1988 Dodge Caravan SRT-4 Engine Swap

Though it may be hard to imagine a time when minivans were ever considered cool, that was certainly the case in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In the era before SUVs and Crossovers, minivans were the hottest thing on the market. Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca and his friend Hal Sperlich had imagined a vehicle that would hold seven passengers, have removable seats for extra cargo space, and get better gas mileage than a full-size van. Their dream became a reality in 1983, and the new Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Horizon minivans sold like hotcakes with sales topping 200,000 units in the first year alone. For the next 25 years, no one sold more minivans in America than Chrysler.

But somewhere along the way, minivans became uncool. The SUV boom of the 2000s and the Crossover Craze yielded vehicles that offered much of the same functionality without the “soccer mom” stigma of a sliding door.

At a recent car show in Scottsdale, I saw a first-generation Dodge Caravan that really caught my eye. For starters, this was a car show that featured primarily European exotic and high-end supercars such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis. A 1988 Caravan with peeling paint definitely didn’t fit in with this crowd.

But as you might have guessed, this is no ordinary Caravan. This one has seen the original 2.5L 4-cylinder engine swapped out with a much more modern 2.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder from a 2004 Dodge SRT-4. Whereas the original engine made 100 horsepower, the new one puts out 230 horsepower in stock trim – but this one’s not stock.

With an AGP Zeta dual ball-bearing turbocharger, an air-to-water intercooler, upgraded fuel injectors, a MegaSquirt fuel management system, and a 3.5″ exhaust with Magnaflow muffler, this beast is putting down 305 horsepower and 365 lb-ft of torque at the wheels! Wow!

A spec sheet on the vehicle says it has run 12.6 in the quarter mile @ 111 mph on E85, 25 lbs of boost, and slicks. With a fast reaction time, that puts it on par with a base model C6 Corvette – for a lot less dough. It’s also been converted to 4-wheel disc brakes, with the front brakes and suspension from a 1995 Grand Caravan and the rear disc brakes from a 1993 Dodge Daytona R/T.

Part of why I love this van is because it pulls off the “sleeper” look quite well. The peeling paint and OEM-style wheels do not give any indication that this vehicle is actually quite fast, and the “Turbo” and “SRT” badges may be dismissed as purely ironic – until the turbo spools up and it blows your doors off.

The other reason why I love this van is that a long time ago, our family had a blue 1994 Caravan which I remember fondly. This was the era before dual sliding doors, power liftgates, and fold-flat seating. These old vans are super primitive by today’s standards, but the boxy design reminds me of my childhood.

I didn’t get to talk to the owner, but if you are reading this Mr. Caravan Owner, congrats on the awesome build.

1977 Toyota Celica 2JZ Engine Swap

Cars and the engines that power them come in a wide variety of styles and configurations. The more I read and learn about cars, the more I believe that there is something magic about inline-6 engines.

Many of the automotive greats have used the straight six engine, from the Jaguar E-Type to the Hudson Hornet to numerous BMW, Mercedes, and Jeep models. In general, inline sixes are known for being well-balanced with a smooth, even delivery of power. Though not high revving, they are reliable “workhorse” engines that can have a surprisingly long service life.

Toyota had been producing inline 6 engines as early as 1955, but they really hit a home run with the introduction of the 2JZ family of engines, which were produced from 1991 to 1998 in the US (and through 2002 in Japan).

This was the engine that powered the Lexus SC300, the first and second-gen GS 300, and an even more powerful variant went into the A80 Toyota Supra. Today, the 2JZ engine has a cult-like following. It is renowned among import car fans for its heavy-duty internals and its huge potential for tuning. This is probably what motivated Arizona resident John Garza to swap a 2JZ-GE engine into his 1977 Toyota Celica coupe.

I had seen this car in early 2017 at the Future Classics car show in Scottsdale, and crossed paths with it again at Cars and Coffee. The car has been featured in the October 2016 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car magazine, and gets a LOT of attention at local car meets and events.

This 1977 is a close match to Mr. Garza’s first car, another ’77 Celica that he drove in high school. The Toyota Celica was recognized as Motor Trend’s Import Car of the Year in 1976.

Under the hood, John has swapped in a 2JZ-GE mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox from a 2004 Lexus IS300. It’s an incredibly clean swap, and truly looks as if the engine came that way from the factory. However, getting it all to work was anything but easy.

A page of build photos shows how John had to make some serious modifications to the crossmember and to the oil pan in order for everything to fit. The car borrows parts from the Toyota family, including the rear axle from a 1981 Supra and the steering box from a Corolla. Heavy modifications were also done to the car’s suspension in order to accommodate larger wheels and brakes.

Rounding out the build is a wood and brown leather custom interior with all of the ambiance and warmth of a 1970s smoking lounge. It looks wonderfully comfortable, and is a welcome change from the typical Sparco seats and MOMO steering wheels that adorn most import builds.

The combination of a classic car with modern performance and reliability is truly a win-win situation. We wish John many happy miles with his awesome car and hope to see it at more shows and events in the future!

2007 Lifted “Off-Road” Crown Victoria Pt.2 Buying A Government Car

Less than two weeks after selling the ‘copped out’ 2003 P71 I found myself behind the wheel of a nice 2007 P71.  This time I took a different approach, instead of buying the car through Craigslist or a private party I would buy it directly from the government via an online auction.  In the past I had only purchased bicycles and video game hardware this way, pretty low risk stuff. An entire car is a pretty big step up but I figured I would give it shot. Continue reading

2007 Lifted “Off-Road” Crown Victoria Pt.1 Purchasing

The goal here is to purchase a used 2003+ P71 Crown Victoria for the sole purpose of modifying to drive around on desert trails and forest roads.  Why a Crown Victoria?  They are cheap, body on frame, V8, rear wheel drive, super reliable, plus with the additional coolers and suspension components for police use it’ll hold up.  I have no interest in actual ‘wheeling’ or owning a truck so it’s perfect, plus an off-road car is more visually interesting (to me).

My plan is to install a set of 3-inch lift cups/spacers intended for donks on 28’s and some all-terrain 31’s for the stock 16 inch police steel wheels. Continue reading

2016 Ford Shelby GT-H Mustang

2016-ford-shelby-hertz-gth-mustang-frontWhen you hear the words “rental car,” what comes to mind? Perhaps a gutless econobox with a hard plastic interior that you rented at the airport in some other city? Well folks, this is no ordinary rental car. It’s a 2016 Shelby GT-H, and it’s a fresh take on an old idea: a race car that you can rent for a day. Continue reading

2017 Arizona Concours d’Elegance

2017-az-concours-01 For one glorious week in January, thousands of car enthusiasts and aficionados make a pilgrimage to the Arizona desert to take part in a ritual that has come to be known as “Arizona Car Week.” In the 3rd week of January, thousands of collector cars and millions of dollars change hands at a half-dozen different auctions including Barrett-Jackson, Russo and Steele, RM Sotheby’s, Gooding & Co., Bonham’s, and Silver Auctions. While I love the excitement of the auction circuit, one of my favorite events of Arizona Car Week is not an auction at all. It’s the Arizona Concours d’Elegance, which has become sort of a kickoff event to Car Week. Continue reading

Barrett-Jackson 2017: 1979 Ford F-100

This one goes to eleven. Black paint, supercharged small block Ford with over 600hp, 3.70:1 end and a TKO 5-speed. Chrome everywhere and classic f-series looks. It has an image that says, “Clear a path.” 

I was drawn immediately to this truck upon seeing it, and I must have not been the only one as it went for $16,500 on the Scottdale auction block. 

If you’d like to see the lot listing for this truck, please click here.