You had to do some serious looking for high-performance factory-built Mopars after the early '70s.

Year by year, the factory-built high performance choices diminished: First the 426 Hemi and 440 Six Pack/Six Barrel were gone, then any high-compression V8s, then the 340, then the E-Bodies, then the A-Bodies . . . until you were left with two choices: Cop cars or trucks.

Back then, there were a couple of loopholes in the EPA's vehicle-emission regulations. Light trucks were exempted from the stricter ones that necessitated a catalytic converter if their Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) rating was above 6,000 pounds. Also, once an engine "family" was certified by the EPA as emission-regs-compliant, a small number of modifications (from 6 to 9) were permitted without having to do the 50,000-mile certification testing all over again.

Tom Hoover, legendary Mopar powertrain engineer, saw that these loopholes were big enough to drive a truck through. Specifically, Dodge's smallest and lightest D-Series pickup, the short-wheelbase D-150 Utiline step-sider, whose GVW rating was--surprise--6,050 pounds.

Hoover came up with the idea of adding a hot-rodded 360 to the D-150, one with Ma Mopar's W-2 cylinder heads, straight from the Direct Connection parts catalog. He also added goodies like the cam from the 727-equipped '68 340, cold-air induction, a beefed-up 727, plus chrome exhaust stacks behind the cab.

Though the W-2 heads didn't make it into production, most everything that Hoover and The Dodge Boys spec'd for it did--and the Lil Red Express package (option code YH6) joined Dodge Trucks' lineup of "Adult Toys"--which also included the Warlock and Macho Power Wagon pickups and B-Series "Street Van"--in April of '78.

It sold well--2,118 for the partial model year of 1978. For 1979, the GVW loophole was closed and catalytic converters were mandated, but the beefed-up 360 and the other good stuff stayed. That included oak bed and tailgate trim and an oak bed floor, gold striping and door graphics, Bright Canyon Red Sunfire Metallic paint--all of which boosted a fully-loaded Little Red Express sticker price to the $8,300-plus range back then.

Then . . . it was all over. Thanks to the oil shock that hit in the spring and summer of 1979 that doubled gas prices (sending them over $1.00/gallon for the first time), light-truck sales fell off a cliff. 5,118 '79 Little Red Express trucks were made by Dodge for 1979, with the later-production examples sitting on dealers unsold for months.

As a result of that sales slump, the Little Red Express, and all of Dodge Trucks' "Adult Toys," were gone after 1979.

But not forgotten.

Bob Osborn remembered it very well. So well that, when he saw an ad in a local paper for a '78 while on vacation in Florida, he checked it out--then bought it and drove it home to Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.