Junkyard Classic: 1985 Dodge Caravan SE – The Whiplash Special

I’ve been holding out for a first year 1984 version of Chrysler’s first generation minivan but finally realized it just will not appear until very soon after I publish this, a second year example, instead.  Further, JPC’s recent Toyota Previa post and the multiple comments regarding how a minivan is bound to be filthy and disgusting in short order due to its occupants finally pushed me over the edge; even if I do find a 1984 one, it’s unlikely to be as clean as this one which I found among many, many newer vans with the same badging.

This one, finished in Mink Brown Pearl, is an SE version, which was the middle trim level of the Caravan version.  The buyer clearly took everyone’s advice and skipped the first year of a new vehicle and got the second year instead after more than 200,000 buyers took the plunge the first year.  There weren’t many changes after that first year and it does look like the van served him or her in very fine staid.

While the base version only came in a 5-passenger configuration as did the SE as standard, the SE was optionally available with the now-ubiquitous three rows, good for seven occupants. There was a front bench seat available to make that eight but that format was quite rare.  In the short wheelbase format that was the only offering for the first few years, space was a bit tight but doable and certainly better than a regular wagon with a rear facing third row in the cargo area.

The third row with three seating positions can apparently also be removed and placed in the middle of the van in place of the second row to afford a huge cargo area.  Remember though, back then the slider was only offered on one side, so Chrysler made the middle row offset a bit to one side, no walk-through captain’s chair option back then.

I was struck by how clean the seats were in this van, cleaner than most any other cloth-seated van I’ve ever seen (with the exception of one of the middle row seats), but just as striking to me was the lack of head restraints in not just the passenger rows but also the front seats.  A little digging revealed that if you chose the vinyl interior (which was the option as opposed to this standard cloth), you DID get highback bucket seats in front but not when opting for cloth which is very peculiar.

Shoulder belts were not available for the second or third row either but did become available as a standalone part several years down the road that could be retrofitted.  Yes, I know voluntary safety inclusions weren’t yet really on the radar in these days for many manufacturers but still, to offer a highback with head restraint in one seat material but not the other seems a trifle absurd.

The butterscotch color really warms this thing up and looks fairly inviting.  The wheel and dash look very K-car (of course) but the seating position is high, there are fold-down arm rests and no center console to impede heading to the back for some quality time with the littles.

Perhaps 47,603 miles is the actual count, the overall condition certainly would agree with that.  The instrumentation came in for applause from various magazines at the time, being clearly legible, attractive, and well laid out.  While still a little sparse with some reminder of foregone options, this one at least looks moderately well filled out with only the bottom right position lacking a function bar the seatbelt reminder light.

Chrysler used a very similar stacked double front end on a few vehicles in this era, including the XJ Jeep Wagoneer.  I can’t say I’m particularly a fan as it reminds me of the Griswold’s conveyance more than anything else.  Sadly someone absconded with the hood ornament from this one but otherwise it’s still very complete.  There aren’t too many of these around anymore for people to need parts from them, especially an early model where the part is likely older than the one needing replacement.

These minivans wouldn’t get a V6 for a few years and also had a turbo 4-cylinder as a stopgap measure before then (although both were offered concurrently in the end for a short while).  So inline 4’s were the order of the day, I wonder which this one has…

I’m not a very good tease, so here it is, the venerable Mitsubishi 2.6l 4-cylinder!  Offering 104hp and 142lb-ft of torque, this was the top engine, the base engine was Chrysler’s 2.2l.  A manual transmission was only offered on the 2.2, so our Mitsu-unit equipped one has the optional 3-speed Torque-flite automatic unit by default.

From this angle, it’s evident how stubby these really were, with the third row there was little cargo area left.  Going to the “Grand” extended version a few years later really supercharged sales and likely convinced a lot of people to trade their earlier small model in as well.

I can’t find any mention of Art Riffel Dodge in Loveland, Colorado so this may have been a one-owner van sold new there and perhaps living its whole life there with that owner, especially if the mileage is accurate.  It’s not hard to see the attraction; interior space, good visibility, compact outside dimensions, decent economy, and fairly attractive or at least modern styling.

There isn’t much to add that hasn’t been said before here except that this one, bar a wash and wax and a fairly minor cleanout and vacuum, looks almost as good as new and likely to be the best condition one I’ll see outside of a museum for some time.  The commercial above is extremely accurate as far as commercials go, the Chrysler minivans really were an automotive revolution.

Related Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1985 Dodge Caravan by Paul Niedermeyer

Cars Of A Lifetime: 1986 Dodge Caravan by 83LeBaron

CC Capsule: 1989 Dodge Caravan SE by Eric703