The Cleverness Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, as well as other variants of the Chrysler brand, first swarmed school parking lots, malls and football fields in the mid-1980s; a time when cars had drastically slimmed down from the hulking leviathans that roamed American roads earlier in the 1970s.
Change was nothing short of inevitable after the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 and the ensuing chaos that followed via plummeting compression ratios, the death of horsepower and the ludicrous idea of a 55 mph speed limit being imposed on national roads in a weak attempt to drink fuel. , despite the legislators’ ignorance of how transmissions work in cars. It was this dark, slump era that spawned the original idea for the minivan, initially planned by the legendary Lee Iacocca and Hal Sperlich during their tenures at Ford.
However, when the Blue Oval failed to take its bait, Iacocca cast his rod at the ailing Chrysler, who promptly chewed and eventually created one of the most simplistic innovative platforms the automotive world had ever seen. Thus, the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager changed automotive history as we know it.
How the Dodge Caravan was almost a Ford
At the heart of its existence, the original Mopar minivans, which would eventually become rampant and easily seen in virtually every corner of the United States, grew out of an idea conceived by Ford’s Hal Sperlich in the early 1970s. The original concept was to create a family van that could be parked in an average size garage, something that was a step ahead of the Ford Country Squire station wagon, but still well below the dimensions of typical full size vans. that time. This idea led to the creation of a concept car, the 1972 Ford Carousel, powered by a 460ci Lincoln V8 and considered by some to be the closest ancestor of the modern day minivan. However, to go even further back, the basic idea of a minivan/MPV can also be traced back to the Stout Scarab of the 1930s.
Moreover, the iconic Volkswagen Type 2 had dabbled with the same idea since 1949, continuing its legacy for more than half a century. Nevertheless, the Volkswagen was always seen as drastically underpowered for a large number of American buyers, and the Scarab had simply proved too ahead of its time and quickly faded into obscurity, which almost met the same fate as the Sperlich’s minivan idea. After working with Ford’s Lee Iacoca to get the Carousel project into production, their ideas were soon shot down by Henry Ford II, after the 1973 OPEC embargo. Despite Sperlich’s success in creating the original Ford Mustang , the idea of creating an entirely new platform on such a large scale just wasn’t in Ford’s best interest at the time they were in.
The argument could be made that this was a bad decision on Ford’s part, but at the same time many automakers in the early 1970s saw their research and development funds diverted into the creation of smaller, more efficient vehicles to better meet the challenges of new vehicles. be able to. car restrictions. Yet the same regulations and standards are actually the very reason why the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager would prove to be a success, but more than a decade after the Ford Carousel prototype was built. After being fired from Ford in 1977, Hal Sperlich teamed up again with Lee Iacoca, but under the watchful eye of Chrysler. Sperlich was then tasked with exploring a host of new ideas and innovations, testing the waters of the next decade and helping the brand adapt to the resulting trends of smaller, more efficient vehicles. As a result, the Chrysler K-Car platform was subsequently developed; a smaller FWD platform that could accommodate a wide variety of body styles and individual models. It was on the same platform that Hal Sperlich determined that his idea for a small passenger car would be a good fit. He was right.
The secret of the Dodge Caravan and the great sales of the Plymouth Voyager
In 1984, the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager entered the public domain, leading to a production run spanning more than three decades for the former of the two. Prior to the original Mopar minivans, the full-size station wagon has long been the king of family transportation. These huge machines had been staples in family households for decades, based on conventional sedans and with more space in the back for cargo and additional seating.
For larger families and fleet services requiring more than the typical four to six seats offered by the average American sedan, the station wagon would have been the only real option, other than venturing out into the realm of hulking, full-sized passenger vans. When gasoline was reasonably priced and cheap, none of these options would have seemed like a bad choice. However, the changing times would challenge this idea and challenge automakers to deliver a vehicle large enough for this seating and interior volume while still maintaining an efficient powertrain. Using the K-Car platform as a base, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager nearly maximized their allotted dimensions, offering customers plenty of space while standing on a practical, affordable FWD platform with modest powertrain choices.
Why the original Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager still make an impact today
After their launch, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager went further and inspired other manufacturers to follow suit with their own entry into an entirely new segment of automotive marketing; the minibus.
While it’s abundantly clear that these Mopar minivans were by no means the first of their kind, they were the first to become commonplace on a broad enough spectrum to be forever implanted in the minds of most Americans. With their one-piece construction, FWD layout and smaller engine options, these minivans were certainly a contrast to the massive, full-framed, V8-thundering station wagons of years before. The minivan represented something new, something most people had not even seen or heard of. In fact, the term “minivan” itself can be traced directly to the spawn of the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. It’s not often that a car manufacturer can create an entirely new platform in this way.
It is clear that the Dodge Caravan is still around today and will likely remain a permanent figure in the background of society as it has been since 1984. Nevertheless, the growing trend of SUVs has since replaced the minivan in the eyes of different buyers. , which is a wave that has been decades in the making, but that’s a whole other story.
Sources: Automotive Hall of Fame, Forbes, Motoring Research