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Minivans

Original T-115 Minivans:
1984-91 Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager, Chrysler Town & Country

1984 Plymouth Voyager

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Chrysler and Ford separately started working on minivans in the 1970s, but neither company made much progress until, at Chrysler, the right combination of leaders and technology appeared.

Lawrence Monkhouse, Chrysler Canada photographer, wrote about the 1983 production launch: “Lee Iacocca made a grand entrance through a garage door. When the executives tried to exit the rear seat they couldn’t, because one of them had clicked the child lock switch.”

When Chrysler finally came out with their Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan in 1984, they were slow, somewhat clumsy, noisy at high speeds, and not especially thrifty with fuel. They were also a stunning success.

The market had been waiting for this kind of car. With a minivan, you could fit seven people into your van when you needed to, or a lot of cargo when you didn’t. The seats came out if you needed to carry sheets of plywood or furniture; and they were reasonably easy to get back in. You could get up and walk through the van, from the front to the back. Compared with regular full size vans, the minivans did not punish their owners with horrid gas consumption, and fit into most garages and parking spaces; they were fairly easy to drive, with a “command of the road” position that was not too high; and they were easy to get into and out of. The huge rear hatch and sliding door made access far easier than with a traditional wagon. No wonder they were a hit.

1984 minivans

The vans were amazing to many buyers — hence the term “Magic Wagon” used in advertising and by some journalists. While a normal station wagon rode on an extended wheelbase, the minivan was not much different on the outside from the Reliant; it had a full foot of wheelbase to its advantage, but it was not as long as the wagon, and almost exactly as long as the Reliant sedan. Chrysler had pushed the wheels to the corners, achieving its first “cab forward” design a decade before the release of the LH.

Inside, due to front wheel drive, there was no need for a driveshaft hump; the wheelhouses took up much less space, and the extra usable length and height really made a difference both in actual capacity and in "feel."

Voyager and Caravan were clearly based on the Reliant, and shared a surprising number of parts, including interior trim pieces, the instrument panel, and engines. The architecture and suspension were similar, with a solid axle in back and a MacPherson strut front suspension, with rack and pinion steering. Brakes were power assisted, disc in front, self adjusting drum in back, with dual master cylinders and a body height-sensing valve for balance.

1984 plymouth voyager cutaway

Yet, Car & Driver enthused about the upscale gauges and trim; what’s more, they praised the performance of the van, which, in fairness, beat the Peugeot 505S wagon and Tercel SR5 4WD, and nearly matched the Town & Country K-wagon (the name had not yet moved to minivans).

In 0-60 (14.0 seconds) and quarter mile (19.5 @ 71) times, that is — braking was poor, with 256 feet needed to stop from 70 mph. Their observed gas mileage was 20 mpg, lower than EPA’s 20 city/27 highway; the interior was quieter than the Tercel or Peugeot. (C&D drove the 2.6 liter version, with automatic. The five-speed manual would likely have been much quicker.)

1989 Dodge Caravan gauges
 1984 DimensionsMinivans K Wagon
Wheelbase112 100
Length175.9 178.5
Width69.6 68.0
Cargo bay length*82 64
Min. cargo width48 39
Turning Diameter41 35.2
Headroom39/38.5 38.6 / 38.5
Legroom 38.3/36.1 42.2 / 34.8
Max cargo volume*125 cu ft  67.7 cu ft
* Minivan: no rear seats. Wagon: seats down.

The “T-115” debuted in 1983 (as 1984 models); 209,895 of them were sold in North America in their first year. Production started in October 1983, and they had an official introduction in January 1984. Chrysler later added a second plant to make the popular vehicles: they started out in Windsor, Ontario, and later spread to St. Louis — three shifts at each plant.

The minivans made it to Car and Driver’s Ten Best list for 1985, quite a feat for a domestic car of its size and acceleration. The cargo van version did not do quite as well, though one reason for leaving off the left-hand sliding door had been to appeal to commercial buyers, but it too found buyers.

The Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager (its name was taken from Plymouth’s version of the full size B-vans) were had three price classes at launch, starting with a five-passenger minivan that came with an AM radio, five-speed stick-shift, and power steering; the SE, with an upgraded interior and seven passenger seating; and the top-end LE, with a woodgrain exterior treatment, better seats and interior trim, and more standard features.

dodge minivans 1984 - 2009

Chrysler planned for a V6, but it took some time to arrange one. The first vans had the new 2.2 liter four, starting at 86 hp and eventually rising to 93, with an optional Mitsubishi 2.6 that had slightly more power (the very first production minivan was a Plymouth Voyager with the Mitsubishi engine — Chrysler probably regrets both engine and brand choice now). The van’s weight was around 3,000 pounds, and the four-cylinders were “good enough” for the time — at least, until something better was available. They were comparable to the slant six powered intermediate cars and quicker than the slant six vans.

Even from the start, the compact spare was kept in a carrier underneath the floor; owners could use a cable winch system from the interior to drop it down, slowly, then hook it and pull it out from the car. The system was less cumbersome than one might think, though not quite as convenient as interior storage.

mitsubishi engine

In 1987, the powertrain changed for the first time. The 2.2 gained fuel injection, a Mitsubishi 3-liter V6 engine was added, and the 2.5 liter turbocharged four-cylinder became optional. The 2.5 turbo was an interesting option with the automatic, since the transmission tended to shift too early, so that the engine only reached full power when the driver floored the gas. With the manual, drivers could get much more performance from the turbo engine.

Also in 1987, the Mitsubishi 2.6 was replaced by the Chrysler 2.5 liter engine, producing 100 horsepower. The 2.5 was fuel injected (with a single injector), increasing driveability under various weather and traffic conditions, and putting a stop to the seemingly endless Mikuni carburetor problems endured by 2.6 engine owners (and the oil burning issues.) The 2.5 also generated more torque, at lower engine speeds and with less fuss, than the 2.2.

The engine choice was marked on the front fender: four cylinders have no markings, the 3.0 V6 has a V6 symbol, and the turbo is has decals clearly marking it.

first Chrysler - Plymouth minivan

Until 1989, transmission choices were a five-speed manual with overdrive, which greatly helped the vans’ speed and gas mileage, and a TorqueFlite three speed automatic (wide-ratio from 1986 onward), which was not bad for around town but tended to be sluggish on the highway; the top gear ratio of 1:1 did not do much for gas mileage, either. In 1989, a four speed automatic became optional, with terrible results: the transmission was simply not ready for production at the time, and reliability was unthinkably poor. Each year, it was improved, but during this generation, there were no good years to buy a four-speed.

 1st2nd3rd4th5th
Standard3.282.081.451.040.72
Getrag (turbo)3.001.891.280.940.72
Ultradrive2.841.571.000.69 
TorqueFlite2.691.551.00  

In 1990, the new 3.3 liter engine (150 hp, 185 lb-ft) was made standard on all Grand Voyagers/Grand Caravans; this sturdy powerplant had multiple-point fuel injection and generally lasted well over 100,000 miles without leaks, but it came coupled with the previously noted four-speed automatic (it would survive in minivans until 2010). A new three-plane shifter was used with the manual transmission; and the overdrive gear was changed to 0.72:1 for better gas mileage on the highway. A new shift pattern moved reverse from the left side to the right, where sixth gear would be if there was one, and the lockout ring was dropped. Turbo models used a Getrag manual.

Exports to Europe began in 1988, four years after the first Renault Espace was sold; the Europe-dominating Espace was created by Matra when that company was owned by Chrysler, and used a Chrysler-owned SIMCA as its basis. Matra has already sold soft-roader SUVs based on SIMCA chassis as well as SIMCA-based sports cars. Since Dodge and Plymouth were not sold in Europe at the time, the Plymouth Voyager minivan was rebadged and modified somewhat to become the Chrysler Voyager, a name that is still in use.

