In the 1970s, even the best American cars on the market were still underpowered, thanks to the Malaise era taking its toll on the industry. At the end of the decade, there were still public concerns about the oil crises and emission standards. This was when Dodge introduced the Li’l Red Express truck in the third generation of their D Series trucks, which was truly unlike anything else on the market.
One of the most beautiful and interesting classic trucks in American automotive history, the Dodge Li’l Red Express ran for only two years between 1978 and 1979. However, it left an indelible mark on the history books thanks to its unrivaled power at the time, and the clever way it found a loophole in the environmental regulation.
The Li’l Red Express became a powerful icon and this V8 truck had the looks, the speed and the power. The truck is still revered by gearboxes, and rightly so. Here are 8 things only true gearheads know about the 1978 Dodge Li’l Red Express truck.
8/8 The 1978 Dodge Li’l Red Express was powered by a police interceptor engine
The Li’l Red Express truck was actually part of Dodge’s “Adult Toys” series, and the truck had a fire-breathing V8 under the hood. In fact, the 1978 models even came with competition cylinder heads and the 1979 trucks used the police package.
Both the 1978 and 1979 Li’l Red Express Trucks came with a free-breathing exhaust system available with the heavy-duty automatic transmission. The 360 cubic inch V8 engine on the truck had 4-barrel carburetors much larger than most other cars of the era, let alone trucks, and put out 225 horsepower, which was pretty impressive for a vehicle in the late 1900s ’70s.
7/8 Dodge equipped the ’78 Li’l Red Express with a fantastic interior
Dodge was particular about equipping the Li’l Red Express truck with an impressive interior, and not just the run-of-the-mill bare interiors that came with trucks of the time. As such, it had a great gauge and instrument panel, and both bench seats and a split bucket seat setup were available on the truck.
The pickup truck cab had a premium feel as the market moved from muscle cars to luxury rides, and Dodge agreed. The Red Express had a complementary red interior, but the upholstery could also be done in black for a great contrast.
6/8 Dodge even built two copies of the Li’l Red Express Truck with the 440 V8 engine
It was a 360 cubic inch V8 that was standard on the Dodge Li’l Red Express truck for both the 1978 and 1979 model years. It produced a great 225 horsepower, but what many gearboxes may not know is that Dodge also made two units in has put to use with a massive 440 cubic inch V8.
However, these two examples never made it to the road, as they were only made for display purposes in auto shows in the United States and Canada. Nevertheless, even the 360 cubic inch V8 was powerful enough to make the Li’l Red Express the speed train known in history.
5/8 The stock wheels on the 1978 Li’l Red Express were actually aftermarket
The Dodge Li’l Red Express came with 15×8-inch 5-slot wheels, a rear sway bar, heavy-duty suspension with upgraded shocks, and white lettered LR60 series raised tires. Dodge actually bought the steel wheels for the Li’l Red Express from an aftermarket company.
It was a custom look the brand was going for with the Li’l Red Express tires and wheels, and taking them off the aftermarket was the right thing to do. To further enhance that custom look, Dodge chopped the wood on the tailgate and sides from oak, painted it for protection, and bolted it to the body with chrome-headed bolts.
4/8 The 1978 Dodge Li’l Red Express came with GM’s legendary LoadFlite transmission
One of the best things about the 1978-79 Dodge Li’l Red Express truck was its fast transmission. This was because Dodge used Chrysler’s legendary 727 TorqueFlite as the transmission on their truck.
This transmission, even on the D-Series truck, used the same valves found on 440-drive cars, allowing for higher shift points than comparable transmissions. The TorqueFlite transmission gave the Li’l Red Express fantastic acceleration, which went hand-in-hand with its powerful V8 engine and near-perfect shifting.
3/8 Dodge’s Li’l Red Express Truck was one of the fastest vehicles of its time
There’s no denying that the Dodge Li’l Red Express was one of the most powerful vehicles of its time. With 225 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque, the truck was actually the fastest domestic vehicle to hit the 100 mph mark in 1978.
On the dragstrip, these numbers gave the truck some serious bragging rights, as it was able to cross the quarter-mile in just over fifteen seconds. The Li’l Red Express went from 0 to 60 in just 7.5 seconds, which was not only fast for a pickup at the time, but even for a regular ‘muscle’ car.
2/8 The 1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express actually went much faster than the speedometer could display
A dumb idea that didn’t work, the 1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express actually came with a federally mandated speedometer that maxed out (visually) at just 85 mph. It was an attempt to save fuel and slow down drivers, but of course it didn’t work.
The Li’l Red Express was even capable of speeds of up to 200 km/h, and those who took long trips in their trucks ignored nothing but the ridiculous speedometer and drove much faster than even the speedometer could show.
1/8 The Dodge Li’l Red Express Truck was more efficient than contemporary competitors
Poorly designed emission standards had rampantly choked the great engines of the ’70s, stifling nearly every vehicle made during that era. The Dodge Li’l Red Express truck returned 21 miles to the gallon.
While these numbers aren’t much to brag about, most other trucks of the era couldn’t do better than 8 MPH because of the emissions controls and direct drive transmissions. In fact, the Li’l Red Express proved to be more efficient than slower trucks, despite having significantly more horsepower just because the engine could breathe easily and deliver the power it was supposed to.
Sources: Barrett-Jackson, Bring a Trailer, Mecum