Fastest American Car In ’78: 1978 Dodge Lil’ Red Express

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In 1978, if you wanted to buy the fastest new vehicle on the market, what would it have been? Whatever your guess, you’d likely be wrong because it wasn’t an automobile, but a truck – the Dodge Lil’ Red Express. Why was it the fastest? Because it had a police interceptor motor and wasn’t subject to the usual regulations because it was a pickup. Located in Brentwood, California, this survivor has cosmetic issues and needs a bit of mechanical work, too, before getting back out on the road. It’s available here on craigslist for $14,500. Kudos to Tony Primo for this vintage find.

Dodge has always been the performance leader among Chrysler brands, and that led them to create a muscle truck in the late 1970s. Thus, the Lil’ Red Express, a two-year offering, became the fastest American-made vehicle in the 1978 model year. They took a half-ton D100 step-side (aka “Utiline”) pick-up, painted it red, added some wood trim on the bed, put dual exhaust smokestacks on the exterior, and it was ready to go. But the key was the 360 cubic inch V8 that was popular with law enforcement for their own vehicles. The Express saw the 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.

The 1978 versions of the truck did not have catalytic converters thanks to Dodge finding a loophole in emissions regulations. So, the 225 hp engine likely created more power than the ratings would indicate. Unfortunately, that loophole was closed for 1979, so if you’re looking for one of these pickups, the ’78 is the one to have. All “Reds” used a special 727 TorqueFlite automatic with 3.55:1 rear-end gearing. Car and Driver tested one of these beasts and it beat everything else coming out of Detroit in terms of how fast it could go from 0 to 100.

With 85,000 miles on the odometer, the seller confesses that the truck had been sitting for a while when they bought it. Since no effort has been made to flush out the fuel system, it only runs off an external can for now (which means just trips around the cul de sac).  We surmise the paint is original but touched up because it was getting thin in some places, but there is no body filler anywhere and the vehicle was never in an accident. The interior is okay but shows the kind of wear expected out of a truck with this many miles. And check the wheels — are the wider ones on the front? The seller has acquired a new project, so this Lil’ Red Express is the odd man out.

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  1. Howie

    Can you say beater.

    Like 7

    I can say NOT a beater

    Like 5
  3. Dave

    Someone likes JC Whitney……

    Like 0
  4. Dave Lewandoski

    Stacks AND tailpipes?

    Like 3
    • Randall

      ‘Course! Those 360s like to breathe!

      Like 3
  5. Mark Neumann

    Why are there dual exhausts behind the rear tires?

    Like 4
  6. Michael Berkemeier

    Wrong, this was nowhere close to the “fastest” production vehicle in 1978. That title was held by the Plymouth Fury and Dodge Monaco B-Body Mopars that were equipped with the E86 440HP engine and A38 Police Package. The top speed on those cars was 132.7 mph. They were faster than the top-engine optioned Corvettes, T/A’s, or anything else produced domestically.

    They were, in fact, the quickest production pickup truck produced, to date, at that time. The E58 360 was the police small-block option which was faster in a car (and was available to the public) especially when equipped with a 2.71 gear ratio. The 3.55 in the LRE (Little Red Express) limited the top speed immensely.

    Like 3
    • MOPAR Joe

      The 1978 440 police package was a dog compared to the LRE truck

      Like 7
  7. 455RAIV

    Wrong it wasn’t the Fastest – That was the Prototype with HP Heads – Holley carb etc. – The Production Lil Red Express Truck ran a 15.7 @ 88 mph in the 1/4 mile – Google Dodge connection – specs there . The 78 W72 400 4 spd. T/A’s – Formula’s were the Quickest :)

    Like 2
  8. Denny N.Member

    Russ is right, the ’78 is the one to get, no catalytic converter plus I like the round headlights better than the rectangular ones on the ’79s.

    Like 2
  9. JB@1025

    I owned a 79 back in the early 80’s paid 6K for it from local Dodge BBC Dealer in Burien Wa. Ran it down the 1/4 mile at local SIR track ran same number as mag claimed 15.7. Was pretty torquey but only got 12 to 14 mpg i traded it back to same Dealer for a 89 Nissan 240SX. People loved my LRE with lot’s of thumb up’s ! Nice ones fetch high buck’s these days.

    Like 2
  10. Don Leblanc

    I knew a guy who blew the original engine of his LRE, and had a Hemi put in
    OMG that thing hauled A$$.

    Like 1
  11. Richard Byerly

    If this were on the East Coast I’d be all over it! As long as the rain gutters aren’t rusted out and!

    Like 1
  12. PRA4SNW

    I prefer the Syclone from a couple of days ago. Of course, that one cost double what this one is.

    Like 1
  13. R.Lee

    The pipes rattled after rust got into the inside, or rocks by kids thrown in. Rain gutter rust was massive issue. Carburetor float was set to high and under hard stop or turning burnout flooded over creating fires from spark plug wires. Then the pinion bearing not getting adequate gear oil.

    And if you put on wide rubber the truck could corner pretty well, that is until bumpsteer might spin you out.

    And if the bottom of the doors lasted more than 5 years without rust it was because they had been replaced. Did I say terrible brakes?

    Like 3
    • bone

      Must be a Mopar hater , the Chevy Square bodies rusted nearly as fast as the import trucks did in New England , far worse than any Ford or Dodge . Of the three, the Dodges body held up the best.

      Like 2
  14. Greg broadsky

    Michael Berkemeier you are correct BUT and i say BUT the Police cars were not Production vehicles!!!! yes they were faster

    Like 0

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