[Not my van, but mine was likewise red. All photos courtesy of the Internet]
The year is 2002. I had owned nothing but Volvos for the previous 5 years, and made a healthy side business of parting out junkers. But I had grown bored of them; I need something different, but not too different. I still like my cars boxy, efficient, and with clutch pedals.
Ten years earlier, a mentor had one of these brand-new, and I’d always secretly lusted for it. So I set out to find one.
A few postings on various Internet forums, and I hit pay dirt. I found a 1992 model, with decent miles, low rust (for a 10-year-old Midwestern MoPar!), and less than 200 miles away. The asking price was $1000, and some fair negotiations knocked it down to $850.
However, by this time my marriage was on the rocks (pay attention – this fact becomes important later) and my wife wanted no part of driving me to rural Illinois to buy a minivan. That left me stuck with 8 hours of “riding the dog” (that’s hobo slang for “Taking a Greyhound Bus”). Unpleasant, but it got the job done.
The seller met me at the bus stop, the deal was done, and I was on my way back to Michigan.
Up to that day, I had been driving a 1975 Volvo 245DL. That car was loud and rough on the Interstate, mostly owing to a lack of overdrive, a leaky exhaust, and lots of rust holes. So when my new Voyager was noisy and rough, I didn’t think about it for a minute. Until I couldn’t get the van to go past 55mph. Uh oh, what had I gotten myself into?
I decided to take the next exit off I-57 to see if anything could be done. As I eased off the ramp, I shifted in to neutral to coast to the stop sign. At that exact moment, I solved my problem. I had been driving on the Interstate in third gear, and was more than likely bouncing off the rev limiter, thus limiting my top speed to 55!
[When was the last time you saw a car with FOUR pedals??]
I got angry with myself for a minute, then I literally laughed out loud! I was so used to driving a lousy car that even the noise of a redlining engine never caused me alarm. I pulled back onto the highway, found fifth gear, and had an uneventful drive for the rest of the trip.
I schooled myself on these vans, and I learned a lot. By 2002, the junkyards were full of this generation of minivan, all with dead automatic transmissions. All of the stick shift vans of this generation were stripped-out models, as was mine, but the junkyard was full of upgrades from up-level Caravans and Town and Country. One of the best upgrades I did was installing the (plug-n-play) full gauge cluster, complete with tachometer. I didn’t want to make the “third gear on the highway” mistake again!
The van served me well for a few years. The only real failure I had was a hole in the rear brake line, which was an easy fix. The van got 24-28 mpg, and had a huge tank, allowing me to drive it for weeks on end without stopping at the gas station.
During my ownership, my marriage collapsed. For more than a few nights, I called that Voyager “home” and it did a pretty good job of being a camper. I also spent a lot of nights in a friend’s spare bedroom, and when I bought a different car for my move to Las Vegas, I gave my friend the Voyager in repayment for his kindness. That Voyager was a simple, honest vehicle, and I would probably buy something similar again if I could. If only the Ford Transit Connect could be had with a clutch pedal…
I saw a turbo diesel standard transmission Chrysler T&C on a visit to the UK. The website said they got 40 mpg.
…which is about 36-1/2 miles per US gallon.
Proving once again, skip marriage, and find a Chrysler K-Car derivative with a clutch pedal, to move in together with.
Was that the target market for the Dodge Caravan’s ‘ short-lived Convert-a-Bed option?
I’ve seen earlier Plymouth Voyagers with manual transmission, but never later than 1989.
I actually still own an original 1992 5-speed base model and have used it for xctry WY to NH ever since I got it up until a cpl years ago when I left it in NH for local transport as I have a 2002 PT that I use to drive the long trips now. The van mite finally have reached its retirement as I haven’t found linkage parts and can only start out in 2nd gear but otherwise, mechanics continually remark on what good shape it’s in! (tho cosmetically it is “challenged”)
My brother-in-law, a technician for Xerox, had a 5-speed Voyager for a work vehicle, so I always knew they existed, but I certainly didn’t see many of them.
