For 2 years running, Dodge managed to build a pickup truck that bucked the trend of the day for emission controls. Federal EPA regulations made it such that light trucks with 6100+ lb GVW, were exempt from regulation. This meant a car maker could produce a non-catalytic converter engine combination for these trucks, as long as the engine was not a new non-EPA approved engine.
So in 1978, Dodge Tom Hoover, Dick Maxwell, and Dave Koffel, combined their efforts with the Dodge Product, Planning and Performance Group to produce “The Lil Red Truck Express”. Based on the D150 model pickup, the Lil red sat on a 115 inch wheel base and sported the utiline body style, with short step side rear box and weighted in at the 6100 lb GVW mark.
So what did you get for your $2,000 addition to a base D150 truck? You got a truck painted ‘Bright canyon red’, (medium canyon red in 1979) with gold accent strips for front and rear wheel openings. Door decals stated the ‘Lil Red Truck Express’ name. Genuine Oak panels on the box side and rear tailgate with chrome bolts holding the wood in place.
And speaking of chrome, you got your fill with this truck. Chrome Vertical exhaust pipes with chrome heat shields came up behind the cab to give a big truck look. Chrome rear bumper and front bumper. Chrome side step plates, grille, window trim and roof line trim. Under the hood came chrome valve covers and chrome dual snorkel air cleaner. Chrome 5 slot road wheels, 15X7″up front and 15X8″ rear wheels finished the truck off. (1979 15X8″ wheels were all around)
The easiest way to distinguish between the 1978 and 1979 model is simply the grille headlights; a 1978 had single round headlights and the 1979 had dual stacked rectangular lights.
The drivetrain came with a 360 cid V8 engine with 4 barrel Carter Thermoquad carburetor (though pre-production models had a Holley). For the 1978 model, the engine came wih a 1968 340 engine camshaft, police intake manifold, police carb., windage tray, double roller timing chain etc. Basically a police 360 in a truck. The engine made 225 HP and big 295 ft-lbs torque at 3200 rpm which was good for its day. Breathing was made easier by fresh air intake by the radiator, and dual exhaust without catalytic converters.
Coupled to a 727 Torqueflite automatic transmission with a high stall 2500 rpm converter, 3.55:1 rear gears, the truck could scoot along quite well. 1979 saw basically the same engine, but using a standard 360 camshaft, and now the exhaust had cat converters.
Interior wise, you could order it with red or black interior trim. Buckets seats instead of bench seats could be ordered. A sport special steering wheel was standard. Oil pressure gauge was standard, along with alternator, temperature, and fuel gauge. You also got a AM/FM Stereo standard. Air conditioning was available and when ordered, included tinted glass. 1979 had a nice faux woodgrain instrument panel valance.
Dodge promoted this truck as an adult toy, a truck you wouldn’t need to take a shop for upgrades as they were all included. A bit of a giggle, the 1978 truck wasn’t available for sale in California, Florida, Maryland, Oregon, and Washington states as it didn’t meet emission standards of those states. The exhaust also didn’t meet special decibel levels of certain localities.
The 1978-1979 Dodge Li’l Red Truck did the standing quarter-mile in under 16 seconds, 0-100 mph in 20 seconds. For a pickup truck, especially in a time when smog controls had robbed performance cars completely off the road, it was an amazing feat by Dodge to pull this off.
Production numbers for the 78 were 2,188 units and for 1979 5,118 trucks. The suggested retail price of a fully optioned model was $8,239.45. This price was big, and gave some exclusivity to a buyers purchase.
Asking prices vary greatly for these trucks, but at auction, you can expect to pay anywhere from $16,500 to $25,000 for nice examples of these li’l trucks. By sheer lack of production numbers, this truck will do nothing but become more collectible, so as an investment, its one to watch for. Happy hunting!