and there's your vacuum leak. Easy to check, just pull the PCV valve and the valve cover fresh air intake hose, stick your thumbs over them and if there's vacuum, that's it.

 

So, intake pulled, resealed and reinstalled, and I've got a totally tame (and good running) V-6. First trip down the street and trans still not quite right so back to the garage to fiddle with the TV cable. It's easy to adjust on these. About 2 hours of work total and we're good to go.

 

Next on the agenda, since it's starting to get cold outside, is a new heater core. Sort of a pain since the dash has to come out to remove the HVAC box but not too bad:

 

 

The hardest part was finding all the nuts for the studs that bolt through the firewall. Youtube to the rescue here, I found a great video (done by a pro) on how to do an A/C evaporator on a Durango. Same procedure and it cut out a lot of the guesswork. I also found a video by a moron and saw how NOT to do it! HVAC box on the bench, cleaned up:

 

 

I hate accumulated dirt and grime so I cleaned the heck out of this and everything I could get to in, around, behind and under the dash. With the new heater core installed I figured I'd charge the A/C to see what was wrong there. Pulled a vacuum (it held steady for 30 minutes) recharged and A/C blows cold air! Jeez, the PO definitely didn't believe in routine maintenance and repairs!

 

Next up was carpet. The PO said he used the truck for hunting trips so he took out the old carpet. I figure that after 20 years it probably was pretty bad anyway, so after a thorough interior floor cleaning the new carpet went in:

 

 

And seats reinstalled:

 

 

You might notice that I chose black carpet with a gray interior. Hold that thought and stay tuned. Next up, some trips to the area LKQ and Pick-a-Part!

 

Cheers,

 

Mark

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/6/21 7:56 p.m.

For a week or so I hit all the regional LKQs and Pick-a -Parts (there are 6 within a 2 hour radius of me) just looking over all the relevant Dakotas and Durangos, plus any Ram pickup just in case. for my 99 Dakota, the parts interchange is really good for Dakotas from 1998 thru 2004, plus a decent selection of parts from Durangos from 1998 thru 2000 or 2001, depending. I looked at Ram pickups for engine & transmissions. This is pretty good Dodge country around here so the inventory is pretty good and even now 2 or 3 new trucks show up at various sites each month. I kept good notes and pictures on what parts each truck had so I could compare and (hopefully) get the best parts for replacement. I did learn though that all these places rotate (read: crush!) there inventory regularly and I lost out on a few things because I waited too long!

 

I needed a new back seat due to the rip/tear/hole in this one:

 

 

As I said int he previous post, the new carpet installed was black whereas I actively disliked the current gray interior color. I found a set of black rear seats in great shape so out with the old (and some really serious cleaning!):

 

 

and in with the new:

 

 

For some reason the pictures don't show the color difference well - it is a really stark change!

 

Even before deciding on the engine upgrade choice I knew an upgrade to the brakes and rear end would be in the cards. Here I got lucky - my Dakota came factory with 15" wheels, single piston caliper discs in front and drum brakes in a single leg 8.5" rear end with 3.55 gears.  on one of my trips through the salvage yard I spotted a 2004 Dakota with 16" wheels, larger front rotors with dual piston calipers and a 9.25" rear with limited slip and rear discs! And 3.55 gears! And all the parts needed for the swap in good shape! All on the same truck. Needless to say it all came home with me that day. Another parts order to Rock Auto:

 

 

Next up, swapping the rear and rebuilding the front suspension/brakes.

 

Cheers,

 

Mark

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/9/21 8:09 p.m.

Okay, I've got a big pile of parts sitting in the garage but I can't install any of them until the new wheels & tires arrive. Without going into details there was a series of ongoing screwups but kudos to Discount Tire, they acknowledged the errors and made things right. The Dakota has 6 lug pattern so wheel choices are pretty thin (compared to other makes) but I settled on 17" wheels and 275/55 tires. 