As one of the few people who would actually buy a manual-transmission minivan if such a thing were available these days, I liked these Voyagers when they were made. Haven’t seen one in a long time.
I did know someone who bought a new manual Voyager in about 1990. He was the sort who always bought stripped, manual cars, so this was a perfect fit for his family car. It served him well for years.
Be thankful for the rev limiter! In 1980, my father bought a new Subaru wagon, and since this followed several years of him driving an automatic Buick, he was unaccustomed to both the shifting and the engine noise. When the car was pretty new, he “forgot” to shift once after merging onto a highway. Predictably, the result was pretty bad.
It’s also A Bad Thing if you go from driving a manual Corolla to an automatic Camry and treat the brake pedal like the clutch when slowing from highway speed, as I did once. Stomping the left-most pedal to the floor leads to all sorts of surprising and interesting sensations, let me tell you. Haven’t made that mistake twice, though.
Yup. Did the same thing in my parents 77 Impala wagon after driving my little 4speed Ford (nee Mazda) Courier without power brakes. Lucky I jad on my seatbelt…
My wife did that in the main street of a popular tourist destination many years ago.
The Mazda5 is still available with 3 pedals. Where it’s still available at all, that is.
Like the song ” Beep Beep”. ” How do I get this car out of 2nd gear ? “
My folks wanted to buy a Stick Shift Plymouth Voyager, but by 1995 only Automatics were available. The stick shift was available only with the 100HP 4 Cylinder which would be woefully underpowered in Upstate New York so they were glad to get the 141HP 6 Cylinder.
When I lived in my Voyager for 3 weeks I folded down the second row and used some lumber to raise the head of the cot over the folded second row. It was a tight squeeze between the tailgate and front seats.
I drove a Ford Aerostar on occasion that was owned by the business I managed. That particular van had a 5-speed manual. It was part of a three Aerostar fleet. The others had automatics. The nickname for this 5-speed was the “Race Van.”
Funny thing. It was still running after the other two had given up the ghost. You couldn’t kill it.
It’s just SO ironic that the Aerostar was discontinued almost right after the automatic transmissions were finally bullet-proofed (1995-97), improving the problematic A4LD design into the 4r44e for the 3-liter Vulcan V6 and 4r55e (later upgraded to 5r55e) for the 4-liter Cologne V6. Stick-shifts disappeared after 1995.
Leave it to U.S. car manufacturers to make a tachometer optional on a car with a manual transmission and make the tachometer standard on a car with an automatic transmission.
Would like to find one of these with a manual transmission owned by a very gentle driver. Was the turbocharged Voyager available with a manual transmission?
BTW, as the owner of several Civics I have seen 4 pedals several times.
Also: Footpedal parking brake + manual transmission. Durrrr!
Turbo minivan with 5-speed: Yes, but you’ll be looking for quite awhile unless you bring a turbodiesel 5-speed minivan from Europe. It’ll have to be a 1991 or older model to get into the US this year; a 2001 or older in Canada.
There was an episode of “Star Trek:Voyager” in which one of Capt. Janeway’s
ancestors was depicted driving a1971-72 Ford wagon on the eve of the millenium. I always thought she should have been driving one of these instead. Just because.
+1 – I remember the episode, and thought the same exact thing.
Swapped a turbo II and Getrag 555 into my caravan c/v.
Wiring tough but mechanicals were a boltin.
Cable shifter let me put the shifter close to the steering wheel too.
Owned 1984 2.2 4speed Cargo Van for 20 years and 250K miles – Super Reliable – Super Slow – Row through the Gears on any incline. Noisy for doors never fit well. Around 30 MPG. Cold in Winter, Rust got it or would still have.
