Flashback: The Lil' Red Express Truck

Sometimes car manufacturers make special model vehicles to make particular statements. Take the Dodge Viper sports car, for example. This V-10 powered beast was specifically designed to inject a little pizzazz back into the Dodge brand. The first models were built in the early 90s and the concept worked well as just about every journalist in the business gushed about them.

Back in time

Back in 1978, the entire car industry was dealing with new emission control standards and rising gas prices. The result was a malaise that encompassed the car industry which resulted in a lot of uninspiring models being released. To spice things up, Dodge developed their “Adult Toys” concept. West Valley Chrysler Jeep of Canoga Park, CA, a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer explained to us that these were created to put a little fun back into the car business.

Toy trucks

In 1978, Dodge released one of the most interesting trucks ever made. Called the Lil’ Red Express Truck, this vehicle offered unique styling and outrageous performance.  In fact, in 1978, the Dodge Lil' Red Express was the fastest American-made vehicle as tested by Car and Driver magazine. Yes, this included the Corvette and other brute American cars in comparison.

A truck is the fastest American-made vehicle? How could this be? Well, it was a matter of the EPA emission regulations at the time. Because of a loophole in the regulations, the 1978 Dodge Lil' Red Express Truck did not have to have any restrictive catalytic converters in the exhaust pathway like passenger cars did. What the Lil' Red Express did have was a special high performance 360 ci 4-barrel small block engine (a modified version of the company’s 360 ci police engine). Also included was Hemi style free-flow mufflers breathing through 2 x 2.5” monster chrome stacks located behind the cab, a specially modified Mopar 727 automatic transmission and rugged 3.55:1 rear axle gearing.

Bold styling

For styling, Dodge went to town. The trucks were painted in fire-engine-red paint and had large “Lil' Red Express” graphics plastered on the cab doors. The truck rode on 15” raised white letter tires on chrome rims in the front and 8-inch chrome wheels on the rear. The interiors were available just as colorful with a standard bench seat or optional buckets available, and a matching fold down arm/rest console was an option.

Huge sales – not quite

As unique as the Dodge Lil' Red Express Truck was, it didn’t sell very many copies. As matter of fact, just 2,188 were sold in 1978. However, like the Viper years later, the Lil' Red Express Truck got a lot of press and threw a little fun into Dodge’s staid product lineup. If you would like to relive this interesting time in automotive history, you can get a classic example of the Dodge Lil' Red Express Truck for some $10K to $15K today.

Source: West Valley Chrysler Jeep of Canoga Park, CA