1979 Dodge Lil’ Red Express Review

Jun 21, 2016 by Cedric (Driver Weekly)

The Dodge Lil’ Red Express was only in production for two years, but it left a lasting mark on car collectors with its unique appearance and great features. Due to a loophole in emissions regulations, the Lil’ Red Express packed a big V8 and this half-ton pickup more than lived up to its name. The 1979 version was the second and final model year, meaning that if you want a slightly more recent Lil’ Red Express, it will be this version.

The 1979 Model


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The original model was a highly modified Dodge D150 pickup on a short wheelbase produced in 1978. In the 1960s and 1970s, most trucks were barebones workhorses, but Dodge was experimenting with a line of comfortable cabs called “Adult Toys.” The first Lil’ Red Express was a souped-up pickup featuring a unique appearance and chrome stacks. The 1979 Dodge Lil Ram Express has a few key differences from the 1978 version. It received a new nose featuring bulkier quad-square headlights that were more eye-catching than the circular ones. The fascia was updated to a split grille while the previous version had featured inboard turn signals. Inside, the 1979 Lil Red Express had the 85-mph federal speedometer as opposed to the previous one. This change occurred on various vehicles across automotive lineups as a way to discourage speeding, and most drivers weren’t happy with it. However, they did appreciate the catalytic converters on the truck’s exhaust. This change meant that every 1979 model can use unleaded fuel unless it has been modified in some way.

The Engine


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This particular Dodge truck ran on a 360 cubic inch V8 engine, but it featured multiple components from previous models as well as a way to enhance engine performance. Due to a loophole in emissions regulations, engineers could modify a certified engine. For the Lil’ Red Express, Dodge maximized performance and speed. The camshaft was an 850-cfm Carter Thermo-Quad, a four-barrel carburetor that came from the 340 performance engine of 1968. The engine also featured police-specification E-58 heads and mufflers, which were designed for a 440-cubic-inch V8 with a big block. Together, these adjustments allowed the Lil Red Express’s engine to generate 225 horsepower at 2,250 rpm, which was truly impressive for the day. In fact, this was five more horsepower than the top Corvette. To work with the engine, the Lil Red Express had a TorqueFlite A-727 3-speed automatic that featured a stall converter. Other mechanical components included the 3.55:1 “Sure-Grip” limited slip differential and a cold-air intake. At the time, the Lil Red Express earned the title of the fastest-accelerating vehicle in America with its ability to go between 0 and 100 mph in record time. It even drove a quarter-mile in the high 14 or low 15 seconds, making it faster than the Porsche 928 and Ferrari 308 of the time.

Availability


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When the 1979 Lil Red Express came out, it wasn’t necessarily cheap. In 1978, a new model put you back $7,500, about the same as the luxurious Chrysler New Yorker two-door hardtop. Most people who loved this Dodge pickup thought it was well worth the price for its full-throated power and incredible acceleration. If you are interested in adding a 1979 Dodge Lil Red Express to your collection, it can be quite expensive. After all, only 5,118 models were produced. However, there is still a better chance of finding this Lil’ Red Express than the 1978 version, since only 2,188 were made for the original production year.

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