1978 Dodge L’il Red Express Truck

1978 Dodge Lil Red Express Truck



Strange but true: In 1978, the hottest domestic production car sold in America … well, it wasn’t a car. It was a pickup—the Dodge L’il Red Express Truck, a factory hot rod with the quickest zero-to-100 mph time of any American-made vehicle that year.


In the late 1970s the auto industry was struggling to meet strict new emissions and fuel economy requirements. The advanced electronic control systems used to achieve maximum efficiency on all vehicles today weren’t yet developed. As a result, performance suffered—V8 engines were offered on only a few models, often pickups, and with anemic power ratings, usually less than 200 horsepower. It was sort of a depressing time for performance enthusiasts, to be honest.


You know the engineers at Dodge weren’t going to let that situation stand. Noting that the regulations were a bit less stringent for trucks, the team selected Dodge’s shortest, lightest pickup, the Utiline half-ton D150 with a 115-inch wheelbase. Into this package they dropped the 360-cubic-inch E58 V8 from the Dodge police cruiser, the A727 Loadflight automatic transmission, and a SureGrip rear axle with 3.55:1 ratio. Now, by 2013 standards, 225 hp doesn’t sound like a lot, but in 1978 it was enough to rule the roost.


For visual appeal, the hot rod pickup received slotted chrome wheels, raised white-letter tires, wood cargo-box panels, Canyon Red paint, and a nifty gold-letter graphic on each door bearing the name “L’il Red Express Truck.” The crowning touch was a pair of large-diameter chrome exhaust stacks that rose vertically at the rear corners of the cab, emulating a big semi tractor.


Eager for good news, performance enthusiasts and the automotive media alike threw their arms around the Express. Almost 2,200 units were sold in 1978, followed by another 5,188 in 1979, as part of a hot marketing program called “the adult toys from Dodge.” Of course, these days the trucks have their own signature RAM Trucks brand, and class-leading performance can be found throughout the Dodge lineup—for example, in the HEMI-powered Challenger, America’s most affordable V8 muscle car.




  • Roadntrack
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    The current RAM R/T should get the 6.4 R/T used to mean more performance,

    not just a decor pkg!

  • epicurus
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I was in high school when the express came out. I was quite the hit when one of my classmates got one. We all had beat up old 60’s mopars past their prime, and used to bemoan the lack of Dodge hipness then in the late 70’s. Although this was a truck, it felt like a hot rod, and we all wanted to ride in it. Unfortunately for us, the owner got a girlfriend and suddenly the rides stopped.

    • Demort71
      Posted July 2, 2015 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      Did you forget that what was cool in cars changed in the late 70s? Custom vans were in, as well as trucks like the LRE and step side Warlocks and short bed 4WD trucks and Ramchargers.

      Chrysler also had the last of the b-body Chargers, Roadrunners and Volare R/Ts. You could still get 400 and 440 V8 cars and trucks. You probably couldn’t afford new ones, so you paid them less attention, but they were available.

  • Used Dodge Trucks
    Posted May 20, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    We’ve liked their page. I absolutely love the black necklace with the elephant pendant… http://useddodgetrucks.org/

  • adam
    Posted August 9, 2014 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I have a 79 Lil red project for sale text for pics a day description lots of new stuff 915-999-1766

    • Randy
      Posted March 15, 2015 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      Hi what state are you in , I had a 79 I bought new , had it for 16 yrs never drove it in the winter , I had put power windows in it does yours have power windows , how much you asking for yours can you send pic thanks

      • Demort71
        Posted July 2, 2015 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

        Power windows was an option in 78 Dodge trucks, but not on Lil Reds. They all ps, pdb and the same drive train. Few had A/C though. The Lil Red was more true to its hot rod (read that street rod) aspirations than any other vehicle in the 70s. I have owned a 78 and 79 and neither had even A/C, let alone power windows, but they both did great burnouts.

  • Demort71
    Posted May 16, 2015 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    The Lil Red Express is the wildest looking factory hot rod truck of all times. None of the other manufacturers ever came close to selling one that was any more insane. The next wildest one was the fastest naturally aspirated (no super chargers, turbos or blowers) pickup truck ever made that I can think of and that was the SRT V10 equipped models-another Dodge product!

    I am about to start restoring a 78 LRE that my dad bought used in 1990 and basically just stuck in a corner of the garage for most of the last 25 years. I think he was too embarrassed to be seen driving it. It is very original, right down to the drive train and paint. Mainly it needs the drive train restored, a new paint job and wood bed. It has very little rust. This is going to be a relatively easy resto.

    I owned a beat up 79 LRE 25 years ago for a short time, but traded it for work done on a 71 Challenger R/T I was restoring at the time. Still have the Challenger and will be taking over the 78 LRE from my now aged dad.

    They are a blast (in all senses of the word) to drive! They also handle real well. Since they call came with disc brakes, there really isn’t a huge need to upgrade the brakes either as they stop pretty fast.

  • Demort71
    Posted July 2, 2015 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    Even though 225hp sounds limp waisted, it was a lot more than the 78 vettes and weak 302 cobra mustangs and frail F-bodies had. The few remaining big blocks displacing 400 ci plus were putting out about 200 hp max on a good day in 1978-79.

    The lil red could outrun just about everything in stoplight racing that was found on the streets in the late 70s. It was able to do a long burnout, while new Vettes and camaros could barely manage enough torque to chirp the tires! Mustangs were all stickers and no go in that time. I owned 2 lil reds and currently have a 78. That is the way it was on the streets. You seldom saw a real muscle car any more then. People had already started putting them in storage by 78.

  • asfas
    Posted October 5, 2015 at 11:20 am | Permalink


  • Posted October 5, 2015 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Torque Burnout available on the website hack-ios.com

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