The Dodge Li’l Red Truck was available in 1978 and 1979 and was a performance vehicle that took advantage of an EPA loophole. The Li’l Red Truck was the result of Dodge discovering that the Environmental Protection Agency let light-duty trucks weighing over 6,100 pounds (gross vehicle weight) not have smog gear. This led to the creation of what some believe is the first muscle pickup. The 1978 version saw 2,188 units produced while 1979 saw 5,118 produced.
Basic Structure and Upgrades
The Dodge Li’l Red Express was based on the basic Dodge D150 pickup, complete with the 115-inch wheelbase and narrow box. It featured the high-line Adventurer cab in either black or red, featuring bucket or bench seats. Buyers could then personalize the Li’l Red Express with additional gauges (such as a tachometer), the “Tuff” steering wheel borrowed from the Dodge Challenger R/T, and one of several sound systems, like the CB or eight-track tape.
Since the Li’l Red Express took advantage of the lack of smog restrictions required by the EPA for its class, the V8 was tuned without worrying about smog regulations. This engine was 360 cubic inches. Automotive experts compared this engine to the E58 police unit but without the emissions hardware or Lean Burn. It featured twin-snorkel fresh-air induction, heavy-duty electrical, beefed-up internals, and a Holley four-barrel carburetor that was free breathing. The V8 delivered 225 horsepower as well as 295 pound-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm. This truck could complete a standing quarter-mile in less than 16 seconds. Plus, it needed just 20 seconds to reach 100 mph from a standstill.
Other performance-related features of the Li’l Red Express included the 3.55:1 differential, three-speed Leaflet automatic gearbox, stiff shocks and springs, and the LR60-15 white-letter radials on the 8-inch wheels. Most Li’l Red Express models you can find today also feature options like power brakes, power steering, and slotted chrome rims.
As the name implies, the Dodge Li’l Red Express was only offered in Canyon Red. This red was complemented by bold gold decals for the tailgate and doors. The box sides got genuine varnished oak, as did the bed floor and tailgate. The step plates that sat behind the cab had 2.5-inch-thick chrome exhaust pipes that poked up through them. These were wrapped with perforated metal heat shields.
Differences from 1978
The 1978 and 1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express trucks were very similar. The few minor differences included unleaded gas, an 85-mph speedometer, and a catalytic converter. The 1979 also received dual square headlights instead of the round ones from the previous year. It also got a new hood that was flat. The 1979 also got new wheels, LR60x15 raised white letter tires with 8-inch chrome wheels in all spots.
Despite the relatively limited production of the Dodge Li’l Red Express truck and its age, there are more models available for sale than you would expect. A quick online search should show you around a dozen options. The average price varies from about $25,000 to $35,000, depending on condition and other factors.