 

After finally getting them mounted - and hooray! the godawful noisy A/T tires gone - it was time to upgrade the rear end and brakes. All was going well until I tried to pull the rear shackles and found that the receiver hitch interfered with the shackle bolts. I just needed some tools that I couldn't locate in the disaster area I call my garage, so I just slid the old rear out sideways over the springs:

 

 

Old rear end out. While I was underneath the truck I installed the newly acquired rear sway bar and links:

 

 

and in with the new LSD 9.25" rear:

 

 

The new rear got new calipers and rotors and a new flex brake line. I wasn't sure if the old line would interchange since the rear is from an 04 (turns out it will) but never hurts to replace 20 year old rubber! I did have to replace the e-brake cables since the ends at the rotors were different, and the last thing to change was to add the flange to my driveshaft since my old rear had a yoke. Everything fit with no fabrication required. Gotta love it!

 

Next up is all new parts and pieces for the front suspension:

 

 

I replaced the control arm bushings (didn't go with polyurethane this time), ball joints, tierod ends and swaybar bushings and links. Might as well do them all. To fit the bigger brakes from the 04 the spindles must be swapped. The calipers from the 04 were in good shape so I just put new pads and rotors on as well as swapping the old bearings to the new spindles. Again, new brake lines as well:

 

 

One question that remained unanswered from all my research on the brake swap was what to do with my proportioning valve. The truck I pulled the brakes from had 4 wheel ABS whereas mine only has rear ABS. For lack of any better ideas I just bled the brakes and figured I'd see what needed to be done about the proportioning valve later. Turns out - nothing! Brakes work great and HUGE difference in stopping power! I'm happy!

 

Next up, Looking for a good engine/transmission.

 

Cheers,

 

Mark

Sgt_Sizzle
Sgt_Sizzle New Reader
8/12/21 7:26 a.m.

That's some solid work done already and some good upgrades for future-proofing this build. I wish I had that kind of junk yard availability in my area, I have 1 an hour away and its puny, the next is a 2 hour drive. As much as I'm a bowtie guy and believe LS is the answer to the worlds problems I think a good 5.7 Hemi build would be perfect for this thing. Keep up the good work and I cant wait to see what engine/trans you decide on. 

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/12/21 8:16 p.m.
Sgt_Sizzle said:

That's some solid work done already and some good upgrades for future-proofing this build. I wish I had that kind of junk yard availability in my area, I have 1 an hour away and its puny, the next is a 2 hour drive. As much as I'm a bowtie guy and believe LS is the answer to the worlds problems I think a good 5.7 Hemi build would be perfect for this thing. Keep up the good work and I cant wait to see what engine/trans you decide on. 

Yep, Im pretty lucky to be sandwiched between two fairly good sized towns with lots of salvage yards. Being able to affordably upgrade the Dakota with suspension, brakes and drivetrain parts was a big selling point. One reason I didn't feel bad letting the Corvette go was that (my opinion here!) it was for it's time as close to a perfect platform that could come as a factory package. Every part of the car was harmonious. What I mean by that is that you can't bump the horsepower levels up by any appreciable amount without upgrading literally everything else. If you didn't you would destroy the rest of the drivetrain an overload the suspension in short order. And those kind of parts for a C4 are either expensive or hard to find, or both. I thought long and hard about LS swapping the Vette but in the end the additional 10K to balance the rest of the car again was just too much.

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/14/21 4:08 p.m.

Which engine will it be:

 

As I see it, I had three options: Hemi swap, LS swap or Magnum 5.9 swap. In no particular order here's my take on the pro's and con's of each:

 

Hemi pro's: there's a kit for it. Holley has marketed a complete kit to swap a Hemi into a Dakota. Depending on the year of the engine, at least 90 more horsepower.

Hemi con's: The kit is expensive! My research indicated that the 2000 and up Dakota with the 3.7 or 4.7 would swap easier but any one with the 3.9, 5.2 or 5.9 would have major wiring harness compatibility issues. Holley addresses this but it would mean I had to buy the entire kit including new instrument cluster. $$$. This still doesn't touch the usual swap issues with exhaust, cooling, A/C, transmission, etc. Plus finding a complete Hemi around here in a DIY yard is tough. They are available but pricier through regular salvage yards.

