One Owner: 1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express

No vehicle better epitomized the change in the 1970s American performance car market than the 1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express. At the start of the decade, the muscle car was the king of the kids. By 1979, the Li’l Red Express was one of the fastest passenger vehicles on the country’s roads. Buyer acceptance exceeded the company’s expectations, and good examples command impressive prices in the current market. Our feature vehicle is a one-owner Pickup that presents well. There are some changes to note, but none are irreversible if the buyer seeks complete originality. It is listed here on eBay in Pompano Beach, Florida. Solid bidding has pushed the price to $15,000, but I’m unsurprised that the figure falls short of the reserve.

As the name implies, buyers could order their Li’l Red Express in any color, as long as it was red. Standard features included Gold decals, timber highlights, and a pair of chrome exhaust stacks that screamed attitude. This 1979 version retains those items, although the seller substituted a set of factory Rallye Magnum wheels for the original chrome items. Since it is a one-owner vehicle, it could be worth potential buyers asking whether the seller retains the original items because refitting those would help maximize the potential long-term value of this classic. The paint shines impressively, and the straight panels suggest this beauty hasn’t been abused or mistreated. The timber looks good, with the seller recently splashing the cash to professionally refinish the bed timber. They also fitted an aftermarket rear bumper, but sourcing the correct one shouldn’t pose a challenge. The remaining trim and glass look great, while the exhaust stacks are in excellent condition for their age.

This Dodge’s interior is tidy and has no apparent needs. However, purists will note a few changes they may wish to reverse. The most obvious is the floor-mounted B&M shifter, which looks out of place. The original quadrant is intact on the column, so reversing that change should be easy. The same is true for the aftermarket wheel, which jars on me. I’m unsure about the seatcover because I’ve only seen the bench wearing Black or Red, but I’ve never seen an original two-tone cover. However, I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong. The same is true of the dash and pad. I’ve seen them either all Black or with the lower section and pad in Red. This mix is another new one for me. The factory radio made way for a Pioneer CD player with Bluetooth. Overall, there are no glaring needs or faults that require attention. As with the wheels, it could be worth enquiring about the removed items because if the seller retained them, they might be willing to include them in the sale.

Powering this Dodge is a 360ci V8 that sends its 225hp to the rear wheels via a three-speed A-727 automatic transmission. Power steering and power brakes should help remove the physical effort from the driving experience. The specifications allow us to ponder how the automotive landscape had changed when this classic rolled off the showroom floor. This drivetrain combination allowed the Express to cover the ¼ mile in 15.7 seconds, which is impressive for a vehicle of this type. To place that into perspective, a ’79 Corvette could cover the same distance in 15.5 seconds. Owners could squeeze 15.9 seconds out of a Pontiac Trans Am, while the poor Camaro Z/28 finished a distant last with 16.7 seconds. That meant the only passenger vehicle from that model year capable of showing a Li’l Red Express a clean set of heals was the Corvette, but the story changed when you compared the 0-100mph figures. The Express left its sport and pony car rivals eating its dust thanks to lower gearing. Such a situation would have been unthinkable in 1970, but the more relaxed emission regulations for commercial vehicles at the end of the decade transformed the unimaginable into a reality. The seller indicates the only use this beauty gets is weekend outings and trips to shows. They provide no information on how it runs or drives, but their approachability suggests they will willingly answer questions on that front.

The 1978 Li’l Red Express represented a toe-in-the-water exercise for Dodge, as the company was unsure how readily accepted it would be. It produced 2,188 vehicles, and buyers snapped them up without hesitation. Changes for 1979 resulted in a slight performance drop, but it didn’t prevent 5,118 buyers from handing over their cash. While some lived a hard life, the survival rate remains surprisingly high. With values climbing steadily, it is common for enthusiasts to willingly pay $30,000 for a tidy example in the current market. The changes made to this vehicle could negatively impact its value, but the known ownership history may prove enough to minimize the impact. For purists, there is the chance to reverse the changes and maximize their investment. Would you follow that path, or would you choose to enjoy this classic as it currently stands?

Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    Many Li’l have been featured here on BarnFinds over the last couple years. This is the nicest one I remember seeing. I agree the changes to the truck deduct from the value and I would quickly replace the bumper and wheels back to original. I don’t think the seat upholstery is correct but I would make this a lower priority. Hats off to Chrysler for finding and exploiting the less stringent emissions standard for light trucks. Shows me there were people still at Chrysler who still wanted performance during the malaise era. Pontiac deserves mention stockpiling 455 engines so they could make the TransAm a fun performance car.

    Like 3
  2. Denny N. Member

    I’m with alphasud in thinking the mods should be corrected – if I owned it and to avoid criticism at car shows. I prefer the ’78 version with the round headlights and no catalytic converter which I understand was added to the ’79s.

    Like 3
  3. Dan

    That is not Pompano Beach in the background, just saying.

    Like 1
  4. clyde martin

    That one also has the wrong type oem wheels on it. They originally came with OEM 15″x8″ chrome slotted wheels with Goodyear Eagle 275/60R-15 rwl tires. The original interior was never 2 toned. Most Lil Red Expresses and Warlocks came with factory bucket set with a fold up center jump seat…however this was an option. The Lil Red came with a 727 automatic and a 3:55 limited slip diff.

  5. Rw

    The Mopar Rallye wheels actually look good IMO.

  6. WOLFGANG

    Pontiac stockpiled 400ci engines in the late 70’s, I think they all were of the W72 variety which is the higher HP 400

  7. Cushmoney

    Remember one of these as well as a Warlock languishing for months on the Chrysler dealership in my hometown!

    Like 1
  8. don r whitney

    Drove both the 78 and 79, brand new, very fast for that time, I want one for a moment, then jump back in 71 340 Duster, 4 speed,b5 blue, Hang on for awhile

  9. scottymac

    Always hated those Chrysler/Imperial wheels.

  10. Robeffy

    Having restored one of these, and was told it was the 2nd most original one at Moparfest, by a guy who built them on the assembly line in Windsor, I can add some constructive comments.
    Wrong rear bumper, no pin striping on fenders, missing front hood emblem in chrome “DODGE”, wrong steering wheel, seat upholstery, the tray under the dash on the LH side?, floor shifter?, AC vents ( only 13 Lil Red were sold with AC! ), wrong door panels ( should have wood grain inserts ),missing rubber hoses to feed the carb air cleaner, missing rubber splash panels from frame to engine. I believe the underside of the dash should be painted black, not red. Tonneau cover and support is aftermarket. Wrong rims – nearly impossible to find them.. This is a nice truck, and they are cool to drive, sound great, etc. If buying as a “Show Winner”, there is likely some fun to be had to correct the non stock stuff here. If it’s truly a factory AC truck, wow.. All Lil Red’s started with the Adventurer package, that had the wood grain inserts on doors, dash, and on the seats themselves. The new owner will have fun with it!

    Like 2
    • alphasud Member

      Thanks for your accurate account. Looks like a good driver but not very original and authentic but with work it could be. And like you said if this is a factory A/C truck it’s definitely worth making it as close to original as possible.

      Like 2
  11. Howie

    At least it is not faded like most of them on here, seller has over 100 vehicles listed.

    Like 1
  12. Johnny V

    Good feedback, but a couple of corrections are needed. There were many hundreds of Lil Red’s sold with AC 19 1979, not just 13. I know, because I sold them new in 1978 and 1979, and all that I saw or sold had AC – in Texas at the time, unsellable without it. The red seat was a no cost option that was not taken often. I don’t remember the black center in the red seat, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t original. The red dash is correct if the seat is original, they were color coordinated. Other than that, you made great observations, thanks!

    The most important mechanical item does appear correct, the valve covers indicate that it is an LA motor, not a magnum replacement, but the engine build date stamp should be among the photos. There is no such thing as “number matching” with these trucks, but there is absolutely a build date that lines up with the truck production date. Cast Month, day year are on the block, left side above the oil pan, would help the seller to post this. The floor shifter is the biggest “Why” item on the truck, with the wheels next.

    A whole lot of this truck looks very nice, but it is very difficult to accurately assess it with so few photos. A start/run video would greatly help, as well. Good luck to the seller!

  13. LPearson

    Recently sold for $7000.00 Cord Kruse Auction according to VIN off eBay add.

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