The cleverness Li’l Red Express is one of the finest examples of classic trucks ever introduced to the market and, against all odds, it came on the scene in the late 1970s, when there were still public concerns regarding the oil crises of the decade. The absolute opposite of everything else on offer at the time, the limited-edition truck was rowdy, loud, and incredibly fun.
Despite production only running from 1978 to 1979, the Li’l Red Express was a powerful machine that circumvented the environmental regulations enacted at the time by simply being a truck, allowing for much more engine power to be added than other vehicles on the road. could manage that moment.
Unfortunately, the Li’l Red Express was greatly underrated during their time for a variety of reasons. While they stood for a time when trucks became more than just work vehicles, the concept was not yet fully appreciated and their limited run made them less valued than they should have been.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes the Dodge Li’l Red Express one of the most underrated American trucks!
Context and History of the Li’l Red Express
In the late 1970s, the emissions restrictions recently put on the Dodge lineup led to a decline in performance across the lineup. However, the manufacturer’s engineers found a loophole that stated that vehicles with a gross vehicle weight (GVW) over 6,000 lbs. were exempt from the mandatory use of a catalytic converter. While the inverter today reduced pollution in the air and improved efficiency, it reduced power in the motor by making the motor work harder and, under the increased load, reduced performance. This effect was more prominent in the earliest designs (less now).
While the cars on offer at the time couldn’t reach the weight needed to meet regulations, the Dodge D-150 had a GVW of 6,100 pounds, breaking the rule. This platform became the basis of the Li’l Red Express and part of a limited-edition line called “Adult Toys”, released by Dodge during this period. The Li’l Red Express special edition pickup came in 1978 to return some of the high-end specs previously associated with Dodge.
All trucks of both model years had a bright “canyon red” paint job with gold pin striping around the wheel arches. The truck also had “Li’l Red Express” graphics on the doors and tailgate. The combination of look and color became iconic and easily recognizable. To enhance the pickup’s aesthetic appeal, there are plenty of chrome accents. These included a set of chrome vertical exhaust pipes that were incredibly eye-catching and gave the truck a more powerful look. Chrome side steps, air cleaner cover with “360 Express” decal, bold heads and also valve covers.
With only 7,306 built during the two model years (and only about half of those are estimated to still survive), the truck is a collectible that represents the beginning of a new era of high-performance trucks. Although the truck sold for $7,000 at launch (with more costs for optional upgrades such as air conditioning and bucket seats), a sample today can start at just over $20,000 for good condition and work its way up to over $60,000 at the highest sales, according to Hagerty.
Specifications and inspiration of the Li’l Red Express
The Li’l Red Express had a powerful 5.9-liter 360 cubic-inch V8 engine with a twin snorkel intake, a four-barrel carburetor and a hosed air filter. Behind the cab, the huge chrome exhaust pipes are connected to a set of HEMI-style mufflers. The truck features a dedicated three-speed A727 TorqueFlite automatic transmission with rear-wheel drive through a SureGrip limited-slip differential.
The truck was powerful for its time with 225 horsepower and 290 lb.-ft of torque. It also claimed the title of fastest domestic vehicle reaching 100 MPH in 1978. That speed was a big asset on the drag strip, where the Express was able to cross the quarter-mile finish in just over fifteen seconds. At a time when most vehicles lost power due to emissions restrictions, this made the Li’l Red Express a dominant factor. The Li’l Red Express’ astonishing performance stats led to the performance truck era, and many trucks that followed followed in the footsteps of the truck. While not a commonly seen or experienced drive today, it is a valuable part of both Dodge’s history and pickup truck as a huge hit during its two-year run.
With many hot rods out of service (such as the Charger’s hiatus) due to the oil crisis and environmental concerns, the change from the Warlock truck to the Li’l Red Express allowed the love of speed to live on and thrive through the rough times. . Decades before the Chevrolet SS 454 muscle truck or GMC Syclone, the Li’l Red Express started the trend that continued to grow over the years, making it one of the most underrated and underappreciated American trucks.
Sources: Dodge, Hagerty, Bring A Trailer