Cummins-Powered Little Red Express

April 5th, 2011

Text and Photos by Kevin Wilson

Back in the mid- to late-1970s, despite an Arab oil embargo that all but killed the muscle car market, Dodge continued to pitch new products to young buyers by recognizing their need for vehicle personalization. The “adult toy” campaign was rooted in such vehicles as the Dodge Dart Swinger and Dodge Adventurer pickup, so the company came up with limited production trucks such as the Warlock.

The Warlock stepside half-ton was eventually reconfigured into the more-popular Little Red Express, because it was bright-red and had a lot more custom personality, along with a police interceptor 360 cid engine. With only a two-year production run, the Little Red Express, complete with real wood trim and stack-style exhaust, has become a coveted collectable among the Mopar crowd.

It was also the dream vehicle for Max Kirtley, of Pearland, Texas, who always liked the unique pickup. He managed to find the Little Red Express you see here when it was a bare-bones race truck from Ohio. The previous owner, George Cobb, had already installed the roll cage, four- link rear suspension. He had also dropped in a Cummins 12-valve in place of a gasoline engine and was campaigning the truck with a full fiberglass nose.

Max picked up the Dodge and raced it until the Cummins blew a freeze plug while the truck was at the big end of a 10-second, 130-mph pass and smacked the wall hard two times, according to Max. He spent the next five months repairing and refurbishing the racer, returning the body to original Dodge Little Red Express sheet metal.

Under the new Little Red Express skin is a custom-built four-link suspension and coil covers that connect the Dana 60 to the truck. In true race car fashion, the Dana 60 is stuffed with Mosier axles and a Strange Engineering spool, along with 3.55 gears. Dual Willwood disc brake calipers are fitted on each axle, so the truck doesn’t need a parachute to stop at the end of the track. Race rubber is fitted all around with skinny 15×7 Weld ProStars up front and 32-inch Mickey Thompson 32-inch ET Drag slicks on the back, mounted on 15×14 Welds.

The originally stock ’95 12-valve Cummins got a makeover for more power and durability after the truck was wrecked. A set of marine pistons was added along head studs. The cylinder head was ported, polished and O-ringed before being reinstalled on the engine.

Fueling comes from a high-volume pump that draws from a 5-gallon fuel cell mounted out back. The pump feeds the highly modified P-pump with plenty of number two, which is then delivered to the engine via DDP Stage 4 injectors. A homemade nitrous kit that can deliver up to a 250-hp shot, according to Max, adds top end power and speed.

When we photographed the truck, a combination of HX40/HT3B turbos was providing nearly 80 psi of boost. Currently, the turbo setup is getting replaced with a bigger set of compounds, courtesy of High Tech Turbo (HTT). Max estimates the Cummins now cranks out well over 750 hp and 1,400-plus pounds of torque. And one of the coolest touches on the truck is that Max had custom 4-inch stacks made to route out the exhaust; these look a lot like the original Little Red Express exhausts.

Helping to put the power to the ground is a well-built `95 Dodge 47RH automatic, built by Hot Rod Diesels. The company added a Suncoast torque converter and South Bend clutch plates, along with plenty of billet internals.

A good majority of Max’s efforts went into making his Little Red Express look as original as possible. Besides replacing the fiberglass front end with all sheet metal parts, with the exception of the fiberglass cowl induction hood, Max also redid the wood on the truck. Little Red Express stepsides featured real red oak wood trim on the bed sides and tailgate. His wife even found an original Express tailgate and gave it to him for an anniversary present. In the bed, the stock wood was shot, so Max replaced it with new red oak to accommodate the roll cage.

On the inside, the truck retains the stock flavor with the stock dash, carpet and door panels in place. The padded roll cage wraps around two racing seats, while a late-model Ram center console is mounted in between. The truck utilizes a unique roll cage-mounted race shifter, which also has the controls for the Line Lock, as well as gauges for trans temps and pressures. There are plenty of Autometer and Isspro gauges sprinkled throughout the truck. These monitor EGTs and boost pressures. However, what really stands out is a huge Pro Comp 8,000 rpm tach, which looks a tad out of place in a diesel racer.

Max claims that the hot rod Dodge is licensed and semi-legal enough to be driven locally and can get up to 20 mpgs––if he keeps his foot out of it. With his foot on the gas, the truck has run a best pass of 10.38 seconds at 132 miles per hour. Now that’s putting the “express” into the Little Red Express! The truck is also one of the coolest diesel transplant vehicles we’re seen in a long time.

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