The 1978-1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express was a specially built, limited edition stepside pickup that skirted around catalytic converter regulations for its first year of production. And that was one of the selling points Dodge used to help sell it. But there were more features to it than one characteristic.
Federal regulations required all vehicles be equipped with catalytic converters to help burn off all of the exhaust emitted by the engine. But a truck is not a car, and thus Dodge was not required to install them. Dodge marketers thought this could be terrific reason to make a “muscle truck.”
With flashy graphics to announce what it was, big rig-like exhaust running up the back of the cab, and real wood enhancements on the bedsides and tailgate, the Li’l Red Express was born. The name was a takeoff of the Little Red Wagon wheelstanding Dodge A-100 pickup that was so popular at drag races in that period.
Police Interceptor 360 ci Engine
A modified 360ci V8 Police Interceptor engine was sourced. These churned out 225 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. With smog regulations constipating engines, 225 hp was a big number. In fact it was a big enough number to make it the fastest production vehicle in 1978.
Exhaust was spent through Hemi-style mufflers for a resonating sound, and a crossover tube helped the exhaust exit. A modified 727 automatic transmission was hooked behind the 360 with 3.55:1 gears in back for a swift kick when you hit the throttle.
Other unique features of the Li’l Red Express are chrome slotted steel wheels on raised white letters, staggered 15-inch tires, chrome steps, and gold pin striping over the wheel openings. Some early examples came from the factory with the “Tuff” steering wheels, too.
How Many Li’l Red Express Pickups Built?
In all 2,188 Li’l Red Express trucks were sold. Though not a huge number don’t forget these brought a spotlight to the brand, and helped bring in customers. They walked in to see the truck and maybe they left with a Polara sedan.
It was enough of a positive for Dodge to bring the Li’l Red Express back for 1979. Unfortunately federal mandates caught up with the pickup truck and catalytic converters were now required. But the wave of publicity from the previous version helped Dodge avoid bringing up this minor discrepancy.
1978 vs 1979 Li’l Red Express Pickups
Though the 1979 Li’l Red Express pickups were almost identical to the 1978 trucks, a new flat hood with stacked square headlights was new. The staggered tires were gone-now the Express ran on LR60x15 raised letter tires all around. Also, an 85 mph speedo was new.
For 1979 Dodge built 5,118 Express trucks. So, for both years under 10,000 Li’l Red Express step sides were built. The pickup was unique-enough when new that many were well maintained and recognized as future collectibles. As a result there are quite a few around so there are always a few for sale.
Prices are between $20,000-30,000 with those in need going for less. Stay away from rust at any cost. Conceivably one could clone an Express, but for the effort you’ll be better off restoring an original. Whatever you save in cloning one you’ll lose when you sell it. Why not have an original?
There are clubs and a network of places specializing in certain aspects of reproduction like the gold lettering and stripes.
If you like pickups and are into collecting you can combine the two and have a fun, reliable, attention-getting Li’l Red Express.