Sometimes car manufacturers make a special vehicle to make a statement. Take the Dodge Viper sports car, for example. This V-10 powered beast was specifically designed to inject some energy back into the languishing Dodge brand. The first Vipers were built in the early 90s and the concept worked quite well, as just about every journalist in the business wrote about them.
Back in time
Let’s go back in time and examine another interesting “statement vehicle.” It was 1978 and things weren’t very rosy in the car business because of new emission control standards and rising gas prices. To spice things up, Dodge developed their “Adult Toys” concept. Kims No Bull of Laurel, MS, a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Nissan, Toyota, Chevrolet dealer, explained to us that these adult toys were created to put a little fun back into the car business.
In 1978, Dodge released one of the most interesting trucks ever made. Called the Lil’ Red Express Truck, this vehicle offered unique styling and outrageous performance. In fact, in 1978, the Dodge Lil’ Red Express was the fastest American-made vehicle as tested by Car and Driver magazine. Yes, this included the Corvette and other brute American cars. A truck as the fastest American-made vehicle? It was a matter of the EPA emission regulations at the time. Because of a loophole in the regulations, the 1978 Dodge Lil’ Red Express Truck did not have to have any restrictive catalytic converters in the exhaust pathway like passenger cars did. What the Lil’ Red Express did have was a special high performance 360 ci 4-barrel small block engine (a modified version of the company’s 360 ci police engine). Also included was free-flow mufflers, a specially modified Mopar 727 automatic transmission, and a rugged 3.55:1 ration rear axle.
For styling, Dodge went to town. The trucks were painted in fire-engine-red paint and had large “Lil’ Red Express” graphics plastered on the cab doors. There were 2 x 2.5” monster chrome exhaust stacks sticking up the back of the truck. It rode on 15” raised white letter tires on chrome rims in the front, and 8-inch chrome wheels on the rear. The interiors were just as colorful with a standard bench seat or optional buckets, and a matching fold down arm/rest console was an option.
Huge sales – not quite
As unique as the Dodge Lil’ Red Express Truck was, it didn’t sell very many copies. As matter of fact, just 2,188 were sold in 1978. However, like the Viper years later, the Lil’ Red Express Truck got a lot of press and threw a little fun into Dodge’s staid product lineup. If you would like to relive this interesting time in automotive history, you can get a classic example of the Dodge Lil’ Red Express Truck for some $10K to $15K today.