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    Thread: Dodge Caravan: The forgotten sports car

    1. Member worth_fixing's Avatar
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      Dec 23rd, 2009
      Montreal, Qc
      2014 Mazda3 Sport GS - 1982 Honda CB750K
      12-16-2011 09:19 PM #1

      Hockey arenas, soccer fields and the suburban landscape are littered with them: minivans,.

      IN PHOTOS: 25 years of the minivan
      No matter what manufacturer and which model year, they all follow the same basic formula: flat floor, tall roof, car-like driving characteristics – and a size that can fit in a standard garage.

      The recipe, cooked up by then-Chrysler chair Lee Iacocca and his crew in the late 1970s, first hit the roads 25 years ago this month in 1983 (as 1984 models), when the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager rolled out of the Windsor assembly plant.

      Before the minivan was introduced, the default choice for moving your family or stuff around was either a station wagon, with its longer wheelbase, or club vans, which had all the unpleasant driving characteristics of a truck.

      The minivan combined the best of both worlds: it had the utility of a club van, but drove like a car. The minivan had a shorter wheelbase than a station wagon – about the same length as a regular sedan – and because it was front-wheel drive, there was no need for the hump in the middle of the floor to accommodate the driveshaft.

      These two significant differences, along with the upright sitting position and ability to remove the rear seats and be left with enough room for a four-by-eight sheet of plywood, helped the Caravan and other minivans become popular.

      Baby boomers were just starting to have kids and urban sprawl was well underway. They were looking to escape the mom-mobile image of the station wagon they had grown up with – the same way young people today have flocked towards SUVs to get away from the soccer mom image of the minivan.

      The timing was right for the minivan and, in its first full year of sales, the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager sold 210,000 units in the United States and Canada.

      Nothing else on the road at the time resembled the Caravan, but Chrysler's exclusivity on the market lasted all of six months before GM released a pair of minivans: the Chevy Astro/GMC Safari. They were built on a truck platform, were rear-wheel drive and, as a result, didn't drive has smoothly as the Caravan.

      Toyota also released the Van Wagon but, like GM's vehicles, it drove more like a truck. A bouncy ride, poor rear traction and the need to exit the vehicle to access the rear seats from the front made buyers cautious.

      The Caravan made Car & Driver's 10 Best list in 1985. Critics called it an odd inclusion because of its slow acceleration and, while it had decent handling for its size, it wasn't a typical selection for this list.

      The late '70s and early '80s were tough financial times for Chrysler. Often teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the company's impressive Caravan sales came along at an auspicious time, especially for employees at the Windsor assembly plant.

      The announcement that the Caravan would be built there was a surprise and, although more than 20 million have been manufactured there since, it was met with mixed emotions in 1983.

      "We didn't know if we had just won the lottery or just lost it," says CAW president Ken Lewenza, who was working at the Windsor plant when the Caravan was introduced.

      "We were doing the Chrysler Fifth Avenue and New Yorker at the time, and the success of those vehicles were keeping a lot of people employed," he recalls.

      "I was one of those second-guessers; nothing like this had been seen before and I didn't know if it would sell."

      Part of the Caravan's early success can be attributed to its official classification as a truck. After the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo, the U.S. government introduced legislation that was meant to improve the fuel economy of cars.

      However, trucks and vans were exempt, and Iacocca lobbied the U.S. government hard to ensure the Caravan was classified as a light truck so that it didn't have to meet such stringent fuel standards. In addition, trucks weren't held to the same safety standards as passenger cars. In a nutshell, the truck classification played a big part in making the Caravan profitable.

      In Canada, the Caravan has been one of the 10 best-selling vehicles since its inception.

      In fact, Chrysler sells more Caravans than the combined minivan sales of Toyota, Ford, Hyundai, Kia and Honda. Last year, out of the 22 CUV nameplates sold in Canada, the Caravan outsold the combined sales of 21.

      Canada's market share is important to the Caravan's health – along with the 79 other countries it's currently sold in – but its 40 per cent share of the U.S. minivan market is what keeps the brand afloat. Total minivan sales peaked in 2000 at 1.3 million but as oil prices rose, minivan sales slid.

      That downward trend continues: minivans made up 7.6 per cent of all vehicle sales in Canada last year, but only 6.1 per cent so far this year. The Caravan accounts for 45 per cent of minivan sales in Canada and industry experts expect that share to grow now that both Ford and GM are dropping out of the segment.

      The Caravan's longevity has been aided by its combination of features and price point. It was the first minivan to introduce dual front airbags, rear and middle seats that fold flat into the floor and standard ABS. It's still one of the few minivans in Canada that can be purchased for under $20,000.

      But it hasn't been without its problems. Transmission failure has plagued the Caravan throughout its production and the timing belt and fuel pump often need replacing.

