Godzilla On Four Wheels: The Story of the Li’l Red Express Truck

The attitude of car lovers towards the EPA has often been similar to that of misbehaving kids towards their parents. Or perhaps suspects caught in a gambling den by the vice squad. Deep down inside, you know that what the authorities are doing is best. Yet you can’t help but resent them just a bit for shutting down the party. You also can’t help playing a little cat-and-mouse with them every now and then. In the late 1970s, Dodge did just that, when it found a loophole in EPA regs that allowed it to build the legendary Li’l Red Truck.

It was a Dodge D150 with a narrow box, 115 inch wheelbase, and monster 360 cubic inch V8. This big ole’ American V8 was fed generously by a four-barrel Holly and twin fresh-air inductors. Toss in the utter lack of emissions controls and you can see why this vehicle would send an environmentalist into overdrive from righteous indignation alone. In fact, the engine was originally designed and built purely for law enforcement vehicles.

But what really made the Li’l Red Truck a performer was the engine’s tuning, which pretended that air pollution was a vital nutrient essential for plants and animals to exist. This approach gave it 225 horses and a rocking 295 foot-pounds of torque at 3200 RPM.  The truck could do the standing quarter mile in less than 16 seconds. (The 225 HP claim is the official story from Dodge. Those who have tinkered with the power plant say it actually puts out a helluva lot more.)

Lil Red Express

When that monster engine exhaled, it did so through a pair of 2.5 inch chrome “smoke stacks” mounted just behind the cab, making the Li’l Red Truck look like a crimson-colored Kenworth. In fact, if you added an air horn and mud flaps, then the Dodge might give the big rigs a run for their money.

Starting price on the Li’l Red Truck in 1978 was a mere $5,000.00– about 18 grand in 2013 dollars. That got the buyer a base model in either red or black, with choice of bench or bucket seats. A thing of grace and refinement, the Li’l Red Truck was not. It was loud, the ride was hard, and it brakes were, in no way, equal to their task.

Nonetheless, for a while it gave its owners a taste of raw power unrestrained by anything resembling good sense.  For that, it has earned its place in automotive history.

PHOTOS: See more of the 1979 Dodge Lil’ Red Express Pickup

Photo Credit: Car Domain


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