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In 1977, Dodge Truck boasted of its “adult toys,” including the Dodge Warlock — a pickup with fat tires, bucket seats, and wood trim. The L’il Red Truck was to be the “Red Warlock,” but the name changed sometime between conception and its launch.
The Li’l 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 1978 Li’l Red Truck was built on the short-wheelbase (115 inch) Utiline-style half-ton D150 pickup, with a 6,050 pound gross vehicle weight. The real attraction was the high performance 360 V8 and four-barrel carburetor, pushing power to the ground through a 3.55:1, 9.25 inch rear axle, bereft of the primitive pollution control equipment that burdened cars of the day.
Dodge’s information shows that 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 dual exhausts departing big-rig-style just aft of the cab. The modified A-727 transmission — there was no other option — had a 2500 rpm stall converter. The truck required the Adventurer package.
California availability is a question; the 1977 press release claimed it was not available, but some people claim it was. The company may 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.
According to the L’il Red Express Club, the L’il Red Truck was the child of Tom Hoover, who discovered that an already-certified engine could 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 was credited to Tom Hoover, Dick Maxwell, and Dave Koffel, who worked with the Product, Planning and Performance Group. They used the standard short-wheelbase stepside pickup for its light weight. 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 production truck, the W-2 heads were nixed, partly because they had never been fully endurance tested for road use, 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:
Appearance changes included chrome on the air cleaner, valve covers, dual exhaust tailpipes, heat shields, side steps, and rear bumper. All the trucks were, as the name says, 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. The package included an oil pressure gauge, automatic transmission, power steering, special steering wheel, five-slot chrome disc 15” x 8” wheels, raised-white-letter LR60 tires, and a rear stabilizer bar.
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.” He pointed out that, if a lower-performance cam had been used, the 1979s would likely be slower.
The Dodge Li’l Red Truck was limited production (2,188 units in 1978, 5,118 in 1979), but it called attention to the new Dodge D-150 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; and so 1980 production was cancelled.
The Li’l Red Truck was pricey, which did not help its popularity; the package was $1,131 on top of the basic D-150, which normally sold for $5,168, but the story isn’t that simple. Numerous other options were required to get the Li’l Red pack, including the automatic transmission, Adventurer trim, FM stereo, convenience package, oil pressure gauge, and quad-rectangular headlamps. The total went to $7,422 before adding $200 for bucket seats (air conditioning was another $624).
The ad boasted: “Meet the new Li’l Red Truck from Dodge, the truly ‘customized’ pickup that’ll stir excitement even among the most avid ‘truck-truck’ enthusiasts. Best of all, it comes fully equipped from the factory. No need to seek out expensive local customizers and special-equipment suppliers... The new Dodge L’il RED TRUCK will turn a lot of heads... a limited edition pickup with chrome-plated good looks. Only Dodge has it. So, live a li’l...a Li”l RED TRUCK, that is!”
There were two 440-powered 1978 Li’l Red Express Trucks, too, created for Canadian show purposes — as evidenced by the above letter and price stickers. They were both sold at the same dealer. (Letter from Randy Chaney, with permission to reproduce.)
Dealers made quite a profit off the L’il Red Trucks, if they sold them at retail. Given the engineering and tooling costs, Dodge might not have done so well.
* 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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