After selling my vanagon I gave up the hunt for a minivan with a clutch. Tried to find a previa or caravan with a stick to no avail. Settled on a previa with an auto for $800. Five years later it is still giving me good service (knock on wood) and I forget how smooth the transmission is until I drive my dads Astro van with a 100000 less kms on it. The turbo 4 with a five speed would be a nice caravan if you could make or find one. I have noticed the odd full size dodge van with a stick and I used to have an older econoline van with a 4 speed manual. I miss that van until I remember my knee almost giving out in stop and go traffic…
I had a customer who wanted to trade a 1987 Grand Voyager with a 5 spd at the Dodge/Jeep/Eagle store I worked for in 1993-95. I had never seen one before or since.
It seems the stick shift Voyager/Caravan is frequently cited as a unicorn here on CC but I’ve known several people who owned them, including my in-laws (briefly). I’ve never seen a stick shift Previa.
I worked with a guy who bought one of the original Previas with a 5-speed stick. Because the driver’s seat was on top of the engine cover, the shifter was properly stubby, and combined with the low centre-of-gravity the ability to select the right gear meant that huge vehicle cornered like it had no right to…it was a hoot to drive!
Some time ago, I knew a guy with one of those old space-ship Previas with a manual transmission. He enjoyed violating it with almost totally un-researched, second hand turbo setups and in spite of his best (worst) efforts, every part of the drivetrain survived with no significant complaint. A stout tree oversaw that van’s last hooning adventure.
How odd. I saw a van just like this the other day, about the same vintage too. It looked like the first year of the 2nd generation Caravan/Voyager twins (1992 if I’m correct).
They’re otherwise uncommon on the roads around here.
I drove one of these (Caravan, though) in about 1996. Old guy brought it into the shop—it wasn’t a cargo van but he was using it as one. I remember reaching for the normal Mopar minivan shift lever on the column (remember how fragile-looking and cheap-plasticky those were?), finding nothing, and then looking at the floor—hmm, no gearshift in the center—woah, that shift lever is RIGHT NEXT to the seat. Surprisingly, it actually fell to the hand nicely and was kind of a hoot to drive, especially after driving hundreds of autobox K-vans. IIRC, it was a 4-speed, late 80s model, non-turbo.
Over years of working on and around cars, I think I probably drove every iteration of these vans—but that was the only stick.
Hi Evan, thanks for the write up. I have a soft spot for the Mopar turbo minivans. When I saw your name I thought I recognized it and then when you mentioned old Volvos I knew we had crossed paths (on the internet) before. On a number of occasions you responded to my questions on the Swedish Bricks mailing list, regarding my 1987 740 GL (long gone) and/or my 1986 760 turbo (still with me). Good to hear from you.
Well id depends which spec Voyager we are talking about. The diesels sold in Austria had never anything but a 5-sp manual, and I believe fitted with a tacho as standard.
The diesel Voyagers sold in Austria (and elsewhere in the EU) all had 5sp boxes.
According to Wikipedia, they actually made a handful of manuals for the third generation in 1996 before they stopped offering them.
Now I have a goal in life.
I hate to be the one to spoil your goal in life, but…nope, not for the North American market, they did not. Here’s a sample page from the ’96 Chrysler Corp master parts cattledog, one of many such pages indicating that the manual trans was only for Europe/ROW.
Wikipedia is full of errors, but I’m not seeing any mention of manual transmissions in American-market ’96s. Are you sure you saw it there?
“The rarely-ordered manual transmission was dropped a few months into the 1996 model year and only a handful of vans were equipped with them. ”
Thanks for the pointer. I’ve removed that inaccurate (and uncited) claim.
I’ve always wanted a Mopar minivan to use as a mobile travel camper. A manual transmission would be a bonus… I’ve heard horror stories about auto Chrysler transmissions.
The UltraDie… er UltraDrive? I had the pleasure of owning a 1994 Voyager with this fine option. One day, I will write about that lump of COAL.
UltraDrive was the promotional name of the A604 for the first couple years. Its real name is ProbleMatic.
