Time warps labels and perceptions. When minivans first appeared, they were decidedly smaller than their full-sized kin. Now, this Dodge Caravan is a full two feet longer than that Dodge Ram Van. Admittedly, that’s the short wheelbase (109.6″) version. But get this: even the full-sized 127″ wb van was still eight inches shorter than this Caravan. And the extended-length Maxiwagon (first version) was a mere ten inches longer (overall) than the Caravan. Things change. Let’s take a closer look at one of them. Which one? Did you have to ask?
When the Big Three’s new vans came out in 1970 or so, the short versions still played an important role. Increasingly less so, as the decades rolled on. Eventually both Ford and Chevy dropped theirs, leaving Dodge as the only entrant in that shrinking market. But Dodge did seem to mop up the airport shuttle market, at least initially, when there were once a gazillion Super-Shuttle shorty Dodges plying the Bay Area.
Cheap, roomy, the slant six (until 1987), then the 3.9 V6, both hooked to whatever the current Chrysler automatic was: undoubtedly the most cost effective solution to haul more-than-a-taxicab loads and luggage to and from the airport.
This one, as well as the Caravan behind it, are set up for hand controls. That’s another market both these vans have long been dominant in; long and short.
I saw one of the last of these a week or so ago but could not stop for a photo session. I believe that the swb model stayed in the lineup during the B series entire run.
I will confess to maybe the worst prognostication ever, and it involved this van. I remember quite vividly that when the Caravan and Voyager came out in 1984, I wondered who was going to buy them. After all, 3 companies already made a short van. Boy was I wrong. In my defense, this shortie B van was always more vehicle per pound than the minivan.
These were all eventually undone by rust in the midwest. And every gray or blue one I ever saw had dull paint like this one.
Rust? I thought only Japanese cars rusted. The Holy Chevies and Ponchos I thought I saw as a kid were just a figment of my imagination.
I remember an old ad in National Geographic comparing the shorty Ram Van against the VW Vanagon. This was an old issue that predated me (1980-81ish) and the Ram boasted more horsepower (95 versus 67) and more rustproofing than the Vanagon.
I have to say, a slant-six Ram Van would be a much better overall vehicle than a Vanagon, save for the rear-engine traction of the Vanagon and the pop-up camper top of the Westfalia. The Dodge can probably tow a decent amount – not quickly – but it’s a Dodge truck underneath, and the Slant-6 is a much tougher and durable engine than any boxer VW engine, which seem to require rebuilds quite often.
Nevertheless, Vanagons have become classics – as judged by the insane prices they command on thesamba.com – while the Dodge has been forgotten. Import snobbery? Aging children of the 60’s wanting to recapture their youth? Who knows.
In my Shady Used Car days I did everything I could to encourage buyers, and especially friends, to buy American six cylinder vans and then camperize them. The end result would be much cheaper and infinitely more reliable. An added bonus in Canuckistan would be heater that would actually work and not gas you in the process. A slant six never used any more gas than a VW Van and it would get you up the Coquihalla Highway without catching fire.
However, buying a VW Moneypit, oops, Van, had nothing to do with practicality. It was all about image, just like why all the kids these days have Macbooks. Does a Macbooks performance justify its outrageous price tag? Of course not, but it is tres cool in its setting. Same with VW Vans.
Oh Canucklehead and your Vanagon hate 🙂
Vanagon syncro and macbook pro owner here, both work admirably and reliably.
Tell you what, let’s arrange a show down between a dodge van of your choice and my ’86 syncro. How about a drive from Victoria to Port Alberni via Port Renfrew and Bamfield, side trips up some logging spurs of course 🙂
Hey, VW Vans are great if you like to tinker and wrench. Seems you like to do that and good on you. Problem with this is a 23 year old girl usually doesn’t and neither does a garage grease monkey in Spuzzum BC. Any VW Van I ever sold came back on a hook with an irate owner pretty quick.
As for Macs, nobody can convince me they are worth the money that ask for them. But to each his/her own.
I tinker and wrench because i like too, but to be honest the 2 vanagons I have owned (first an ’82 diesel westy that i swapped in a I4 gas engine in ’94) and this ’86 syncro have both been very reliable. Is it because I do preventative maintenance? Well I guess so, but I also used/use them hard.
I don’t want to get into computer hardware argument here, but I’ve used a few types of computer since i first punched cards to make a snoopy calendar back in ’75 and I just like the fit, finish and operation of a mac better than what else is out there. I don’t need to convince you, why should I? Your opinions on computers seem to be quite strong, and lurking just under the surface 🙂
This is all in good fun CKH, no intention to be rude or challenging. But the idea of you in an ’86 dodge van trying to follow me does make me smile 🙂
Actually, my company has an ’85 Dodge short van with 360 and Torqueflite. With four snow tires and high ground clearance, there are few places it cannot go. And any drunk with a Crescent wrench can fix it with Canadian Tire parts. We use it as a back up. In fact, we maintain several Dodge Vans. Never tried a VW, though. Don’t think a VW would work that well on the prairies so we stick to what we know.
