Muscle Truck: 1978 Dodge Lil’ Red Express

With its exhaust stacks and chrome rims, this Dodge could be mistaken for someone’s custom creation, but it’s actually a production truck. In fact, the Lil’ Red Express was the fastest American-built vehicle you could buy in ’78! It was faster than the Corvette and could even beat a Ferrari or two. This velocity advantage was made possible by some loopholes that Dodge took advantage of. We’ll talk about that later, but first let’s introduce this nice example. It’s located in Salinas, California and is listed here on eBay where bidding ends Friday.

The interior of this Dodge is about as good as you could get in a truck during the era. The optional air conditioning and bucket seats with fold down armrest are nice to have. You could only get an automatic in these and the Tuff wheel should look familiar to Mopar muscle car fans. There’s not much else to say about the interior. It was simple and black and that’s all you really needed in a muscle machine.

This is what we all came to see. That 360 cubic inch V8 is a modified version of the Dodge’s Police engine. This one could breathe easier though because of a loophole that allowed trucks to forgo the catalytic converters that were required on automobiles. With the exhaust billowing out of the twin chrome stacks and the powering going through 3.55:1 rear gears, this thing could light up the tires!

That was quite an accomplishment in 1978 when just about everything had been choked to death by emission equipment and bad gas. Five slot mags and wide white letter tires rounded out the package here and showed everyone that you meant business. Those rims were the hot ticket with the customizing and racing crowds so Dodge was smart to go with those. This isn’t something you’d want if you like to blend in, but if you enjoy doing smokey burnouts on the way to the hardware store, it might be perfect pickup!

Fast Finds


  1. Don

    I was born in 1970 ,I remember 1978 and 1979 when these were new ,I thought they were the coolest trucks ever ,almost 40 years latter I still think the Sam thing 💀

    • Chebby

      I was born in 1970 as well. Had a copy of a Petersen’s trick-truck magazine from 1978 featuring these new Dodges and was in AGONY at the idea I would not be allowed to drive for ten more years. I wanted one of these trucks soooo badly.

      Looking at them today, they really were made to appeal to the tastes of an 8-year old boy….as was ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ and so many of the TV shows offered in the ’70s. Love looking at this clean example, but don’t think I’d buy one.

  2. Michael

    My Brother bought one new. Had the super rare red bench seat interior. Never seen another one with the red interior. Super fun truck to drive. It got a lot of attention.

    • glen

      That’s a lot of red!

  3. boxdin

    These were the fastest production vehicle in US in 1978, faster than corvette !
    1978 is the year to buy coz in 79 they had full emissions equip.

    • Jesse Staff

      Yep, forgot to mention that. They made more in ’79, but they also put cats on them.

    • Howard A Member

      Hi boxdin, yeah, that should tell everyone what it was like in the late 70’s. This truck did 15.7@88 mph in the 1/4 ( apparently, there was a hipo version that did 14.7@93mph), quite respectable for a street vehicle. Didn’t take long for the feds to pull the plug on this fun.

      • boxdin

        LRT had only the police 360. Warlocks had that and other engines.

  4. Robbie

    Saw one of these a couple of weeks back at a car show, it still looked good. I had a new ’77 TA back in the day and knew better than to mess with one of these.

  5. Dave

    My head hurts from trying to read the eBay ad there is no punctuation the description just goes on an on and on there are some good pictures included there could have been more at least it is a driver and not a show queen if this was closer I would go look at it I’m not in the market for a truck these are really nice I haven’t seen one in years up in the rust belt

    • D

      Kinda runs on is that what you are trying to say

    • glen

      I don’t see any punctuation in your comment, either!

      • Moose Feather

        Not to be mean, but I think you missed the irony.

    • glen

      You’re probably right, Moose Feather. Nothing mean about it.

  6. Rob Rose

    They had a black version called “The Warlock”. The only thing that alwa6s bothered me was the steel 5 slot ” mag ” wheels.

  7. Jeff

    Pretty cool, but I’m more of a Midnight Express kind of guy.

    • glen

      Very nice. How does this compare, performance wise?

      • Jeff

        It’s been a while since I read up on them, but I think they were similar under the skin.

    • moosie Craig

      I was the proud owner of a ’78 Warlock with a 440″, what an awesome ride, fast doesnt even begin to describe it. rear tires were in short supply ,,,,, FAST, FAST, FAST, did I mention FASSSSSST! it pulled the trailer with the race cars on it without effort,,,,, even “Botchagalupes” ’66 Hemi Belvedere II ,unfortunately no pictures of it.

      • moosie Craig

        it was a transplant from my girlfriend wrecked ’69 Chrysler New Yorker. Having the Chrysler Parts warehouse in town helped immensely.

  8. stillrunners lawrence Member

    Nice early round eye…..

  9. RJ

    Spotted these two some time ago. I do not know if they are both still there or not.

  10. boxdin

    Warlocks were avail w any engine and in green, black, or red, 2wd or 4wd.

  11. Len Mac Dougall

    and here i thought the warloc version was the fastest with its 440 under the vhood

    • Howard A Member

      Hi Len ( and others curious about the Warlock) I read, the Warlock was available with the 440, but it was a de-tuned, 220hp, 2 barrel version, and most Warlocks had the slant 6, 318 or 360 ( or 400) and I believe this truck could still do better.

  12. MasterTyD

    I work for a car dealership and my boss goes to auctions and we sell the classic cars he buys and runs through the shop, touches up, etc. He got a Lil’ Red Express once, although I can’t remember the year. It had the red interior rather than the black leather, it was a fun truck to drive although it ran really, really cold!

  13. Rob

    Well, not sure about “every option” available. Lil Reds could be ordered with a factory tach and factory clock, which were installed on the sides of the silver dash panel, one on each side.

    I can provide a pic of the factory tach in our 79 Lil Red.

    I have seen a lot of these are local car shows, and to confuse the situation about options, dealers would install options which you could not order from the factory. Like sliding rear windows.

  14. Walter Joy

    Ugh, how my broke 18 year old self wishes they have the money for one, instead of dumping it into another red Dodge (Power Ram). Saw one for sale at Carlisle last year for under $10k. Perfect amount of wear and patina.

  15. Rob

    When buying a Lil Red, make sure the serial number has a “s” as the 5th digit, which means its a real one, not a truck converted over. This truck has the right serial number.
    It looks good, and seems like everyone remembers them, or knew someone who had one, etc etc.

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