In the late 1970s, the Dodge brand was eager to add a dose of performance to its emissions-restricted lineup. Chrysler engineers found a loophole in the emissions regulations, which stated a vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of more than 6,000 lbs. were not required to run catalytic converters. For those who aren’t familiar, GVW is the value specified by the manufacturer as the maximum total loaded weight of a single-vehicle. While many of its passenger cars couldn’t reach the 6,000 lb. limit, the Dodge D-150 had a 6,100 lb. GVW allowed the pickup to beat the regulations.
Enter the Li’l Red Express, a special edition pickup featuring a high-performance 5.9-liter (360 cubic-inch) V8 with a 4-barrel carburetor, dual-snorkel intake, tube-fed air cleaner, and chrome accessories. A set of HEMI-styled mufflers fed a set of dual vertical chrome exhaust stacks mounted behind the cab. The 360 was fitted to a special 3-speed A727 TorqueFlite automatic transmission, with power going to the rear wheels via a 3.55-ratio SureGrip limited-slip differential.
With 225 horsepower and 290 lb.-ft. of torque, the Li’l Red Express was the fastest domestic vehicle to hit 100 mph. At the drag strip, the pickup could run the 1/4-mile in the high-15-second range. That was quite a feat for the emission restricted vehicles of 1978.
To help add to the performance feel, Dodge fitted the Li’l Red Express with power disc brakes and power steering as well.
Based on the Adventurer package with the “utiline” (or step side) body style, the Li’l Red Express was only available in the 115-inch wheelbase. All of the trucks were painted in Bright Canyon Red, with gold pinstriping around the wheel openings, large Li’l Red Express Truck door graphics, and tailgate “Li’l Red Express” graphics.
The semi-influenced chrome vertical exhaust stacks were the eye-catching element of the limited edition truck. Chrome side steps, chrome air cleaner cover with “360 Express” decal, chrome valve covers, and chrome bolt heads attached the Oak panels to the truck’s box sides and tailgate. The trucks were also fitted with 15-inch x 8-inch slotted aluminum wheels, which helped complete the look.
Inside, the Li’l Red Express truck continued its performance theme sporting an all-black look. A pair of sport-oriented bucket seats were equipped on the truck, rather than the standard bench seat. There was also the addition of an AM/FM radio, functional performance gauges, and a center jump seat/console combination. A pair of dual chrome exterior mirrors were also fitted.