 

LS swap pros: Its been done and it is a fairly easy swap as far as fitment. The LS drops in the engine bay like it was made to go in there. Plus there's the whole LS performance market.

LS swap con's: Pretty much everything on the instrument cluster runs through the Dodge ECM (including the fuel gauge!). Some guys who have done the swap have just built a new cluster, some have kept the factory ECM to run the gauges but still can't run them all. Factory LS A/C mounting location is a no go so an aftermarket setup needed. Some massaging of the crossmember might be needed depending on which donor oil pan. Transmission tunnel needs massaging for the 4L60E. I'm not too keen on 4L60Es so I looked for some 4L80Es. Tough to find plus I don't know if the trans tunnel will fit a 4L80E without major surgery. Plus all the issues with exhaust, cooling, driveshaft, linkages, etc.

 

5.9 Magnum pro's: it's a stupid easy swap since the factory already did it in the Dakota R/T. The 3.9 is essentially a 318 with two cylinders lopped off so most of the engine components are compatible. The entire accessory setup is the same from the 3.9 to the 5.9, the factory exhaust bolts up, all the transmissions bolt up (don't listen to the internet bozos who say the 5.9 takes a different torque converter because the 5.9 is externally balanced - lots of mis-information on the Dodge forums!). The factory A/C bolts up, etc.

5.9 Magnum cons: loses 80 to 100+ horsepower to the Hemi and LS. Oddly it actually has a more usable torque curve an more torque down low than the early year Hemis. The Magnum motor is old school tech and hotrod parts are expensive. And not many options, especially compared to the LS.

 

So I kept my eyes open, did lots of looking but one day the Pick-a-Part listed a newly acquired 2000 Dakota R/T. Pictures showed it had been wrecked (important, since some salvage yard cars are there because the engine and/or transmission are blown) but pictures also showed there had been an underhood fire. I hotfooted out to the yard but by the time I got there the engine/trans had already been taken! Bummer. But wait, lying next to the truck is a burned out hulk of an engine, and its from the Dakota! Someone took the transmission but they pulled the engine/trans as a unit. A quick check with the breaker bar showed the engine turned over, had compression and was complete - though everything on top was cooked/melted due to the fire.

 

I ran a quick Carfax on the VIN to try to get a sense of the mileage (closest guess about 150,000). Looked two vehicles down and what do I see? A 98 Dak with a 5.2, everything under the hood complete except the ECM. I made a deal with the yard and for $250 I got the 5.9 plus all the parts needed from the other Dakota:

 

 

 

And someone else pulled the engine for me. Score!

 

Next up, some tear-down to see what Ive got.

 

Cheers,

 

Mark

Sgt_Sizzle
Sgt_Sizzle New Reader
8/16/21 8:41 a.m.

Good score. It may be down on power comparatively but that's nothing a few extra psi can't fix ;)

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/18/21 4:37 p.m.
Sgt_Sizzle said:

Good score. It may be down on power comparatively but that's nothing a few extra psi can't fix ;)

 

Not so sure about that smiley. Number one priority for this vehicle (and build) as a daily driver is it has to be dead-nuts reliable. I have to be sure that if the wife takes it to town it's not going to leave her stranded, or if I want to jump in and drive across the country (assuming that will still be allowed soon!) I can do it and feel comfortable. I'm not sure that shooting for HP numbers is the right thing if it means spending more time in the garage working on it than driving it. Gotta be a reasonable balance there somewhere! 

The Magnum 5.9 can be opened up a little with a tune and freeing up the exhaust - there's about 30 HP right there and that gets it in the LS 4.8 to 5.3 territory. Not much can be done on the intake side without spending some bucks and now we're down the rabbit hole - intake, throttle body, cam, heads, etc. Then the weak spot becomes the transmission - farther down the rabbit hole.

