Soon after venturing into the trick truck crowd with the Dodge Dude the marketing wizards at Chrysler sensed the public was hungry for more. Enter the 1976 Dodge Warlock; a production show truck for urban cowboys that wanted to look even more like Burt Reynolds.
The Warlock represented a landmark in Dodge’s new customized breed of vehicles dubbed ‘Adult Toys’. In the late 1970’s the toys packages were aimed at cashing in on healthy utilitarian vehicle sales by lavishing them with enough aftermarket performance imagery to make up for their complete lack of horsepower.
Smog regulations of the day made it nearly impossible to develop a powerful production vehicle of any genre. Robert H. Kline, manager of truck sales for Chrysler Corporation described the mojo behind the decision to look towards work vehicles as platforms for the enthusiast crowd to play with:
“We were seeing an upswing in the number of people who want a light duty pickup instead of a second car,” he said. “We also were aware that more and more people were customizing and personalizing pickups, particularly the short wheelbase models.”
“The 'trick truck' concept allows the customer to drive away from the dealership with a fully customized vehicle that has a personality of its own.”
To test the waters in the customization crowd Dodge released the Warlock in the mid 70’s as a show vehicle. It featured tinted windows, fat tires, bucket seats, oak-lined bed, oak sideboards above the box with gold accents and chrome plated running boards. The exterior was accented with gold pin striping that outlined the wheel wells and body lines.
Mood rings throughout the trick truck crowd turned a lusty hue for the Warlock. Dodge noticed the swelling of adoration and quickly released the Warlock as a limited production vehicle in late 1976.
In the following months droves of mustachioed men slid aviator sunglasses down their noses to ogle the Warlock in Chrysler dealerships. It wasn’t uncommon for these characters to drop 1-3 button levels on their polyester shirts to let passion vent from the dense shrubbery of their chest hair.
In 1977 Chrysler made the Warlock a regular production model.
“Warlock” was emblazoned in gold on the tailgate. The truck could be done up in Dark Green Metallic or Bright Red paint schemes. But the most preferable color was a dangerous Black accented by gold pin stripping. The dark scheme made the Warlock resemble the 1977 Pontiac Trans Am Burt Reynolds was fast becoming synonymous with in the classic beer-smuggling movie, Smokey and the Bandit.
Inside the Warlock the bandit theme was standard. Every Warlock came with a black interior accented by more gold tape on the dash and doors.
Despite the outlaw image there were few if any performance upgrades to the wheezy engine options carried over from the standard D100 pickup: Slant six, 318 with two or four barrel carburetor, 360 four barrel, 400 V8 and 440 V8.
Thanks to smog regulations, for all the 70’s curb appeal the Warlock pioneered as a production trick truck its most important achievement was to serve as a platform for a pickup that could back up the image with real performance.
The crowning achievement of Dodge’s Adult Toys lineup exploited a loop hole in emissions regulations that had been overlooked in the Warlock. When it rolled off the assembly line in 1978 it was the fastest production car in America. Few people knew of it then and fewer know today that it was the original muscle truck.
Dodge called it The Little Red Express.