Minivan Interiors, Seating and Convert-A-Bed Feature

Controls were well thought out, especially given the budget and timeframe for the minivan. There were overhead controls for the rear quarter vent windows (which opened outward, by around an inch) and an overhead sunglass bin, and a button for the power liftgate (to unlock it, not to lift it). Six way power seats were available in later years in the luxury group on the highest trim levels. An optional folding rear seat on an adjustable track (for seven passenger vans) let passengers move the back seat forward or back, to make room for people or cargo. As with later models (and PT Cruiser), the front seat had an underseat storage drawer.

1984 Caravan

The new Chrysler Infinity sound system was also available on minivans, with eight speakers in four locations and, on Infinity II, a graphic equalizer.

Seating configurations for the minivans allowed for anywhere from five to eight seats by 1986. The Convert-a-Bed option was available, though it is rare to find one; coded CYL, it converted the three-passenger bench seat into a bed “with the flick of a wrist,” with a quick release assembly for easier removal. It was only available on short wheelbase, five passenger models.

Convert-A-Bed

In 1986, all wheels moved to the new five-stud mounting, and a fixed intermittent feature was added to the liftgate wiper/washer. Electronic cruise control was added, with a speed range of 25 to 80 mph and a 2 mph “tap up” feature; safety features included cutoffs for rapid deceleration and wheelspin. A load-sensing brake proportioning valve system was added, as well. Towing remained at 1,000 pounds (2,000 pounds for the 2.6 engine).

Three new colors were added, and a new fully integrated air dam was used for aerodynamics (though the vans continued to have considerable wind noise and wind resistance at speed). Two new interior colors, almond and cordovan, were added as well. Options included bi-level air conditioner, cruise, intermittent wipers, dual remote control mirrors, tilt wheel, privacy glass, electric rear defroster, tonneau security covver, roof luggage rack, forward locking console, power doors and locks (with new switches), power windows, six-way power driver's seat, power liftgate release, bigger battery, remote rear vent windows, Converta-Bed, and the usual large variety of stereos. Standard features included a message center, remote gas cap release, tethered gas cap, front seat storage drawer, bi-level heater/defroster, power brakes (drum rear, disc front), and liftgate wiper/washer.

cutaway closeup

Minivan engines, 1986 Compression
Horsepower Torque lb-ft Manual mpg Auto mpg
2.2 liter, TBI 9.5 97@5,200 122@3,200 21/27 20/23
2.6 liter (Mitsu), 2-barrel 8.7 104@4800 142@2800 (not sold) 19/22

In 1987, as previously mentioned, the Mitsuibshi 3.0 V6 was finally added, along with fuel injection on the base 2.2 and the 2.5 turbo option; the Mitsu 2.6 was replaced by the new Chrysler 2.5. The added power was needed, as an extended wheelbase minivan hit the market — the Grand Caravan, Grand Voyager, and (though not until 1990), the supposed “first luxury minivan,” the original Town & Country. These versions were fourteen inches longer, and soon accounted for half of minivan sales. They took interior space (with rear seat removed) from 125 cubic feet up to 150 cubic feet.

1987 minivans

1989 Buyers

Voyager

Grand Voyager

Median Age

39

39

Under 35

33%

28%

Median Income

$44,700

$52,700

College Graduate

49%

54%

Prof/Tech/Mgr

34%

38%

Female

52%

44%

In 1989, a rear shoulder belt retrofit kit was made available through dealers (part number 4571683 for standard vans, 4571687 for Town & Country and Grand models). The rear shoulder belts would not become standard until 1991. (Retrofit kits were sold by discount Mopar parts dealers for around $120 per set of seats in 2010.) This kit requires drilling 1" diameter holes, so you will probably need some help getting them in - your local body shop will be puzzled but possibly happy to help. The rear shoulder belts are positioned very low and are not suitable for adults.

