The Plymouth Caravelle: Unique Canadian sedans, odd American K-cars

The Plymouth Caravelle was originally a rebadged Dodge Diplomat for Canada — in the United States, it was called the Plymouth Gran Fury. The Diplomat and Caravelle mainly differed in the front clip.

1986 plymouth caravelles - cars

The Canadian cars

Chrysler Canada veteran Derek Harling wrote:

On one occasion, a [1978] Plymouth Caravelle was up for design approval. I always tried to be there for the pre-meeting with Hal Sperlich and then keep in the background at the actual approval meeting. On this occasion Hal looked at his agenda, then looked at me and said, “Some things I’ll never understand. Next item ...” We took that as approval.

Plymouth hood ornament Many people don’t know where the name “Caravelle” comes from. One of the early, if not the original, Plymouth brand logos was a sailing ship — as used by the Plymouth Brethren — a caravelle. Variations, some quite stylized, continued through the years. When the unique Canadian product was being launched for the 1978 model year, there was a staff suggestion run for a suitable name and one smart young secretary, who was into sailing and knew the logo, suggested Caravelle - and Canada begat Caravelle.

The K-cars

The K-based E bodies, brought out in 1983, included a new, front-wheel-drive Caravelle — but only in the United States, for the moment, since the rear-wheel-drive Caravelle was still being sold in Canada. It used the Reliant/Aries’ generous width with a ten-inch wheelbase stretch, also changing the front clip, rear deck lid, quarter panels, and glass, to provide a spacious, economical sedan. The other cars in this series were the Chrysler E-Class (which used similar tail-lights) and Dodge 600.

Guy Coulombe of the Chrysler K-Car Club reported that there were indeed Canadian K-car Caravelles at the same time as the E-bodies, starting in 1983. The four-door in 1983 used E-Class tail-lights with the unique Caravelle grille, he wrote; Canadian brochures were the same as American ones “with superimposed cartoonish imprints... most fail to show the rear of the car.” For 1984, the cars appeared identical to US versions; all were built in the United States and shipped to Canada, in some years with modified body parts. His primary sources are Canadian brochures which may be inaccurate.

In 1985, Caravelle options were slashed to one trim level, the SE. Popular options were made into standard equipment, including delay wipers, cloth split bench seats, AM/FM Stereo, sruise control, automatic transmission and power windows/locks. Engines available were the 2.2 TBI, 2.2 Turbo, and the 2.6 (the Mitsubishi 3.0 V6 showed up later). This model featured the same front end as the 400/600 in Canada, but the slats were replaced by an egg-crate grille in America. The dashboard was originally taken from the K (not unlike the first-generation minivan) but in 1986 was replaced by a more upscale version.

caravelle dashboard

In 1986, the interior and exterior were freshened, with a curvier body. A lower-end base model was brought out, and the Mitsubishi 2.6, with its troublesome carburetor, was dropped in favor of a new fuel-injected 2.5 engine. The SE got a nameplate, exterior left remote and right manual mirror (black), bright wheel opening and sill moldings, upper body stripes, remote trunk release, special wheel covers, standard AM/FM stereo, and split cloth front seats with dual armrests and storage pockets on the seatbacks (base models got a cloth bench seat with vinyl trim).

The Caravelle, which was only available with an automatic, got 24 city, 27 highway with the base 2.2 - nearly the same as the Reliant - with the turbo dropping around 4 mpg, and the 2.5 dropping around 2 mpg. The three-speed automatic transmission was the main culprit of the relatively poor mileage; owners of stick-shift turbos (and standard engines) got substantially better numbers. Unfortunately, only Dodge and Chrysler owners were able to get a turbocharged engine with a five-speed. The three-speed automatic was not a good match for the turbocharged engines, which may have been one reason the V6 series was phased in (along with the marketing truth that six cylinders are better than four, regardless of power).

Caravelle had an optional precision-feel rack-and-pinion power-assisted steering with a quick ratio of 14 to 1 in place of the standard 18 to 1 ratio; it used a higher rate power steering pump. The quick ratio steering was included with the optional Sport Handling Suspension on Caravelle models.

1986 Caravelle engines Compression
Horsepower Torque Mpg, Stick Mpg, Auto
2.2 liter, TBI 9.5 97@5,200 122@3,200   24/27
2.2 liter, turbocharged
(Dodge/Chrysler only)
8.1 146@5200 170@3600   20/24
2.5 liter, TBI 9.0 100@4800 136@2800   23/25

The Caravelle was replaced in 1988 by the Plymouth Acclaim, a more purpose-built extended K-car with an optional Mitsubishi V6.

1986 dimensions Reliant 4-door Caravelle Gran Fury
Wheelbase 100.3 103.3 112.6
Length 178.6 187.2 204.6
Width 68.0 68.0 72.4
Height 52.9 53.1 55.1
Track (max) 57.6 57.6 60.5
35.2’ 36.2’ 40.7’
Headroom, F/R 38.6 / 37.8 38.6 / 37.4 39.3 / 37.7
Legroom, F/R 42.2 / 35.4 42.2 / 36.7 42.5 / 36.6
Hiproom, F/R 55.6 / 56.2 52.9 / 53.5 53.5 / 53.2
cubic feet
15.0 17.1 15.6

Sean Cuthill wrote:

I have had a Plymouth Caravelle for ten years. I recently passed 200,000 kilometres (about 120,000 miles) and am looking forward to many more. It served as a daily driver and pizza delivery car when I got it; it ran well and never failed to start, even in the cold Winnipeg winters. It helped to use the 'headlights on first' trick to get some juice on those really cold days.

Overall, I am pleased with my Caravelle. I would recommend this type of vehicle for basic transportation. It provides good comfort and enough ammenities to make the drive to and from work bearable.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure to experience a variety of repairs with this vehicle. I removed the chrome trim from around the wheel wells and took off the side bump stripes when I had the car repainted. I wanted it done to match the factory PA1 silver but the shop put on a grey colour which ended up being okay because some lesser-knowing people think it’s a Mercedes or BMW from a distance.

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