Cheap But Rusty: 1979 Dodge Lil’ Red Express

So, you want to buy a classic muscle truck. And you want one that’s limited production, perhaps in an effort to make a good investment in your next project. Only trouble is, the good ones are well out of the “project truck” price range, at the moment, such is the case of the Dodge Lil’ Red Express pickup. Unless, of course, you go a different route, and buy one in rough condition for a low price. That’s the incentive with this rusty Lil’ Red Express here on craigslist, listed for $4,900 and needing total restoration.

The seller ominously reports that the truck has significant rust issues, which is a shame considering the mileage is reportedly low at just 49,000. However, you can tell before even laying eyes on the rust that the truck has had a rough life, with plenty of dings and dents and surface rust throughout. The wooden slats on the sides of the bed are practically gone, but it’s good to see the trademark side pipes still there.

The seller claims the drivetrain is original, and that the Lil’ Red Express will perform lot drives without issue. The 360 paired to the 727 automatic proved to be a winning combo for the Lil’ Red Express, as buyers flocked to the showrooms in ’78 to buy one. The ’79s like this one were produced in higher numbers with some deviations, including the addition of a catalytic converter.

It’s hard to tell just how far gone this Dodge might be without any actual pictures of the rust that has the seller so worried. Clearly, the body has seen better days, but there’s still potential here given the rarity of the Lil’ Red Express. I think the price is still a touch high if we’re talking about frame or chassis rot; perhaps only high by a few hundred if the seller is referring to some of the visible surface rust in the photos. Would you take this rough ‘Lil Red Express on as a project?


  1. Eric


  2. LARRY

    Wonder why someone beat the crap out of it?

    • Speedy Gonzalez

      All the old trucks are like that up here on my brothers 79′ F250 we counted 20 bullet holes, and there isn’t a strait panel on the truck. It’s like 5 times worse than this, but there’s a magical thing called Bondo.

  3. Camaro Joe


    This was the fastest thing Detroit made in the late 1970’s. It was the fastest Mopar for sure and all the magazines said it was faster than Camaro and Corvette plus whatever Furd had. I’m not sure but I don’t think AMC was even making a V-8 at that point.

    Larry – a lot of of those were well taken care of, but at some point it was a used truck and apparently it was owned by somebody who just didn’t care.

    It’s in Northeastern PA so it has rust problems for sure. But Northwestern PA is much worse for salt, to there is a CHANCE the frame isn’t too bad. If that’s the case there’s a chance you could fix it with southern/western body panels and not lose money on the project. If you could score a decent short bed body from the south it looks like a decent project.

    I restored an 84 Chevy 1/2 ton short bed 4×4 that I inherited from my Dad in 2006. It needed every body panel except the hood, top of the cab, and tailgate. I had $7,000 in a decent but not show winning truck and thought I was out of my mind for doing it. But it’s family so I did it. Now they’re going for a lot more than that, so I could sell it an make money. But it’s family and I have to keep it and spend money on oil changes, insurance, etc. But I still like it even though the ox cart like ride keeps me from driving it a lot.

    Like 2
  4. TimM

    I’d like to EXPRESS my grief on the condition of this truck!!!

    Like 2
  5. Arthur

    Jeff Lavery wrote: “Would you take this rough ‘Lil Red Express on as a project?”

    If I had the money and means, yes. Even if it’s somehow too far gone for a standard restoration, it would certainly make a good restomod candidate, especially if there is frame and chassis rot. Such an issue would pave the way for a custom chassis installation.

    • Del

      Too far gone

      • Arthur

        In my case, it would be too far gone for me to turn this truck into a restomod since I wasn’t trained to build hot rods.

        On the other hand, there are professional outfits like the Roadster Shop that tackle projects like this all the time, and with the existence of companies like LMC Truck, parts would be easy to obtain, not to mention that Roadster Shop builds their own custom chassis.

  6. Johnmloghry Johnmloghry

    I’ve liked these trucks since they were new but never able to acquire one. A fellow at my old cruise night had one in immaculate condition. This one is probably a candidate for someone on a low budget with lots of time for restoration, but the initial investment is to high at this point.
    God bless America

  7. Rosco

    If the condition of the windshield molding / trim is any indication of the rust, that area alone would be a big undertaking. Drip rail area common for bad rust on these. By the time you repaired and or replaced all the damaged sheet metal, do engine, trans, interior, no way it could be restored for what you could buy a nice finished one for.

  8. Dave

    not my idea of cheap. No interior or underneath pics, where are the original wheels and air cleaner? Have had Dodge trucks since ’84, the frame loves to rot out by the fuel tank and around the rear spring hangers. Plane to spend time underneath with a hammer. And the cabs rot above the windshield, inside and out. and the cab mounts. Pa uses a ton of road salt in the winter, and it takes it’s toll……make me a nice parts truck for my stepside.

  9. Tricky

    some owners should be publicly flogged!!

  10. Miguel

    $4900 is the needs restoration price?

    That is big money for a Dodge truck in this shape.

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