This Funky 4×4 Imported Japanese Van Won Our Local Cars and Coffee

At our local Cars and Coffee, we get the usual menagerie of funky Miatas, lifted trucks, and the occasional Ferrari or Lamboghini. But this last weekend, one vehicle got more attention than the red Ferrari 488 parked just feet away, and it was a minivan. Parked among the Porsches and Challengers was a pearl white, narrow and tall, 1997 Nissan Caravan Elgrand Japanese minivan. Not only was the steering wheel on the wrong side, but there was a for sale sign on the windshield, and a huge crowd.

What is a JDM van?

So, of course I called the number on the sign. Here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we see some JDM, or Japanese domestic market, right-hand drive cars. There are a few 4×4 Mitsubishi Delica vans around town. But nobody at this Cars and Coffee had ever seen a Nissan Caravan Elgrand. The van’s owner, Oliver Tan, is super happy to talk about the van, too.

He’s from south of Hong Kong, and came to Albuquerque to study mechanical engineering. But, the car bug bit him and now he’s working as a mechanic keeping Japanese imports on the road. He said he would see luxury cars and vans as a kid in China, and fell in love with them.

“We have a lot of classy cars there, and I grew up with them, but not having one,” Tan said. “Now I can try them one by one.”

What is the Nissan Caravan Elgrand Japanese van?

Every car he’s bought, whether that was a 1992 Toyota Crown or his Mitsubishi Montero, he had a die-cast toy version of as a kid. The Nissan Caravan Elgrand is a Japanese 4×4 van, sometimes called a JDM van, for Japanese domestic market. Tan’s 1997 Caravan Elgrand is a rare first-year version of the seven-passenger Elgrand van. They were sold in premium stores in Japan and came with a premium price and features.

The regular Elgrand, sans Caravan name, was the plain version. This particular one has all the options that you could order in 1997, including remote control TV in the ceiling, a small chunky navigation screen, and a powered curtain that encircles the entire back half of the van. It also has seats that are on rails and can turn 360 degrees, then fold flat into a bed that sleeps two. The rear A/C is controlled by a remote control.

This one also has a rare four-wheel drive system. The driver can select the mode, and even lock the center differential. Underneath the Elgrand is a 1990s Infiniti QX4 SUV, so it’s built stout. Tan said he’s used the four-wheel drive in the van for snowboarding trips, but decided it was too nice to get muddy. Like the QX4, it has a 3.3-liter V6 that according to Auto-Data only had 170 horsepower, which was probably powerful for 1997, but doesn’t cut it in today’s traffic.

“It was so clean, I didn’t want to get a mess in it,” he said. So, he drives his similarly vintage Montero for snowboarding instead.

How much is a 4×4 JDM van?

Tan said he got the van last year, “But I don’t haul a bunch of stuff or carry seven people,” he said, so he’s going to sell it and move on. His heart is set on a Japanese station wagon, like a Nissan Staega, from the same era. He’s a Nissan guy, and most of his cars and vans have been Nissans. This one is for sale locally for $14,500. It has 77,000 km on the clock, or about 50,000 miles.

If you were wondering: This van has a current clean title and it is registered. Tan said that the local DMV was fine registering his van. But, he said, you need the proper import paperwork (which he has) to register it.