The first of the Li'l Reds hit the showroom floors in January 1978, and a technical service bulletin explaining the new model was issued and dated June 26, 1978. The MSRP plus destination charge came to almost $7,000. Production was supposedly limited to 2,000 units, but the popularity of the '78 LRT resulted in a final tally of 2,188 examples. Hot Rod flogged a production '78 in its June '78 issue and achieved a quarter-mile time of 15.71 seconds at 88.06 mph and averaged fuel economy of 13.1 mpg; the production version was a well-balanced package. Better yet, the success of the '78 version was the green light for the continuation of the model in 1979. Changes, both minor and major, were the theme for the '79 LRT, the most important of which affected the exhaust system. For light-duty trucks, the ever-busy feds had now raised the GVW limit to 8,000 pounds; therefore, the '79 LRT received a catalytic converter, enhanced emissions-controls, and was required to use unleaded gasoline. The speedometer, which had read to an even 100 mph in 1978, now went to only 85 mph.
The grille was revised to house-stacked, square headlights. Changes were made to the design of the hood and the rear-side marker lights were relocated into the taillight housings. The exterior paint color was now PY3450 Medium Canyon Red, the LR60s were mounted on 15x8-inch wheels at all four corners, the WX1 fullsize spare was included, and the Tuff steering wheel was replaced during the model year with a four-spoke unit. Due to inflation, the price of a base LRT was now up to approximately $7,500. No matter, Dodge couldn't build enough Li'l Red Express Trucks to satisfy demand; until the Carter Administration's energy crisis hit and sales plunged, 5,118 units left the factory gates.
The success of the previous LRTs almost led up to a spinoff for 1980. Featured in the Oct. '79 issue of Pickup, Van & 4WD magazine was a photo of the Li'l Express Truck painted black. The prototype was indicative of the expanded color choices that would be offered by Dodge. This distinctive truck hasn't surfaced, but could still be in existence.
The original '77 LRT prototype was shipped to Walker Evans along with two production versions for the December '79 running of the Baja 1000. After the race, which Walker won, two trucks were returned to Dodge and one was retained by Walker as a race prerunner; this was the last time the only W-2-equipped LRT ever constructed was seen. Very few motor vehicles built from the mid-'70s to the early '80s were powerful and memorable enough to be favorably compared with the musclecars of the '60s and the early '70s. Fittingly, the LRT powered its way to the top of the list as the best example of its generation. Long live the Li'l Red Blur.
*The LRT wasn't sold in several municipalities and states because it exceeded their maximum noise levels.
The Li'l Red Book by Skip Gibbs 1997, S&P Creations; The Li'l Red Express Truck a source and fact book by Skip Gibbs, 1995 S&P Creations; 1979 Chrysler 300 Handbook by Dale Burkhardt & John Veatch, 1989; Carlisle All-Chrysler Nationals 2000 program, pages 68-70; Archives of Classic Auto Research Service.