As the hand struck who-knows o’clock, the online car shopping vortex sucked me in once again. For months I’d been on the hunt, motivated by whimsy as much as need. Instinctually I punched in my search parameters. Image? Has. Color? Green. Transmission? Manual. Price? A Camaro’s convertible top costs more.
By that point I was used to miscategorized ads, but this one said “five-speed manual” right up top. The photos confirmed it—a shifter wrapped in a rubber accordion boot stood proud on the floor. Calls were made, dollars were extracted, papers were signed. Next thing I knew, I was cruising home in my 1994 Dodge Caravan minivan.
This is no hoity-toity Grand Caravan, mind you—rather, it is shockingly basic. Five seats and a single sliding door is about all there is to it. It lacks a tape deck, power windows, or central locking. A tachometer is another peculiar omission since, yes indeed, the 2.5-liter I-4 sends its 100-odd horsepower to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox.
See, this came from an era when a three-speed automatic was an upgrade. Most buyers chose it; the manual is quite rare. Also rare is this example’s condition: a one-owner California car with just more than 70,000 miles. A few blemishes aside, the tan cloth upholstery and emerald metallic paint present beautifully.
I adore this machine. I revel in its starkness. I care about it more than any car I’ve owned. You probably wonder why, and you probably wonder what’s wrong with me.
A part of me likes being a time capsule’s steward. The Caravan is in great shape, and it’s on me to keep it that way. I, like you perhaps, have memories borne from minivans like this. We hopped in and out of them at school, smashed our fingers closing their pop-out side windows, and eventually snuck them away for late-night shenanigans. This period piece resurfaces those moments. These days especially, remembering how things used to be feels so valuable. After a drive in one of MotorTrend‘s test vehicles—be it a ripping run in a mid-engine roadster or lazy miles passed in an SUV equipped with advanced driver aids—it’s refreshing to get back in my Caravan. It’s an automotive palate cleanser whose meager performance and features make any new vehicle I drive feel like a futuristic supercar.
This is all especially pertinent to the minivans we just pitched against each other in a comparison test. I took my van out to meet the latest and greatest vans on the market—actually, every minivan on our market—and their equipment and capabilities would have been unthinkable when the ’94 Caravan and its competition were in showrooms. Lounging in the Carnival’s sublime second-row seats or pushing the Odyssey’s robust V-6 shows how far minivans have come. With its manual transmission and simplistic feature set, my Dodge is essentially a box on wheels built to carry people or things. Today’s minivans are so much more.
I get it if you don’t get it. The appeal is purely esoteric. But what my Caravan has—or rather, doesn’t—proves how, even as the segment dwindles, minivans are in their best form yet.