1978 Impressive Expresses...
To accompany Karl Pippart's story of the Li'l Red Truck's development and history, we selected two examples of the breed for this story. The unmolested '78 version at left is owned by Bob Osborne of Fort Thomas, Kentucky, and was purchased by him in the condition seen here. Since acquiring the inaugural-year machine in 1996, Osborne has used the truck primarily as a showpiece, making occasional cruise events with it. For the second example, Grover Hurley's restored '79 version above was our chosen feature. The Mount Morris, Michigan, resident purchased his truck after a previous owner had completed the restoration, though this particular truck was always properly cared for and has seen only 30,000 miles of use in the last 22 years. Hurley has owned his truck for more than five years now, enjoying sunny-day cruising and parking in the shady spots of car shows, as a final hurrah for the old Chrysler Corporation. Both of these trucks prove that Detroit's performance years weren't reserved strictly for the musclecar era. Both are representative of the factory construction, and they were indeed the little trucks that could...do anything, that is.
Dodge Truck History
The performance market had changed by the mid-'70s. The 426 Hemi, four-speed Pistol Grip shifter, six-barrel induction, Air Grabber hood, HIP colors, and most of the performance models (e.g., 'Cuda and Super Bee) were gone from the scene. The first Arab oil embargo, an overzealous insurance industry, and officials from the federal government basically conspired to bring the musclecar movement to an emphatic end. At the same time, an increasing number of import models built with four-cylinder engines and front-wheel-drive transaxles were overwhelming domestic auto production. As a result, the attention of many motoring enthusiasts turned toward the hot trend of the era: light-duty pickups and vans.
With these vehicles, radical customizing rather than performance was the order of the day. The popularity of such vehicles helped spearhead the "Adult Toys" program from Dodge Truck, which included the popular Warlock model. Chrysler engineer Tom Hoover took things a step further and proposed another truck with a bit more moxie, or as he called it, "The Last American Hot Rod." Thus, a legend was born.
Unknowingly, the feds provided a big assist. First, if the gross vehicle rating was 6,100 pounds or greater, then leaded gas with a no-cat exhaust system was allowed. Second, a handful of modifications were allowed to an emissions-certified engine, and the full certification cycle didn't have to be rerun. Tom Hoover wasted no time in exploiting these loopholes. The "Warlock Project," as it was called, initially dealt with mechanical upgrades. The basis for the prototype was a production truck pulled off the assembly line. It was painted red and had wood planking in the bed. Ted Spehar's Specialized Vehicles handled the makeover and Gary Ostrich performed the engine work, with Dave Koffel supervising the overall operation. Originally, the vertical exhaust stacks were to have big, rig-style flappers, but that setup proved too loud, so curved chrome tips were substituted. Under the hood, things became really interesting.
A fuel-injected 440 was initially considered, but the big-block V8s were already scheduled for termination, so the 360 became the logical starting point. Basically, an E58 360 short-block was built up with a Holley induction system (4160 Series carb and aluminum intake), W-2 cylinder heads fitted with 1.5:1 ratio bronzed rocker arms, heavy-duty valvesprings and dampers, 252/252-degree camshaft, 8.4:1 compression, and the full tilt of E58 internals; a double-roller timing chain, "selected crankshaft," heavy-duty main bearings, and a windage tray for the oil pan rounded out the package. The A727A LoadFlite transmission received a 440 V8 valvebody and a high-stall, nonlockup torque converter. For the exhaust, 211/42-inch diameter head pipes sent the gases through B/RB wedge-style mufflers and out the vertical 211/44-inch tailpipes surrounded by chrome heat shields. Low-mounted, round taillights and backup lights precluded the use of a rear bumper. Four LR60x15 Goodyear GT radial tires were mounted on 15x7 (front) and 15x8 (rear), five-slot chrome wheels. Other features included a 9.25-inch rear with 3.55 gears and a Sure Grip differential, a flip-top gas cap, "W-2" decals on the fenders and forced air induction. With the prototype ready, some road testing by the mag wags was in order.