360 Police Engine: 1978 Dodge Lil’ Red Express

Dodge has always been the performance leader among the Chrysler brands, so it was no surprise that they created a muscle truck in the late 1970s to help bolster that image. Enter the Lil’ Red Express, a two-year offering that resulted in the fastest American-made vehicle in the 1978 model year. Production was relatively low and includes this ’78 example that’s located in Grove City, Pennsylvania and offered here on eBay for the Buy It Now price of $12,000 (or Make Offer). Hats off to Barn Finds reader Boot for bringing this cool truck our way!

For 1978, Dodge took a half-ton Ram step-side or “Utiline” pick-up, painted it red, added some wood trim on the outside of the bed, put dual exhaust smokestacks on the exterior, and the LiL’ Red Express was born. For the first model year, it saw production of just 2,188 units plus another 5,118 for 1979 for a grand total of 7,306 trucks before it disappeared from the line-up.

What really made the truck special was what was under the hood. The pickup used a 360 cubic inch V8 normally reserved for police cars and it was good for 225 net hp at 3800 rpm. Dodge took advantage of a loophole in emissions regulations and the ’78 models did not have catalytic converters, so the truck was largely unrestricted given the standards of the day. All “Reds” used a special 727 TorqueFlite automatic with 3.55:1 rear end gearing.

The seller’s truck looks solid, having spent most of its life in the Carolinas. The paint is faded and the woodwork no longer vibrant, but all that can be renewed. The rear bumper is not original to the truck, but most everything else is, including the “tuff” steering wheel and bench seat that’s not perfect, but still quite functional. If you had a mind to, you could get behind the wheel in a desolated area to see just how well these things performed. Car and Driver magazine tested one in 1978 and it beat everything else coming out of Detroit that year in terms of how fast it could go from 0 to 100.

Another interesting feature on the Express was that the factory chrome wheels were different widths, 7” up front and 8” in the back. These seem to still be present on the seller’s truck whose odometer reading is just 33,200, but there’s no claim this is its actual mileage. Because of their rarity today, these trucks can go for as much as $38,000, according to Hagerty, but that’s in prime condition. Fair condition should bring a third of that, which is about what the seller is looking to get out of this one. For more interesting facts and trivia about the Dodge Lil’ Red Express, check out this article on HotCars.com.

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Comments

  1. Troy s

    Back from when CB radios were the inn thing, 18 wheeleers, truckin’, and that darn bandit running blocker car in a very souped up black Trans Am!
    I like the faded red paint and overal appearance, whats not to like about the police special 360, I dont remember seeing too many of these at all on the road back then but hey, I was in jr. high anyways. I see more of them now, since the nineties really, than ever before.
    I picture one of these without the stacks but a noisy dual exhaust, of course that takes away from the little red trucks image.

    Like 1
  2. CCFisher

    Though everyone seems to call this the “Li’l Red Express,” Dodge always referred to this as the “Li’l Red Truck,” which is what would appear on the tailgate if this one were in better shape.

    Like 3
    • Dave

      and it says Little Red Express Truck on the door decals.

      Like 1
  3. John

    Cook that the truck still exists for those that like them. I always hated these, even in when I was little and saw a few on the road. Always thought the stacks and wood were stupid. Had the matchbox car. It is still mint as I never played with it because I thought it was stupid.

    Like 3
  4. Geo

    These always attract attention. I have a ’79 that needs a lot of work to get it back on the road. It was converted to propane fuel to cut down on its thirst for fuel.

    Bought mine used in 1988, probably will never sell it. Looked at them new but at $10K, too rich for me.

    Like 2
  5. mainlymuscle

    Why is it that I’d rather rock this, than a polished show truck , of which I see several of every year. (did I just answer my own question ? )
    I’d need the decals with equal patina though , and I think these all came with Bucket seats.

    Like 2
    • Geo

      Most did come with buckets, but the bench was standard, believe it or not. You could order those buckets on trucks as early as 1974 or so.

      Like 2
  6. Geo

    Most did come with buckets, but the bench was standard, believe it or not. You could order those buckets on trucks as early as 1974 or so.

    Like 1
  7. Eugene W.

    What exactly was the smog loophole that the 1978 models did not have catalytic converters? Anybody know?

    • Dave

      Gross vehicle weight ratings. Before the F150 with a 6250 pound GVWR they made the F100 with a 5000 pound GVWR. The loophole was the higher rating. Once leaded gas vanished in the US the loophole vanished along with it.

      Like 2
  8. Howie Mueler

    It looks like the red is going on pink now.

  9. wiliam brown

    in 1978 i was in the ARMY and on my way to Germany I had just bought a 1978 fleet side style dodge 1/2 ton pu it was the last year that dodge put a 440 mag in a pu so i have to differ with the little red truck theory about it being the fastest because another soldier in my unit had one of the little reds he never could see anything but my tail light’s.I wish I still had this truck unfortunately another soldier got my truck one night and it’s power is what ended my truck he hit a bldg head on destroyed my truck don’t know how he survived anyway just wanted to add this bit.

    Like 3
  10. Dave

    Front bumper is wrong also, off a 86 and up Dodge.

    Like 1
  11. Kevin

    I like it,and always have,even when they were new,and I was a 9 year old kid.

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