Cheap 1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express Project

We’ve seen more than a few examples of the 1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express over the years here at Barn Finds. However, this particular vehicle must rate as one of the saddest that has crossed our desks. It is now a shadow of its former self and will need a lot of work if it is to reclaim its past glory. There will be more than a few of our readers who will argue that it is not worth the effort, but below that faded exterior is a classic that is said to be structurally sound. The Dodge is located in Lenexa, Kansas, and is listed for sale here on eBay. Bidding is at $599 with less than a day left!

The Li’l Red Express has so many marks against it that it is hard to know where to start. The Medium Canyon Red paint is badly faded and oxidized, but in reality, that is the least of this classic’s problems. The panels wear a wide assortment of dings and dents, and some of the panels probably aren’t viable repair propositions. There is rust visible in the lower sections of the doors and front fenders. The attractive external timber features are all grey and split, while the bed floor is totally gone. Also missing are the distinctive exhaust stacks and the original wheels. It is worth noting that the wheels that the Dodge wears in these photos are not included in the sale., A set of steel wheels will be fitted so that the vehicle can be loaded onto a trailer. On a more positive note, the frame wears a coating of surface corrosion, but it does appear to be structurally sound. It also seems that the same might be true of the cab floors.

When it rolled off the production line, The Li’l Red Express came equipped with a 360ci V8, along with an A727 automatic transmission. This combination produced 225hp and made the Express one of the fastest passenger vehicles to roll off an American assembly line in 1979. Sadly, that engine is now a distant memory, but the original transmission is included in the sale. Just what path the next owner chooses to follow will be a matter of personal choice. This can never be a numbers-matching classic, so the option is certainly there to add something more potent to the engine bay. It is the lack of an engine that also impacts the viability of this classic as a restoration project, and is something that will have potential buyers thinking long and hard.

Things don’t improve a lot when we open the doors and take a look around inside the Dodge. The interior trim is severely shredded, while the dash is also damaged. The door trims look like they could be salvaged, as could the wheel and gauge cluster. Beyond that, there is going to be a lot of time and money required if this interior is to be returned to the state that it was in when the vehicle rolled off the production line.

The 1979 Dodge Li’l Red Express was a sales success for the company, and 5,118 buyers liked them enough to hand over their cash to become a proud owner. This was even though they were not a cheap investment. A standard Dodge D-150 would have set you back $5,168. However, by the time the Li’l Red Express was fully kitted out as this one was, the price would have soared to around $8,250. Today, these are a desirable collectible, and prices can range anywhere between $23,000 and $35,000, depending on vehicle condition and options. This one would have a long way to go to reach those sorts of prices. So, what do you think? Is this a viable restoration project, or is it destined to be dismantled for parts?


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  1. Gene

    Given that the overall body panels were the same all the way to 1992-3, replacements shouldn’t be too hard to find.

    It’s never going to be a numbers matching specimen, so have fun with it.

    Helephants, Hellcat, or 4wd the thing.

    Do what you want and make it yours.

    Like 6
  2. Stevieg

    I agree with Gene, everything this needs as far as body is readily available, even kits for the wood.
    I would restore it to original appearance & install a higher output small block, then just enjoy it. Could be a fun vehicle!
    I would also keep the mudflaps. I don’t know why, but I would lol.

    Like 3
  3. Charles Simons

    Can you see a Hellcat under this? New red paint, gold trim, and new wood siding?

  4. Troy s

    Keep the beater theme going, avoid shiny new looking parts, 440 built to the hilt and call it Farm Truck II. Stupid idea yes but it doesn’t need to be another psuedo 70’s BJ and the Bear 10/4 good buddy wanna be. Sorry.

    Like 3
    • Stevieg

      I like your idea too!

      Like 2
  5. George

    Not a good parts truck. The rusty tailgate is a good indicator. Cab might be OK, but look for rust through, above the drip rail.

    Left rear fender is probably the only salvageable part and maybe the box sides, and frame.

    Too much work and too much $$$ to bring it back. My advise……… buy a better one!!

    Only body parts from 1972 to 80 are the same, that box was available until ’85.

  6. Rick

    If the truck were closer, like down the street, I would be interested.

    Like 2
  7. Phil Detweiler

    I hate to be such a pessimist, but this seller has nothing left to sell. Absolutely everything that made a Little Red Truck a Little Red Truck — the 360 four barrel engine, the chromed vertical exhaust stacks, the wood appliques, and even the gold decals — are either shot or missing completely.

    A sad end for what was once a unique vehicle.

    Like 4
  8. Dave

    Leave the exterior alone, way too much time and money to fix. Gotta de-sconge the interior, but no need to doll it up. Get a used 440 from a motorhome and make the truck safe for the road. It’ll always be a beater, but a fun beater.

    Like 5
  9. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    SOLD for $875.

    Like 1
  10. Arthur

    Charles Simons wrote: “Can you see a Hellcat under this? New red paint, gold trim, and new wood siding?”

    Speaking for myself, I can also see an Art Morrison or Roadster Shop truck chassis under this as well as a Bowler Performance 4L80E or Tremec T-56 Magnum for the Hellcat engine. Finally, I can see this truck getting fitted with Forgeline GA3C wheels fitted with high performance tires.

  11. Dave

    There is more than $875 in parts if nothing else. I woulda grabbed it if it was closer.

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