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/18/21 5:00 p.m.

Time to tear into my junkyard jewel! First up was to peel and chip off the burned and melted plastic bits and wiring from the engine and get the accessories off. With the engine on the stand I pulled the intake and valve covers. they went into the junk pile since I had gotten good parts from the 5.2 (the 5.2 and 5.9 share intake, throttle body, injectors and fuel rails). The water pump and fan/clutch went into the pile too. Now I can get the heads off:

 

 

And apart to check things out:

 

 

So far very little/basically no sludge. The PO evidently took relatively good care of it. Other than some carbon and oily gunk buildup on the intake valves, everything looked good. The Magnum motors are notorious for the intake plenum leaking and sucking oil into the intake and that definitely was the case here. Good news is the valve guides and valve clearances were ok and no cracks between the seats - another common problem!

 

On to the short block:

 

 

Top end looks good, no scoring on the cylinder walls and still some cross-hatching evident! Lifters and rollers felt good and cam looks good. The timing chain was pretty loose but I can replace that. Flip it over and let's look at the bottom end:

 

 

I checked the bearings and clearances - it's going back together as-is! I will replace the rear main seal and generally replace all the gaskets and seals, but other than that, it will get some serious cleaning and it looks like I've got a runner! Rock Auto, get ready for another big order!

 

Next up, some more junkyard browsing and some project planning.

 

Cheers,

 

Mark

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/21/21 7:54 p.m.

One of the problems I have to deal with while planning this project is that since I live on a restricted-access island with an HOA and various rules to live by, pretty much anything automotive can only happen in the garage. No storing of parts outside! Even temporarily (though later on I did find a way to circumvent that!). And part of the garage is occupied with parts and pieces and equipment for my sailboat rebuild. Thus I am space-challenged at times. This will become apparent as I get into the nitty-gritty of the engine swap.

 

For now, Rock Auto delivered early and I could get started with the engine. First up was to replace the timing chain, since it showed quite a bit of stretch:

 

 

And lots and lots of cleaning! I replaced the rear main seal and buttoned up the bottom end, cleaned the heads and valvetrain components and did a backyard valve job - valve grind compound and lapped the valves. New gaskets all around and some paint on the engine:

 

 

Yes, that's Ford Blue! Blasphemy! Closest match I could find to the eventual color I wanted for the body. I worked a deal with the marina (literally a 2 minute golf cart ride from the house) whereas I would fix their sandblasting cabinet if I could use it. Several trips to sandblast various components and the 5.9 is ready for transplantation. 

 

One of the nice things about the Dakota is the ease of access:

 

 

The upper radiator support unbolts making engine removal super easy. The hood doesn't even have to come off. An in no time at all the V-6 is coming out:

 

 

Lots and lots of cleanup to come:

 

 

Cheers,

 

Mark

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/24/21 7:48 p.m.

Now my lack of working space becomes apparent! 

 

One of the planned upgrades was new paint. I'm not a fan of white - it seems nowadays that 90% of all the cars & trucks on the road are either white, black or a shade of silver. Not for me, keemosabi! So a complete color change is necessary and since the engine bay is partially empty now is the time to repaint the engine bay. Unfortunately a big chunk of the garage is already taken by  - the replacement engine. So after a lot of cleaning and degreasing, followed by more cleaning - and degreasing, and some busted knuckles from sanding:

 

 

The firewall is done. I had to leave the fenders on until I can get the new engine in so the engine bay will be painted in stages.

 

While the firewall paint was curing I could tackle the wiring harness changes. I had picked up the complete harness from the 98 Dakota but found out that there were just enough changes year to year that it was easier to modify my existing harness. So, armed with a pinout diagram and copious notes I stripped the covering off the harness:

 

 

All that was needed was to add the wires and connectors for injectors #7 and #8, plus lengthen the water temp sender wire. I took the time to clean the wiring and replace all the plastic covering as well, just to give it that new look.