I’ve never seen a Mopar minivan with a stick, though I knew they were available. Having driven a few other manual Mopars of that vintage, I remember them having a heavy clutch and a clunky shifter. My dad owned a 1990 Nissan Axxess with a 5-speed. Nice inside, with a light, smooth clutch and a decent shifter, and plenty of power from the 2.4 litre engine.
Honda made lots of Elements with 5-speeds, they came in FWD or AWD. The rear seats will fold up and come with a tethered carabiner to clip to the passenger handles, or can be popped out in minutes, they even have carrying handles built-in. With the seats out there’s just about room for a queen size bed back there. K-block motor and shifter up by the wheel, which looks odd but works and has good feel with MTL in the case.
I came from a 240 as well.
The problem with Elements is their obscenely high resale values. Unless, of course, you already own one, in which case it’s probably a good thing.
A car magazine writer once described a K-car stick shift as being like stirring a wooden spoon in a bucket of ice cubes. How was the K-based minivan version?
In Europe of course there are lots of Fiat 500L sized minivans and larger Ford S Max sized ones with stick shifts, probably mostly diesels. Both are smaller than US Caravans, Siennas, etc. But they did sell currrent Caravans as Chryslers and Lancias in Europe – I saw several in Vienna a few weeks ago. Didn’t look inside to see if they were sticks. I think the GM plasticvans they sold there in the 90’s could or maybe always had a stick shift.
Sorry guys but I like driving automatics much better myself. But not if they only last a year or two like those Chryslers. I’ve had various high mileage automatics with no trans problems other than the solenoid that cues the lockup not letting a GM 3-speed unlock. Fixed for $300 or so.
In my experience, about like that! The shifter in my ’92 Caravan was very loose and a bit rubbery. If you were shifting through the gears in order it worked fine, but if you went for third or fourth, you might not always find them.
It was a fun van to drive, if a bit slow. I’d looked at two others with 5 speeds before buying this one. They seem to be hard on clutches, the other two were on borrowed time, and mine was too by the time I sold it. The tin worm was relentless on them in Michigan.
After I sold it, I found an ’86 Astro conversion van, 2.5 FI 5 speed. It was even slower, but more fun to drive (at least in the winter!), and the shifter was more direct. The body held up much better also, but eventually the head gasket blew, and away it went.
My uncle & aunt had an early 90s Caravan with the 5 speed stick that they bought brand new (it was a ’91 or ’92 model). It was a stripper model for sure, save for the limo tinted windows done by the dealer upon purchase. They owned it for many years.
It was the only example from that generation that I have ever seen with a stick. I recall a lot more manual-equipped 1st generation Caravans and Voyagers, but by the early 90s they were pretty rare (or so it would seem).
Wow, I had NO idea a stick was even available on one of these! I bet production figures are waaaaaaaay low.
I miss simple boxes with clutch pedals. I’ve somehow morphed from those to fancy boxes with automatics (Buicks)….
I have a friend that had a 90’s (forget the year, probably early 90’s) Caravan with a manual. He had problem sourcing a new transmission when he lost a gear, not sure of the details, but I think it cracked the case…and was probably the end of his ownership, I do recall him looking for a replacement (probably in the early 2000s). I’m kind of the same way, though I can’t claim ownership of any minivan, as I’ve owned nothing buy manual transmission cars for 35 years. He also bought a 2000 VW Passat V6 with manual transmission (had a hard time finding it).
Sometimes being on the fringe has its bad points (like getting replacement parts especially after the vehicle goes out of production). I’m trying to remind myself that my next car will probably need to be an automatic since standard transmissions are becoming very rare in the US, even in small economy models (unless they are “sporty”…and even then).
This article prompted me to take a look at autotrader.ca for minivans listed with a manual transmission. There are 15 Mopars available nationwide, apparently.
I can’t believe the number of listings for vans which are clearly automatic. What are people thinking?