Yeah the ’85 dodge short van would run rings around these bozos 🙂
I’ve had an iMac for about a year and just bought a VW Jetta GLI. Perhaps I’ve been suckered by the image, but so far I’ve found these products much, much more pleasant to use and live with than the Windows Vista-equipped laptop and Honda Civic they replaced.
> Perhaps I’ve been suckered by the image
You said it! But comparing a Windows Vista POS to a Honda Civic is sacrilege. MS Windows is like leprosy for you computer, unless you’re a softcore gamer. Get Ubuntu or something already!
Comparing wheelbase length is a bit misleading on the Maxivan as it had massive rear overhang. Surely overall length was still a fair bit longer. I had one as my first “car” – not fun to park and drank fuel at an alarming rate.
And the extended-length Maxiwagon was a mere ten inches longer than the Caravan.
David, I did say the Maxiwagon was a bit longer (total length) than the Caravan. But that is for the first Maxiwagon version; the later ones had a longer rear extension than the earlier ones.
Why is that minivan seem to sit so high it appears lifted? Is that normal?
It’s a drop-floor handicapped conversion. The floor has been lowered to allow a wheelchair passenger to fit in without raising the roof. That is why the suspension is higher & the reason for the tall plastic clading on the rockers.
Thank you for that explanation. No wonder the stance is weird.
Ford and GM dropped out of the shorty van race with the introduction of the Aerostar and Astro/Safari. They filled the need for a smaller work van with proper rear doors while the FWD Chryslers weren’t available in cargo versions early on and aren’t as suitable as a work truck. The FWD configuration takes up too much of the overall length for the drive train compared to a RWD. .
There were cargo FWD Mopar vans as early as 1985 or so, I have a brochure that shows one, I think the branded it as a Ram. The bad guys in Commando had one.
I hardly ever recall seeing a shorty RWD van in any type of “civilian” use, from what I could recall they were all county use or Southern Bell, which had thousands of the short Chevrolet vans, there is still one that I see from time to time still wearing its olive drab and white 80’s vintage color scheme.
In general commercial users were the biggest buyers of vans. The early Caravan “cargo” vans were just regular models stripped of their interior and some times fitted with panels to replace the rear most glass so they lacked much in the way of places to install shelving and racks something many commercial buyers need in a cargo van. The lack of “barn” doors also kept them out of consideration of many commercial buyers.
Sliding doors are a real service headache for commercial users. We avoid them in my company.
Ugh, the closeup of the moss on the outside of the Ram…Paul, are you trying to start a blogwar with Old Parked Cars? 🙂
That’s just the facts of life in the west side of the Pacific NorthWEsT, around here that’s “moderate” growth.
Yes, but why does moss grow on cars only in OR and WA? It’s not like you have a monopoly on humidity. Got plenty of that here in coastal Georgia, but we don’t have mossy cars.
A friend of ours had a short-wheelbase Ram Van much like the one featured, except it was maroon, no two-tone. It was probably an ’85 or so. He kept it at their weekend place at Lake Carroll to haul their boat. In 1999 or 2000, he finally traded it in and ordered a plain-Jane, new Ford F150 extended cab longbed in black with no options and stick shift. He probably still has that one, they moved to Georgia about five years ago.
I remember a school friend’s dad having a shorty Econoline and claiming that it had a tighter turning radius than a Beetle. Not sure if that was true or not but he could shoehorn it into some tight parallel parking spaces.
But Chevy vans were the babe magnets.
I had a magazine of a test of a maroon shortie with the stock turbine rims and I forget if it was the passenger or non passenger one, but I recall liking its design as it was a pre ’86 like the one above but get it without anything in the rear and fit it out as a personal van back in the day. I think the article was for the ’83 variant IIRC.
This was back when groovy vans with shag carpeting etc were still in vogue (barely by then) but man, I could see that maroon van all decked out with a great sounding audio system being totally bitchin’. 🙂
I had a 79 Dodge ex-phone company van with a Slant six and 3 on the tree. I loved that thing. Had a cop spotlight in the roof. It was great for hauling band gear and just hanging out. Sold it to a friend who used it as his band van for a while.
I just picked up an ’85 Dodge Shorty van with a slant six. It also has an A833 4 speed manual overdrive transmission.
I find it interesting that these were being compared to Vanagons, as I was thinking of buying a vanagon with them being the only widely available vans with a Stick. I am glad it popped up when it did, 142xxx miles and i talked the owner down to $900.
I believe I am its fourth owner. It originally was a forest passenger van from michigan. By the time I spotted it on craigslist it was being used by a suburban Chicago cleaning company. They apparantly replaced it with a similar extended van. They also have it a patriotic paint job and it came decked out with ‘buy veteran’ bumper stickers and ‘support our troops plates. I sure am glad I didn’t buy a $900 Vanagon.