By Chris J. Carpenter
“Youth is full of sport, age's breath is short; youth is nimble, age is lame;Youth is hot and bold, age is weak and cold; youth is wild, and age is tame.”
— William Shakespeare
In a world that appears to spin faster with each passing day, it’s refreshing to meet someone who has taken a stand against the pressures of daily living by actively preserving joy from the past. Meet Craig Campfield of Parma, Ohio, and his 1978 Dodge Li’l Red Express – Allpar’s Car of the Month for January. We are excited to kick off 2013 with this rare and classic Mopar.
First seen for sale while being driven to a high school football game in 1980, Campfield pointed out the truck to his father, a Navy serviceman. Immediately infatuated with the truck’s exclusive style, Campfield’s interest was piqued and so was his father’s. In a matter of days, the truck would join the family driveway, igniting an automotive legacy that would transcend three generations.
Although primarily used as a daily driver by his father, Campfield’s favorite memory of the truck is cruising the streets with his best friend in high school and charming the ladies with a night on the town.
He fondly remembers laying down rubber, demonstrating what the stalwart 360 V8 could accomplish. But father and son would not be the only ones to enjoy the Express. Campfield’s mother would often ask his father to go for “just a nice drive” on Sundays; a family tradition that his mother enjoys still to this day.
At the time of its construction, the Li’l Red Express was the fastest domestically produced production car in the United States, lacking most of the emissions equipment making its way into cars through the 1970s.
Part of the third generation of Dodge D-Series family of trucks, the Li’l Red Express was one of the last models produced before the company transitioned to the Dodge Ram in 1980. The third generation of the D-Series featured changes such as a new independent front suspension and restyled wheel wells. The Li’l Red Express had special exhaust stacks, golden pinstripes, “Li’l Red Express” decals, and Chrysler’s 5.9-liter V8 (360-cubic-inch) engine along with the “Adventurer” package. (See the specs and history of the Li’l Red Express).
Although having largely defied the ills of age on its own (even amidst being driven year-round), Campfield’s father had certain portions of the truck re-sprayed to maintain its august appearance. The truck’s previous owner had heavily customized it for the show circuit, gutting the stock interior completely for a red, “crushed-velour,” button-tufted interior (a look which horrified Campfield, but it didn’t seem to faze his father.)
After it was passed from father to son, Campfield removed the button-tufted interior and restored the truck to the factory OEM vinyl seating and dash paneling. Along the way, he added additional cabin soundproofing, replaced the original carpeting in the cab, and installed aftermarket woofers behind the seats connected to the Kenwood radio he put in the dash. Additionally, he refinished the original oak wood paneling on the sides of the bed, preserving the original mounting hardware.
As an avid auto enthusiast and Mopar fan, Campfield’s love for cars extended to his son Tyler, now 17 years old and the proud owner of a 1999 Chrysler 300M (another Mopar passed father-to-son). The two are active members of the Chrysler 300M Enthusiasts Club, and Craig serves as member of the board.
The Li’l Red Express has always been in Tyler’s life and his father couldn’t be happier sharing the joys of the truck with his son in the same way his father had done with him. Recently, Campfield and his son worked together to overhaul the truck’s exhaust system. Currently, Tyler is working on replacing the aged wood on the floor of the truck’s bed as a project for his woodshop class.
“It literally looks like a toy,” Campfield said when asked about why he loves the truck. “It doesn’t look like anything else out there on the road.” While pickups of today are often well in excess of 12 feet long and 6 feet tall, the smaller Express was designed for more performance and less hauling. With a police-spec powertrain, bright red paint, and chrome exhaust stacks, this was definitely not your average contractor’s hauler.
From restoring the interior, to bringing new life to the brightwork and original wood treatments, the Li’l Red Express has been a labor of love shared across three generations of Campfields. If you are planning to attend the 2013 Carlisle All-Chrysler Nationals this summer, be sure to stop by and say hello to Craig and see his Li’l Red Express for yourself, and don’t forget to stop by the Allpar tent!
See other Cars of the Month • All Cars at Allpar • 200,000 Mile Club • Stories: People and Cars
Five things you did not know about Chrysler and the military
1955 Plymouth Belvedere
All Mopar Car and Truck News
Chrysler 300 Letter Cars
The Engine Cleanup Committee