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The Dodge Li’l Red Express Truck

lil red truck

The L’il Red Truck was introduced by Dodge in March 1978, following the release of such self-proclaimed “adult toys” as the Dodge Warlock. The Warlock had been essentially a showy truck, with the fat tires, bucket seats, and wood trim that had once been popular among muscle car owners; the L’il Red Truck was to be the “Red Warlock,” but the name changed along the way.

The L’il Red Express Truck was built by SVI under the leadership of Mike Koran. SVI also did the M4S car and testing for Direct Connection. — Marc Rozman

Engineered for speed, the Little Red Truck was built on the short-wheelbase (115 inch) Utiline-style half-ton D150 with a 6,050 pound gross vehicle weight, but the real attraction was the high performance 360 V8 breathing through a four-barrel carburetor, pushing power to the ground through a 3.55:1, 9.25 inch rear axle, bereft of most pollution control equipment. According to Dodge, the E58-specification (police) engine was equipped with SuperFlow heads, a police cam (252° duration with 33° of overlap), dual-snorkel air intake, heavy duty valve springs, cold air induction, and big dual exhausts departing big-rig-style just aft of the cab. The modified A-727 transmission (standard and required) had a 2500 rpm stall converter. The truck itself required the Adventurer package.

Lil Red Truck

California availability is a question. While the press release claimed it was not available, at least one of our readers said it was, and press releases have been known to be inaccurate. The company may well have been able to CARB-certify the L’il Red Express Truck after the releases were issued — or perhaps for the 1978 model year. The 1977 brochure noted it was not available in California, Florida, Maryland, Oregon, or Washington, and might not meet local noise standards elsewhere.

dodge little red express truck

According to the L’il Red Express Club, the L’il Red Truck was the child of Tom Hoover, who discovered that government regulations allowed for an already-certified engine to be modified somewhat without recertification. For the prototype, they used a standard 360 truck engine, but added W-2 heads, the cam from a 1968 340 V8, a modified Edelbrock intake manifold, dual exhausts, and a cold air intake (through the parking lights).

Preparation of the truck has been credited to Tom Hoover, Dick Maxwell, and Dave Koffel, who combined their efforts with the Product, Planning and Performance Group. They took the standard short-wheelbase stepside pickup, a relatively low-weight truck, and dropped in the modded 360 V8 and A-727 transmission with a 2500 stall converter. The twin stacks were a good 2.5 inches in diameter; the rear axle was a 3.55 Sure Grip, and the Goodyears were GR60 in front and a generous LR60 in the rear (roughly 275/60-15), — not tall, but wide. Front wheels were 15x7, rear wheels were 15x8.

For the actual production model, the W-2 heads were killed by the production people, partly because they had never been fully endurance tested, and the cold air intake was moved to the radiator yoke. According to the L’il Red Express Club (no longer on-line), the following additional items were added to the stock 360 in 1978:

  • Camshaft from the 1968 340 4-bbl.
  • Red stripe valvesprings with damper from the 1968 340 4-bbl.
  • Standard valve retainers (replacing rotators)
  • Large Thermo-Quad from Police 360
  • Intake manifold from the 1978 Police 360
  • Windage tray from Police 360
  • Roller timing chain and sprockets from Police 360
  • Dual-snorkel air cleaner with fresh air ducts
  • Chrome valve covers and air cleaner lid
  • Street-Hemi style mufflers

Cosmetic modifications included chrome plated air cleaner, valve covers, dual exhaust tailpipes and heat shields, side steps, and rear bumper. The only color was bright red with a gold tape stripe package and gold decals on the doors and tailgate. Body side and tailgate body trim were made of real oak, with chrome-headed bolts; the high end cabin (including convenience package YF1) was done in red or black, and owners could get either bucket (at extra cost) or bench seats; included in the package was an oil pressure gauge, automatic transmission, and rear stabilizer bar. The gross vehicle weight was 6,100 pounds.

Lil Red Express Truck

Some have written that, in 1979, the 360 was detuned, using a standard 360 cam to make assembly easier, and adding catalytic converters. Kelly Looysen wrote that both years used the same cams and confirmed that the 1979 Li’l Red Trucks used catalytic converters, and therefore required unleaded fuel. He also wrote, “Any quarter-mile times I have seen give a slight advantage to the ’79; my guess is that the higher octane fuel made up for the ‘cats.’’ He pointed out that, if a lower-performance cam had been used, the 1979s would likely be slower.

The Dodge L’il Red Truck was limited production (2,188 units in 1978, 5,118 in 1979), but in an era when the future was coming quickly - a quarter of the nation’s production was trucks and vans - it called attention to the new Dodge D-150 and to Dodge’s pickups in general, in a way the other “adult toys” had not done. Still, when the 1979 gas crisis hit, trucks sat on dealer lots and resale prices plummeted; 1980 production was cancelled.

The L’il Red Truck was by no means cheap; it added $1,131 to the cost of a basic D-150, which normally sold for $5,168, but it also required a number of other options, including automatic transmission, Adventurer package (for the interior trim), FM stereo, convenience package, oil pressure gauge, and quad-rectangular headlamps. The total was over $2,000 more than a base D-150: $7,422. Bucket seats added nearly $200; air conditioning was another $624. Included in that price was power steering, a special steering wheel, five-slot chrome disc 15” x 8” wheels, and raised white letter LR60 tires. As you can see from the following chart, dealers made quite a profit off the L’il Red Trucks - if they sold them at retail. Chrysler might not have done so well, given the low volumes.

Code Wholesale
with holdback
Sticker
price
- Base D150: 115"wheelbase Utiline style (GH3) 4190.83 5168
- Automatic Transmission (FAa) 289.8 381.35
- Adventurer Package (YA1) 184 242.15
- Delete Mouldings (MEa) 35.3 35.3
- Power Steering (STl) 153.5 202
- AM/FM/MX Stereo Radio (LM2) 151.6 199.5
- Convenience Package (YK1) 54.1 71.2
- Oil Pressure Gauge (LB2) 9.45 12.45
- Head Lamps - Quad Rectangular (NE5) 37.45 49.3
- Li'l Red Truck Package* (YH6) 859.6 1131.1
TOTAL   $ 5,895.03 $ 7,421.75
Price with air conditioning, heavy duty front springs,
tinted glass, with bench seats
6368.63 8045
Price with Bucket Seats 6042.78 7616.2
Price with bucket seats, air conditioning,
heavy duty front springs, tinted glass
$ 6,516.38 $ 8,239.45

* Kelly Looysen wrote, “It’s my understanding that the 1978s had the YH6 package and some 1979s, but not all 1979s. My truck, for example, has the package broken down into separate items, so more would be on the options list.”

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