Some say you can't go home again, but that doesn't keep people from trying anyway, especially when it comes to vintage pickups. Consider the enduring popularity of the Li'l Red Express, a truck that for one brief and shining moment slipped through the tightening bonds of federal regulations. When smog equipment began to strangle the engine outputs of cars, for a short period of time certain trucks enjoyed an exemption.
Quick to seize this opportunity, Dodge introduced a special-edition Ram called the Li'l Red Express. In addition to the big-rig exhaust stacks and rustic wood paneling, what set this truck apart was the unfettered powerplant under the hood. Thanks to a loophole in the emissions regulations, it wasn't saddled with catalytic converters. But what the Li'l Red Express did have was a special High-Performance 360ci V-8 with a four-barrel carb. Designated by the small-block engine code (EH1), it was a modified version of the 360 police engine (E58) producing 225 horses at 3,800 rpm. Also included in the package were Hemi-style mufflers with a crossover pipe breathing through dual chrome pipes protruding over the cab. It also had a special 727 transmission and 3.55:1 rearend.
All in all, the Li'l Red Express was a throwback to those politically incorrect days when gas cost pennies per gallon, and a smoky tailpipe was merely an annoyance, not a call to action by the Clear Air Act. With the success of the 1978 model (2,188 were made), production was increased to 5,118 for 1979, but with a few changes indicating that the party had peaked: a catalytic converter, unleaded gas, and 85-mph speedometer. Other revisions consisted of a flat hood and dual square headlights replacing the round ones, and 8-inch wheels at all four corners, instead of seven and eight inchers.
Well, there is no going back to those hazy days of youth, but we can go one better: the 2009 Dodge Red Xpress. While the spelling of the name is slightly revised, this Ram is a whole new animal. True, the big and bold chrome exhaust stacks shine brightly, looming over the cab and bed as on the original and there's a golden logo on the doors that boast this pickup's loud-and-proud personality, but 30 years of truck technology is blatantly obvious.
Taking a look under that brash persona and right in keeping with the legendary Mr. Norm, this truck features power. Modern-day Truckin' fans might not be familiar with that name, but muscle-car enthusiasts will undoubtedly recall the heyday of his Grand Spaulding Dodge dealership, back in the sizzlin' sixties. Located in the heart of Chicago, this Mecca of Mopar muscle epitomized the spirit and voice of high performance. Mr. Norm revolutionized how performance cars were sold, and created innovative vehicles such as the prototype 383 Dart GTS and the famed M-Code 440 Dart, both of which were later put into production by Chrysler.
It takes someone with the street cred of Mr. Norm to properly embellish and enhance a stock Ram, transforming it into a muscle truck with both style and performance. The 5.7L Hemi inhales more airflow through an Airaid intake, and the lowered Eibach suspension gives the Red Xpress Truck the signature stance of a sport pickup. Complementing its long, low appearance is a special set of 22-inch Modern Muscle's custom modular alloy wheels with polished hoops and antique gold centers color-matched with the body accent color. Pirelli PZero Assimetrico ZR-rated tires, sized 305/40R22, not only create the right look for the Ram, but also improve cornering capability.
Inside, the Red Xpress Truck continues the tradition of style, with a tip of the hat to its heritage. The Red Express Truck features comfortable bucket seats swathed in Katzkin glove-soft custom leather, embroidered with Red Xpress Truck logos that mirror the theme and colors of the exterior. Other interior accents include a matching embroidered logo carpet mat by Designer Mat and a Red Xpress Truck serial number plaque on the dashboard.
How do these two trucks compare on the road? Both bellow a rough-and-tumble rumble from those vertical stacks, but that's where any similarity ends. For those who think that trucks have always been almost as comfy as a passenger car, they're in for a rude awakening in a '79 Dodge. In other words, the 1979 Li'l Red shown here illustrates what a no-nonsense, back-to-basics truck truly is. The design dates back at least a decade earlier than its designated model year. Check out those protruding chromed door handles, manual windup windows, painted-metal interior surfaces. It's the epitome of true-blue, truck character—simple, tough transportation, in the legendary Dodge Job Rated tradition.
However, the modern-day Red Xpress, with its plush amenities, smooth 390hp Hemi, and comfortable five-link ride puts owners in an exclusive club. This opportunity gives Ram enthusiasts a special edition in which to play, along with the opportunity to drive a revisionist version of a truck that's rarely seen on the street. No, it's not a reproduction of the original Li'l Red—and that's a good thing. So while you can't exactly go home again, you can still enjoy a similar feeling, plus much, much more.