 

With the harness done and everything clean and paint cured, in goes the 5.9:

 

 

 

Nice to work with shiny clean parts! I took the time to paint the intake after bead blasting - it got Duplicolor Cast Aluminum paint and I'm really pleased how it turned out. I also blasted then primed and painted the exhaust manifolds with VHT even though I will probably eventually put long tubes on the truck. I put the manifolds in the oven to cure the paint per VHT's instructions. Good thing the wife was not at home!

 

Now that the clutter in the garage is under control I can - clutter it up again. You'll notice that the drinker's side fender well has been stripped. that fender/inner fender well is next to come off for paint.

 

Cheers,

 

Mark

Sgt_Sizzle
Sgt_Sizzle New Reader
8/25/21 2:41 p.m.

Marching along at a steady rate. It's cool to see the wiring be so simple for a change, first fireup should be in the not to distant future. Can't wait to see it

amerson
amerson New Reader
8/25/21 10:49 p.m.

In reply to B757Captain :

Are those ATX wheels? What size are they? Just looking for ideas as I'm currently checking the wheels on 4wheelonline for my Dakota.

DrBoost
DrBoost MegaDork
8/26/21 12:08 p.m.

As for the trans, you should have the 46RE?  If so, the 47RE drums, frictions, and steels are a drop in. Them you have a much stronger trans. I don't know if dodge did the same thing Jeep did, but there is a check valve in the trans cooler line. The ball is plastic. Ditch the check valve and put in a valve with a metal ball. That's what takes out most of these transmissions. 
that's what took mine out. 

V6Buicks
V6Buicks Reader
8/26/21 1:03 p.m.

I would never have guessed that the wire harnesses were that similar.  Good luck with the build!

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/27/21 7:33 a.m.
Sgt_Sizzle said:

Marching along at a steady rate. It's cool to see the wiring be so simple for a change, first fireup should be in the not to distant future. Can't wait to see it

 

Thanks! I probably should have been a little clearer initially that this is a partial recap - the project is much farther along - my bad! Although I have moved quickly, I can't move as quickly as it seems!

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/27/21 7:36 a.m.
amerson said:

In reply to B757Captain :

Are those ATX wheels? What size are they? Just looking for ideas as I'm currently checking the wheels on 4wheelonline for my Dakota.

 

They are TNT wheels, 17x9. I found them through Discount Tire. The 6x114.3 bolt pattern really limits the wheel selection, unfortunately sad.

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/27/21 7:41 a.m.
DrBoost said:

As for the trans, you should have the 46RE?  If so, the 47RE drums, frictions, and steels are a drop in. Them you have a much stronger trans. I don't know if dodge did the same thing Jeep did, but there is a check valve in the trans cooler line. The ball is plastic. Ditch the check valve and put in a valve with a metal ball. That's what takes out most of these transmissions. 
that's what took mine out. 

I'm currently running the 42RE and babying it somewhat. It is holding up so far to normal street driving though I would not try to tow much weight with it right now, nor would a trip to the drag strip be a smart move. I'm still looking for a good 46RE as a core for a performance rebuild - any 46RE around here seems to be really scarce. I'm also doing tons of research on just what you said about part swapping with the 47 to beef the trans up.

Thanks for the tip on the check ball, I did not know there was one in the line!

B757Captain
B757Captain New Reader
8/27/21 7:49 a.m.
V6Buicks said:

I would never have guessed that the wire harnesses were that similar.  Good luck with the build!

 

Me too, but in reality the 3.9 V-6 is just a 5.2 with 2 cylinders chopped off. Think GM 4.3 V-6 vs. SBC. The only thing missing on the harness was the extra injectors and I only had to lengthen the temp sensor wires because the intake location was longer by one cylinder. Everything else was in the exact same location. I discovered more differences between years than anything else. It turns out that only 97 and 98 year harnesses are compatible, 99 is unique because Dodge changed things up starting in 2000 with the intro of the 4.7 engine so I couldn't use the 98 donor harness I got. I just robbed the injector wires from it.

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