It was billed as the last American factory hot rod of the 1970s. In a time of increasing governmental control of automobile manufacturing when fuel economy and emissions standards were being enacted, Dodge took advantage of exemptions for trucks to build the Li'l Red Truck (LRT), also known as the Li'l Red Express.
Never apologetic when it comes to design, Dodge applied every conspicuous cosmetic trick possible when dressing up the LRT. But the real beauty of the LRT was much deeper than its wood trim, chrome plating, and gold lettering. It had a no-nonsense, 225-horsepower 360 police engine without the "lean-burn" system, but with 295 lb-ft of peak torque. In comparison, the L82 Corvette of that year also had a 225-horsepower engine.
Because of its 6100-pound GVWR, the LRT didn't have to be equipped with catalytic converters or run on unleaded gas. The LRT had the most obnoxious mufflers possible, and the exhaust thunder exited right behind the driver's and passenger's ears through a pair of glorious stacks protected by stainless-steel heat shields. Step on the gas, open the huge ThermoQuad secondaries, and the result was enough racket to spook every moose in Canada. In fact, the LRT did not meet some local noise standards. One magazine test recorded a deafening 94 decibels of interior noise at 110 mph.
The Li'l Red Truck was perhaps the last Detroit vehicle to use real wood exterior trim.
The engine was backed by a Chrysler LoadFlite transmission and was linked to 3.55:1 rear axle gears. The raked stance was achieved with bigger LR60x15 Goodyear GT tires in the rear and HR60x15 models up front.
Medium Canyon Red was obviously the only color available. It was accented by rich oak wood trim on the tailgate and around the stepside fenders. Gold-leaf lettering on the doors was unmistakable in announcing the LRT. Chrome was everywhere, including the slotted wheels, exhaust tips, side steps, and engine accessories.
Dodge produced just 2188 Li'l Red Trucks in 1978. The next year, the grille was redesigned to include dual headlights, the engine was detuned with emissions equipment, and the tires were reduced to L60s all the way around. Just over 5000 units came off the line in 1979, the final year of production.
The Dodge Li'l Red Truck was a milestone not only for truckers but within the performance community as well. Everyone thought factory hot rodding died in the '70s. It may well have, but the Li'l Red Truck was its last kick.