Dodge’s Turbocharged Caravan: The World’s Coolest Minivan

Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

If you look back throughout history, there are a few automobiles that will simply leave you shaking your head. You wonder what on Earth could have possibly convinced a car manufacturer to bring such a creation to life.

Their mere existence leads you to believe that the company’s CEO was either drugged or blackmailed, as nobody in their right mind would have given the green light to begin production. These vehicles were so bizarre and absurd that they never made it past the concept stages. Maybe they were too impractical or cost-prohibitive to produce. Or perhaps the market simply wasn’t ready for them yet. Regardless, all you could do was imagine what could have been if they were given a chance.

But then a concept slips through the cracks. For whatever reason, this ludicrous proposal wasn’t quickly dismissed like all the others, but embraced in spite of widespread disbelief.

Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Such was the case in the late 1980s when Dodge was looking to spruce up its family-friendly Dodge Caravan. The excitement from the model’s launch in 1984 was starting to wear thin, and Dodge appeared to be willing to do whatever was necessary to ensure continued success moving forward.

While it might be hard to believe, looking at its square proportions, the Dodge Caravan was a groundbreaking design in the ’80s and the pioneer of the modern minivan segment. It was an instant hit and due to its unique ability to comfortably haul up to seven passengers in a vehicle with the driving dynamics of a car, it’s name — “car”-a-“van” — said it all.

In its fifth year of production, the idea of whether the Caravan would be a sales hit wasn’t the issue. Instead, the real problem was trying to get it to move out of its own way with a van full of people. Dodge aimed to solve that problem in 1989 with the introduction of a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine.

Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Though Dodge offered similar powerplants in its high-performance K-cars, it seemed preposterous to stuff one under the hood of a Caravan. But it was simply too hard to deny the performance benefits of forced induction, no matter the application. If a turbocharger wasn’t enough to get your attention, you could get a clutch pedal too. Paired to an optional five-speed manual transmission, this was a minivan built for the enthusiast. Make no mistake, you begged your mom to drop you off at school in this vehicle.

With 150 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, Caravan owners no longer had to hold their breath during passing maneuvers. Of course, you had to account for turbo lag — this is the ’80s we’re talking about. But as the surge of boost came on strong, getting around an 18-wheeler was the least of your worries. The greater challenge was avoiding the ditch with the Caravan’s unruly torque steer.

Though the turbocharged Caravan has been discontinued for a quarter-century, it has developed a popular following of enthusiasts who modify them into potent sleepers. While its factory specifications and acceleration were just mediocre, owners quickly found that its turbocharged four-cylinder engine had unlimited performance potential. Today, a 12-second Caravan isn’t uncommon with a pair of slicks and an upgraded turbocharger and intercooler.

Sadly, the turbo Caravan was discontinued after only two years of production because of poor sales numbers. It turns out that it was families who were buying minivans, not enthusiasts. Who would have guessed?

With the current Caravan scheduled to be discontinued after the 2017 model year, it would be awesome to see Dodge let its historic minivan go out with a bang. Bring on an SRT model with all-wheel drive and forced induction. Though it may be a long shot, it could provide the boost that’s needed to save the model from extinction.

Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.