      Models in the mid-1990s were popular targets for thieves, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

      Twenty-five years is a long time for one nameplate. But even as consumers usher in an era in which every manufacturer will have hybrid or electric vehicles in its fleet, the consistent Caravan is expected to remain popular with buyers – because it still has a flat floor, a tall roof, drives like a car and can fit in a standard garage.
      Sit in the driver seat, pound it, take a corner and tell me this isn't a sports car.
      The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten." -Benjamin Franklin
      Kind regards,

    2. Member Dr. Woo's Avatar
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      12-16-2011 09:41 PM #2
      I'm starting to enjoy these.
      ├┼┤2003 S2000 | ├┼┤2016 GTI S | 2015 Fit EX (2014-2016) | 2012 Focus SE (2011-2014) | 2009 G8 GT (2011-2011) | 2008 R32 (2007-2011) | 2006 GTI (2006-2007) | 2001 A4 (2002-2006)

    3. Member Mr Miyagi's Avatar
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      12-16-2011 09:51 PM #3
      Trying too hard.

    4. Senior Member @McMike's Avatar
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      Oct 9th, 2002
      Northern part of the Virginia
      German Vans and sporty British stuff
      12-16-2011 09:56 PM #4
      Quote Originally Posted by worth_fixing View Post
      Who else is surprised as the lack of bloat? 25 years in, that thing should be HUGE!!

    5. Member TheTimob's Avatar
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      Sep 13th, 2003
      Divide, CO
      84 Scirocco, 13 Prius C, 00 Celica, 2x 94 Camrys
      12-16-2011 09:58 PM #5
      Quote Originally Posted by McBanagon View Post
      Who else is surprised as the lack of bloat? 25 years in, that thing should be HUGE!!
      There's one thing that Chrysler can do right - build a good minivan.

    6. 12-16-2011 10:10 PM #6
      Agreed. They served their purpose very well.

    7. Senior Member PineappleMonkey's Avatar
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      Mar 2nd, 2000
      12-16-2011 10:21 PM #7
      It isn't..
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    8. Member Eightysixturbo's Avatar
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      12-16-2011 10:25 PM #8
      pardon my 'merican

    9. Geriatric Member BRealistic's Avatar
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      Dec 16th, 2005
      88 F150, 04 RX8, 96 T&C LXi
      12-16-2011 10:32 PM #9
      Quote Originally Posted by McBanagon View Post
      Who else is surprised as the lack of bloat? 25 years in, that thing should be HUGE!!
      There is a 1,000 pound difference in the two vans shown.

      (but one is a regular, and one a "grand")

      The original (short) Caravan weighed as much as a midsize sedan does now (3300 lbs).

      And I will admit- even thought painful- that I did have some strange thoughts about the family's 88 Caravan after I got to drive it by myself.
      The van had just 50k miles when they got it in 88 from a salesman (very good price).
      It was the basic model- crank windows- but it had the quite peppy for the time 3.0 V6.
      It was the best performing non sports car vehicle I had driven at the time- by a damn wide margin. (though I had not driven that many yet).
      I remember thinking.. with a lowered suspension and some good tires....

      But I also remember how it felt- at the time having such room from the family was a big luxury- even if the van had crank windows. We had just come from gas guzzling large cars and very cramped small cars. The minivan was a revelation.

      But I guess the short wheelbase 'normal' minivan was replaced by the cute ute/crossover. Sigh.
      Last edited by BRealistic; 12-16-2011 at 10:34 PM.
      removed because realized just as annoying as the people that refuse to turn off their phone app's auto-spam with every post.

    10. Member wonderboy!'s Avatar
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      Hamilton Ontario
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      12-16-2011 10:35 PM #10
      throw on some coilovers and a turbo and you're good to go.

    11. Senior Member Iroczgirl's Avatar
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      12-16-2011 10:48 PM #11
      Quote Originally Posted by wonderboy! View Post
      throw on some coilovers and a turbo and you're good to go.
      Yeah, the first gen was available from the factory with a turbo and 5 speed.
      Lots of VW stuff|Rare Scirocco parts!
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      You're always better off with a Citroën.™

    12. 12-16-2011 10:51 PM #12
      12.48 @ 110.15

    13. Member techmonkey's Avatar
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      Sep 27th, 2007
      2014 WRX wagon
      12-16-2011 10:51 PM #13

      Quote Originally Posted by B3passatBMX View Post
      I would have grabbed a brick and thrown it directly at him. Immediately diffusing the situation.

    14. Member wabbitGTl's Avatar
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      Jan 1st, 2007
      95 GTI VRT, E46 Touring
      12-16-2011 11:08 PM #14

      not to one up, but these things are serious.
      Quote Originally Posted by chucchinchilla View Post
      People spec their Porsche cars like they select bottles of wine when going on a date. Few people want to be the guy buying the cheapest bottle on the menu. The rest, like myself, realize they'll be just as happy (and just as laid) buying the cheapest. Garcon, one base Carrera for me please.

