When Dodge cooked up the Li'l Red Express pickup in the late '70s, no one was fooled into thinking this was your average utilitarian hauler. Urban styling collided head-on with a rural work ethic to create one of the most remarkable products in pickup truck history.
Of course, some folks just can't leave well enough alone. You know the mentality.
"Oh, what's a little more gonna hurt?"
Well, you can count Howard Haley of Front Royal, Virginia, among those Mopar fans with that seemingly contagious "push the envelope" mindset. Howard decided that having a slick, factory-styled hot rod pickup wasn't good enough. No, he had to do the corporation one better and massage one of those limited-production short-bed bruisers for some serious street stomping.
Why, he dropped in a Hemi, of course. But to be fair, we must tell you that the fate of this Express was somewhat sealed before Howard placed his name on the title.
Howard found his truck in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in July 1996. The Express, he says, was in good and mostly stock condition, but a previous owner had tubbed it for bigger meats at the rear corners. That being the case, and given his predisposition for street rod-style upgrades, it was only natural that Howard chose to follow the path already sketched in front of him.
Howard began by setting to work on the body. He cleaned out the black vinyl interior and stripped everything from the shell before sending the truck to Mickey Chrisman for a coat of Flame Red exterior hue. This he complemented with a set of well-crafted "Li'l Pro Express Truck" graphics for the doors.
For the chassis, Howard left things pretty much the way they were, opting to clean or replace the stock components instead of radically altering the setup with trick aftermarket pieces. He did, however, add a 3.73 Franklin Quick Change locking differential and Bell Tech front and rear shocks. Rolling stock was changed to Cragar 15x7 front and 15x14 rear wheels, with Regal Sport 245/60R15s at the fore and hefty Mickey Thompson Sportsman 31x18.50x15 rubber bringing up the rear. Why the aggressive gravel grippers? The answer lies under the hood.
To power his Li'l Red, and to keep in line with the tubbed theme, Howard decided to go all out on the powerplant build-up. Beginning in 1998, he set to work building a street Hemi that would do his Pro Express proud.
Working off a 426 Hemi block, Howard had engine builder Wayne Hicks install the requisite street Hemi rods, valves (2.250 intake and 1.940 exhaust valves), springs, and rockers. Ported Dual Plug heads and 10.25:1 pistons deliver a 10.50:1 compression ratio. Further up top, Hicks added a 600 cfm Edelbrock carburetor situated atop a polished aluminum Chrysler intake manifold. A Crane Competition hydraulic cam was chosen for valvetrain actuating duties, and an MSD ignition was tapped for spark management. Exhaust flow is handled by Sanderson Block Hugger headers which are trailed by Dynomax mufflers and three-inch pipes. Behind the tweaked Hemi sits a 727 tranny with a Recon C25 torque converter set for a 2200 stall speed.
Howard explains that among the most difficult aspects of this project was "building and fabricating the engine mounts and chassis modifications." Fortunately, friends were there to help. Earl Bowers, for example, helped to install the engine, polish aluminum components, and fabricate brackets. Dennis Bowers set his hand to all of the engine wiring, and John Conner fabricated the engine mounts.
In spite of the somewhat radical exterior and powertrain treatment, Howard went easy on the interior redo. A Targa stereo and Sun tach are the only aftermarket upgrades gracing the stock black vinyl interior.
Since completing the truck early last year, "Li'l Pro" has been busy racking up the trophies. Most notable was a First Place award at the '99 Chryslers at Carlisle show, and a Best of Show at the Carlisle Truck Nationals a short time later. Still, the big fun is to be found on the street, which is where you'll find Howard and his raucous little pickup a good three times a week during the summer months.
Hey, a Li'l Hemi action never hurt anyone, now did it?