A variable rate air conditioner compressor was used on V6 models to reduce noise and operational changes or variances in outlet air temperature; the system also kept the evaporator from freezing up. Buyers of long wheelbase vans could also get a rear passenger air conditioner/heater system, using outlets in the left trim panel. This option also took the alternator from 90 amps to 120 amps.

1988 Dodge Caravan V6 cutaway

In 1990, a new floor shifter cover and storage tray were standard with the stick; and a high-trim level of Plymouth Voyager, named Chrysler Town & Country and billed somewhat aggressively as the “first luxury minivan,” was added to the lineup.

1991-1996 minivans • Chrysler minivan firsts

Turbovans

1989 Dodge Caravan turbochargedA large number of minivans were built with turbocharged 2.5 liter engines. These were all the Turbo I (not intercooled) variety and produced about the same horsepower as the Mitsubishi V6 available in similar years. The turbo was mainly a stopgap until the V6 was available, though both were sold in one year. The stock turbo performance was not impressive with the automatic, but it was good with a five-speed stick - a rare combination, unfortunately.

Because the turbocharger system relies on vacuum control systems, it is easy for these vehicles to have performance problems as the tubes age and crack, and the control system parts are impossible to find at dealers. With the help of current owners, you should be able to reconstruct and improve on the system. Several people, notably the late Gus Mahon, used simple but very clever devices to bring these minivans to life - making them faster than most sports cars. A large gain can be obtained by installing a charge air cooler (“intercooler”).

1987 Voyager VersusChevy AstroFord AerostarVoyager
Wheelbase111119112
Front legroom38.341.641.4
Rear legroom36.133.039.8
Cargo, rear seat up60 cu. ft.86.2 cu. ft.n/a
Cargo, rear seat removed125151.8150
Std engine96 hp 2.2150 hp V6145 hp V6
Opt engine140 hp V6  
Gas mileage21/28 std, 19/23 opt.17/2317/22
Rear suspensionLeaf springLeaf springCoil

Overall, the most interesting part of owning a turbo minivan is either the thrill of beating a "sporty" car at a traffic light (or on the highway), or the stares you get when you tell people you have a turbocharged minivan. As Chuck Green wrote: “I bought a third turbo minivan, a 1989 Dodge Caravan SE, from a master tech for a local Dodge dealership. Took her to the track a week ago today and she ran a best of 17.24 @ 79.24. [Editor's note: turbo minivan times vary quite a bit! There's a 12-second van out there...]

First Generation (1984-1990) Minivan Photos

1984 minivans

1986 plymouth voyager minivans

1989 Plymouth Voyager interior

front of minivan

plymouth voyager rear

The press launch

The March 28, 1983 press kit announcing new 1984 cars spent more time on just about every other vehicle release than the Caravan and Voyager, and included a single black and white glossy of the “T-vans,” but it did devote the back cover of the included color booklet to the “T-vans.” 

t-vans are coming in 1984

The T Wagons, the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager, are the newest members of the family of Chrysler wagons, providing a unique combination of luxury, distinctive styling, fuel economy, and efficiency of operation for personal or commercial use. The Caravan and Voyager are truly unique vehicles, offering five or seven passenger seating with all the convenience features found in a four door sedan. The T Wagons have 42% more cargo room than a station wagon of similar outer dimensions, and they even fit through a standard garage door. The Caravan and Voyager are equipped with a standard sliding side door for easy passenger entry and a rear hatchback allowing equally easy access to luggage storage space.

press photo

minivans

Minivan links

Forums 2017 •  ReviewsEurovansCNG minivans
History1984-90 • 1991-95 1996-20002001-072008-102011-16Electric minivans
Repairs and performanceEnginesChrysler firstsMinivans being built

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We make no guarantees regarding validity, accuracy, or applicability of information, predictions, or advice. Please read the terms of use and privacy policy. Copyright © 1994-2000, David Zatz; copyright © 2001-2016, Allpar LLC (except as noted, and press/publicity materials); all rights reserved. Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Ram, and Mopar are trademarks of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

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