A Fast Truck: 1979 Dodge Lil’ Red Express

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While the late 1970’s were not a good time for performance cars, Dodge was able to pull a neat trick in 1978 with the introduction of the high performance Lil’ Red Express pick up truck. A loophole in emissions regulations allowed this truck to be offered without catalytic converters. In fact, the 1978 Lil’ Red Express pickup was the fastest American passenger vehicle built that year based on a Car and Driver magazine test from zero to 100 mph.

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Dodge made 2,188 examples of this special truck in its first year, powered by a special high performance 360 cubic inch small block, with a four barrel carburetor. This engine was a modified version of the 360 police engine (E58) with output of 225 net horsepower at 3,800 RPM. The package also included Hemi style mufflers with a crossover pipe exiting through two chrome stacks located behind the cab, also a special 727 transmission and 3.55:1 rear gearing.

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In 1979, the Lil’ Red Express package proved even more popular, with 5,118 examples sold. However in this second (and last) year of production, a catalytic converter was required, forcing the use of unleaded gasoline, and presumably, slightly less horsepower, though the looks were just as good. The 1979 version rode on LR60x15 raised white letter tires mounted on good looking 8-inch chrome wheels.

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While this truck is a well-known collectible, many of them were thrashed when new and there are not many left in all original condition.

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The example shown here is for sale in Salisbury, Massachusetts on Craigslist and is claimed by the seller to be “all original” in excellent condition.

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The paint and decals look extremely good in the photographs provided. Along with new tires, the seller says the truck also has “new front and rear bumpers, new carpet,” and that does cause one to wonder if this truck is indeed, all original, as claimed. If the bumpers needed replacing, then is the very shiny paint original also? Are those decals factory original as well?

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The word “original” is thrown around by sellers in ways that sometimes cause doubt about the definition of the word, as it is applied to old cars and trucks. For most of us, I think, “original” means that a car is the way it came from the factory, allowing for normal use and wear and tear. We tend to accept that parts like sparkplugs, brake pads, batteries, and the like will have been replaced over time. It’s when we look at paint and interior materials that definitions seem to get fuzzy. When a seller says that a truck is “all original” as this one does, that should mean that the paint, interior, and yes, the bumpers, are what the Dodge factory put there.

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Even though this truck really does appear to be in great condition, whether and how much it’s original (or not) will make a big difference to quite a few buyers. That’s something that has to be discussed with the seller, if you are a potential buyer.

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Regardless of its actual originality, this truck looks terrific and will be fun to drive. It has either been maintained incredibly well, or it’s been repainted and the decals and pinstriping have been redone to a very high level. The seller does not mention the number of miles on the truck. The asking price is $15,000, and given the current values of Lil’ Red Express trucks, this appears to be a reasonable price. In fact, if it really is “all original,” you might not want to drive it the way it was meant to be driven. So ironically, if this truck is indeed wearing a repaint, its new owner might actually be even happier with it.  You would not feel so bad then if the paint got chipped while you are on the road driving the hell out of it, as Dodge intended for this truck when it was built. If you like these very cool trucks, read more about them here.

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Comments

  1. geoff

    the rims on this “original” truck are not the factory little red express wheels

    Like 1
  2. Rando

    And new sawblade wheels. And…and…and… Not buying that this is original. Air cleaner decal doesn’t look lie others on inernet either. Easy enough to buy new decals. Originals would likeley be faded and cracked, etc. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not original? I have seen these with the Pro Street look and that’s pretty sharp too.

    This one could be a clone?

  3. Blindmarc

    The fastest u.s. Production vehicle of 1978….pretty sad days back then…..

  4. Fred

    Unfortunately most sellers define original as “appears original”, not IS original.

  5. moto dog

    The step plates that the exhaust pipes pass through should be chromed.

    Like 1
  6. HeadMaster1

    I used to have a 100% original 78 Lil’ Red Express……air cleaner lid was chrome, as were steps where the exhaust stacks are mounted. Wheels were staggered also…Fun truck, wish I still had it

    • Jay.W.S

      Helped a friend of my dad clean out a storage yard he had over 125 cars and trucks in he had 24 hrs to vacate the property so as a 14 year old at the time (DAD) said come on son,in the very back corner in 5 feet of weeds a 1978 mint condition dodge (WARLOCK) 23K ORIGINAL MILES 4 SPEED I FELL IN LOVE I ASKED ABOUT IT AND BY THE END OF THE DAY ENDED UP WITH THE TRUCK FOR 100.00 BECOUSE I SLAVE LABORED,I HAD IT FOR 5 YEARS AND IT GOT STOLEN AND WAS NEVER FOUND.I HAVE ONLY SEEN ONE SINCE THEN AND WAS HALF AS NICE AS THE ONE I HAD.NOW HAVE A 1970 D100 STEPSIDE WITH A 440,727 TRANS 392 POSI REAR I FOUND IN ALABAMA IN A FIELD WITH HORSES,WAS A 1 ONER TRUCK THE OLD MAN SOLD IT TO ME FOR 600.00 BUT WAS RUFF,NEW FLOORS,ROCKERS INNER,OUTER AND NEW GLASS.FUN TRUCK BUT STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION,

  7. Mark S Member

    Who cares if there are items on here that have been redone. It’s a nice truck for a fair price. You should be glad that it’s been repainted as the original dodge paint was $h!t with paint that would fall off right down to the primer. If the bumpers have been rechromed than aren’t you glad you don’t have to do it. I know there are folks out there that would rather have a rusty bumper and half the paint gone, but personally I like it looking like this instead. Nice truck I sure wouldn’t mind having it in my garage.

    Like 1
  8. American_Badaz

    I love these trucks. I do believe I would hold out for a 78 though. Much better looking front end in my opinion. I would still roll this one all day though!

  9. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    nice truck – but others caught the changes from original – it got me wondering – like the nice Olds convertible – maybe the current owners were told on buying – yes ” it’s all original ” and just have never researched or cared too….

  10. RoughDiamond RoughDiamond Member

    Don’t believe these came with a gauge of some sort mounted on the inside of the L windshield pillar. I suspect this trucks been run hard.

  11. JerrySCCA

    Having owned a ’79 (and wish I still had it), a cursory glance at the listing photos shows many things that are not original…

  12. JohnD

    Looks like a very nice truck. But given the many items that don’t seem to be “all original”, why does the seller confuse the issue by advertising it as “all original”? He’s not doing himself any favors, especially with the Barnfinds.com crowd.

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