Enter the Man Van

For the 1989 model year, Dodge released something rather daring–a turbocharged minivan.  What could have possessed them to turbocharge the 2.5 liter four is lost to the pages of history, but the 150 hp ’89 Turbovan has become a legend.  Though Dodge built many caravans that year with manual transmissions, finding one today paired with the turbo is extremely rare.  Those who have found them add intercoolers and tend to run 12 second quarters, shaming Mustangs and Camaros alike.

Last week at the Chicago Auto Show, Dodge pulled the sheet off their newest Caravan, the R/T.  First things first when we’re discussing an R/T:  it has a 3.6 liter Pentastar, pushing out 283 hp and 260 lb ft of torque.  That’s fairly impressive if you remember that the best the 2010 Caravan could get from its 3.8 liter V-6 was 197 hp.  According to Dodge, it will also get a more muscular suspension.  The rest, though, is all on the surface.  Gaze in wonder at the 17” alloys.  Let the 506-watt, subwoofer-enhanced stereo drench your neighborhood with James Taylor and Billy Joel.  Try with all your might to keep clean the red stitching and leather-skinned automatic gearshift lever.  Dodge calls the Caravan R/T the Man Van.  Critics say it is all flash and glimmer, with no real performance boost.

But to them, only a Hemi could constitute a performance boost in a Dodge, and this would have meant a complete redesign.   Stuffing a Hemi into a FWD platform would be a Waterworld-level mistake.  In my opinion, an AWD platform–Hemi or not–would be optimal, but I’m not going to stay awake with anxiety, rocking back and forth like Dustin Hoffman staring at a spilled box of tooth picks, waiting for it. 

So the 2011 R/T is beefier than the previous year, but not what the fan-boys were slavering over.  Is it a real Man Van?  Its smaller, more powerful engine seems to be inching back to the turbo days, though hoping for anything but a naturally aspirated powerhouse in a modern Caravan is a little like hoping for a balanced national budget.  No, it doesn’t really live up to the satirical smirk of the clever old turbo, but it is an improvement over the safe “beigeness” of the 2010.  And, let’s be honest, were we really expecting the Hemi?  Dodge is probably America’s most daring division of the Big Three (with the possible exception of Ford’s Raptor-breeding  Special Vehicle Team), but the American auto industry is still rebuilding, and a fuel-bingeing minivan, however awesome, is a bit risky for the day.

In the midst of our vacillating debate, though, the Dodge people are laughing in the wings.  It’s 2011, after all–the year of the Pentastar.  It only makes sense to drop one in the Caravan beside the myriad other Fiat and Chrysler platforms getting them.  “So,” they thought, “we’ve got a performance boost over the old model, strictly as a matter of interdepartmental cooperation.  Let’s (a) slap on some alloys, (b) add a stereo that could be used to destabilize enemy bridges, (c) sell it as a Man Van, and (d) profit!”  It really is a subtle marketing scheme.  If they really wanted to build a Man Van from the ground up, they would have done something extremely daring:  they would have given it a manual, which they haven’t tried since the mid-90’s.

I don’t consider the 2011 Caravan R/T a step backward, though (except the part about the transmission).  I would, of course, prefer either a turbo as in the days of yore, or a tire-devouring Hemi, but excitement is like gelato–even if you only have a little more, it’s still a good thing.  And if there’s one thing Detroit needs… it is reliability.  But if there are two things Detroit needs, the second is excitement.  It will be a refreshing go-machine to American Dads who love driving their families, but dread doing so in the beige waterbeds they’re slogging around town in now.  I’m a man, and I would enjoy one.  It is, therefore, a Man Van.

Image provided courtesy of Chrysler Group LLC

5 Replies to “Enter the Man Van”

  1. 1989 was a different world. Manuals were still common in base model cars, and thus people didn’t fear them. Of course Dodge didn’t put a manual in this! It would have been just as outrageous as putting a hemi in it. Not gonna happen. I doubt very much that you could ever squeeze a hemi in the front of that Dodge with all the safety equipment and all wheel drive system surrounding it. RWD or AWD would also require a new floorpan. Instead of lamenting the lack of a “man van” in this model, we should be thankful that we know longer have to wait for a wheezing 20th century relic to get off the line at a light when sitting behind it. The Pentastar V6 is more powerful than many of the V8s of the past few decades, and that is a huge accomplishment.

    1. There are still some men out there who know how to drive a stick. I think if a vehicle were to bring it back into style, it would have to be geared toward men. I’m not saying women never want to drive stick (I don’t want Michelle Mouton to come beat me up), but I think there’s a greater appeal among men.

      Unfortunately, you’re right. We won’t see a manual on a minivan unless things start turning around in a big way. Even though dad will enjoy driving the Man Van, mom will need to use it, too, and chances are she’ll prefer an automatic.

      Hmm…I wonder what kind of body work it would take to fit a transmission from a Charger… Oh wait, those were all autoboxes, too. Is the Challenger’s 6-speed the only manual Dodge makes for cars?

  2. I just bought a fiat
    scudo van for work & leisure, space for all my tools and enough left over for my downhill mountain biking rig!

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