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by Patrick Rall
While the Li’l Red Express Truck might not be more than a flashy show vehicle to the non-Mopar crowd, lovers of vintage Dodge and new Ram trucks flocked to the Li’l Red Express Truck in the Mopar display at the 2012 SEMA (aftermarket vendors’) show. Mopar’s Li’l Red Express “image vehicle” doesn’t feature a utiline body side or a carbureted 360, but the show vehicle packs all of the attitude of the original with a little extra emphasis from a Banks turbo setup.
The Mopar Li’l Red Express Truck was used to feature aftermarket accessories available via the Mopar catalog, including the Katzkin leather seats, and bright aluminum 22” Mopar wheels. A 2013 Ram 1500 R/T with its “sport” hood, leather seats and some slick wheels wouldn’t be enough to draw the attention of the 2012 SEMA Show crowd, so the Mopar group added some extras to make this truck stand out – and stand out it did.
The 1978 Dodge Li’l Red Express pickup is arguably one of the most recognized classic trucks on the market, being one of the original “sport trucks,” with a handful of modifications that helped make it one of the fastest vehicles from 0-100 miles per hour sold in America in 1978 (according to Car & Driver). Under the hood was a specially prepared 360 cubic inch engine, created for heavy duty police work. Thanks to a free flowing intake setup, the lack of catalytic converter, and the massive smoke stacks rising just behind the cabin, the Li’l Red Express produced 225 horsepower at 3,800 rpm. These numbers are meager by today’s standards, but in 1978, the Li’l Red Express was a serious force in the performance world.
The 2012 Ram 1500 Li’l Red Express actually packs a smaller engine than the old school sport truck (5.7 liters versus the 5.9 used in 1978), but unlike the original Li’l Red Express, this Mopar image vehicle packs Hemi power — and a Banks Sidewinder turbo setup. Ram hasn’t told how much more power this setup adds to the standard 390 hp Ram 1500 engine, but with just 6.5 pounds of boost, the power of the 5.7L Hemi could climb up to 550 horsepower. That power is channeled to the rear wheels via the standard 6-speed automatic transmission, while a special set of 22” Ram R/T wheels sporting gold painted center sections tie in the wheels to the old school red-and-gold theme.
On the outside, the 1978 Dodge Li’l Red Express Truck featured a bright red paint scheme and gold emblems with wooden trimming on the utiline bed side, on the tailgate and along the surface of the bed. Large polished stacks extended up between the bed and the rear wheel flares in 1978, while emblems on the doors and tailgate proclaimed the special name of this package.
The 2012 Moparized Li’l Red Express Truck wears the familiar body of the 2013 Ram 1500 R/T, with body colored front and rear fascias and a body colored grille surround. Where this unique show truck varies from the production model begins with the aforementioned Mopar power bulge hood, a black grille filler package, a front fascia with driving lights similar to the LEDs on the current Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, and a molded chin spoiler attached at the bottom of the front fascia. Along the sides, the modern Li’l Red Express sports the bright polished R/T wheels, with gold stripes on the fenders and bedsides, and a modern take on the classic logo on both doors.
RedRiderBob added: “The Lil' Red Express Concept truck uses the specs of the 2013 Ram 1500 R/T, but with the bench seat, column shifter, and standard stereo from the Ram SLT. The truck uses the Ram R/T Challenger-style hood, which is fully functional, the R/T wheels with custom gold inserts, a 4.10 rear gear, and 5-speed auto transmission. The front bumper is a custom Mopar Skunkwerks job with the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 running lamps. The smoke stacks are not available from Mopar so far.”
Along the sides, this show truck also gets a set of wooden bedside trim pieces that sit atop a polished brushed aluminum bedside cap setup, while the surface of the bed has the expected wooden inlay with brushed strips running the length of the bed. Out back, we don’t get any wood trim on the tailgate, but there is the prominent Ram logo with Li’l Red Truck emblazoned across the back – much like the original back in 1978. Finally, the coup de grace of this concept truck are the functional smoke stacks that come up through the floor of the bed, with brushed silver shields giving way to a set of large, bright polished tips that sit right above even with the roofline.
Other than bringing new visitors to the Mopar displays and showing off some parts from the Mopar catalog, the Ram concept helped to bridge the glorious past of hot Dodges and Plymouths with the current reality of hot Dodges, Rams, and SRTs.
The Mopar Li’l Red Express Ram 1500 from the 2012 SEMA Show will surely drub up rumors of the return of the high performance hauler, but regardless of the true intention of Chrysler in bringing out this turbocharged truck to SEMA, it made for one remarkable show vehicle.
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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