    15. Member TetsuoShima's Avatar
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      Nov 30th, 2008
      Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
      1994 Honda Prelude V-TAK
      12-16-2011 11:55 PM #15
      Seriously this has got to be one of the greatest things that Chrysler has done to the mainstream north american market. When I was a kid my dad had 2 of these Caravans and I loved the hell out of them.

      Some of the engines/transmissions may have been questionable but I don't think that's the focus of these(aside from the turbo). The roomy-ness was amazing and I loved taking the back seats out and going to the drive-in with a bunch of friends crammed in the back watching movies.

      Great memories with the Caravan

    16. Member volkstyle's Avatar
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      May 11th, 2010
      04 R32
      12-17-2011 01:24 AM #16
      My mom had one, transmission broke at 100k. Her ex bf had one transmission broke at 100k he replaced it then it broke at 200k.

    17. Member D_B_Jetta's Avatar
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      Apr 26th, 2006
      Borden, Ontario, Canada, eh!
      17 Ram 4x4(Daily Hemi), '84 Rabbit (Slowly progressing project)
      12-17-2011 01:33 AM #17
      My Parents bought a brand new 1987 SWB Plymouth Voyager 4 cyl. to replace a big station wagon(buick I think)
      They followed that with '95 Caravan 'Sport' with the V6, Fire Engine Red and white wheels, that I learned to drive in.
      Then it was a '02 Caravan they got rid of 3 months ago for a Hyundai.

      I don't think I could ever own one myself, but they were a big part of growing up for me!

      I am █ ♣ █ Army

      RIP Warrant Officer Gaetan Roberge. KIA, 27 Dec 2008, Panjwaii Dist, Afghanistan.

    18. Geriatric Member Aonarch's Avatar
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      Dec 4th, 2006
      Atlanta, GA
      ATS-v | All Track CEL
      12-17-2011 01:38 AM #18
      Minivans need to die.

    19. Member
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      Mukilteo, WA
      00' S-10
      12-17-2011 01:46 AM #19
      the bloat is on the inside with reduced passenger space for foot thick doors and foot thick seatbacks along with 4 inches of sound isolation in the roof. An original AWD caravan would be fun.

    20. Member
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      Nov 24th, 2009
      Reno, NV
      02 WRX, 89 Cherokee 4.0l, 91 Olds Cutlass Calais
      12-17-2011 02:01 AM #20
      Quote Originally Posted by Aonarch View Post
      Minivans need to die.
      Yep, not useful or practical to anyone.

      Athletic shoes should die as well.

    21. 12-17-2011 01:22 PM #21
      Quote Originally Posted by wabbitGTl View Post
      not to one up, but these things are serious.
      Damn straight!

      Dempsey Bowling
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    22. Banned
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      Mar 8th, 2011
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      12-17-2011 01:24 PM #22
      ^ That can be applied to the owners of just about EVERY turbo'd Dodge car in existence.

    23. Member Boogety Boogety's Avatar
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      Jun 22nd, 2003
      '14 Beetle 'Vert
      12-17-2011 01:36 PM #23
      Sports car? Not quite. Outstanding people mover? Oh, yeah.

      For our 26 married years, and our three or four dating ones before that, My Beloved and I have traveled the US of A by driving to all lower 48, Mexico, and Canada, beginning with our favored station wagons, and graduating to vans a year into our marriage in '87. Our first was a loaded-for-the-time Plymouth Voyager, which served us well for many years, until we replaced it with a Dodge Conversion Ram Wagon, which also served us well (more or less) for many years. The minivan was rock-solid reliable (except for an infamous clogged fuel filter between Socorro and Roswell, but I managed to fix it out in the middle of absolutely nowhere), and fabulous to travel in, and we brought back many a find from our travels in it. The Dodge was a 13 mpg vehicle that eventually started to fall apart with a vengeance (at 92,000 miles). We replaced it with an R350, and we added a Touring Odyssey within a couple of months. I don't care what people say about minivans, they are great people-and-things haulers, and they will always have a place in our garages...

    24. Member Biff Beltsander's Avatar
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      Jul 14th, 2010
      Winnipeg Manitoba Canada
      Six Speed Satanizer
      12-17-2011 02:22 PM #24
      Sold too well to be a forgotten sports car.
      Sport badge and alloy wheels=sport.

      Quote Originally Posted by BRealistic View Post
      You are in the land of rust and honey.

    25. Member 2.0T_Convert's Avatar
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      Mar 23rd, 2009
      13 Elantra
      12-17-2011 02:26 PM #25
      When I was learing to drive I wasn't allowed to touch my dads Acura or later BMW so it was the family Ford van. The V6 felt like a rocketship to me at the time
      Sent from my tablet while sipping weak drinks over fancy brunch with a view

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