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!

SEMA 2015: 1965 Dodge Dart SL by Big Oak Garage

1965-dart-sl-profileHot Rodding may have begun in southern California, but the guys at Big Oak Garage in Hokes Bluff, Alabama have certainly perfected the craft. They have given the “Big Oak” treatment to this 1965 Dodge Dart, which I saw on display at the 2015 SEMA Show in Las Vegas.

The car’s bright green and chrome look caught my attention right away! The color is actually a stock Mopar color called “Green With Envy,” which I thought was very cool. You don’t see too many of these cars around, especially at a show like SEMA which is dominated by pro-touring Camaro and Mustang builds. The Dart stands out, and in a good way. Continue reading

1959 Plymouth Belvedere w/Dodge Viper V10 Engine Swap

plymouth-belvedere-viper-engineOff the top of your head, what were some of the top supercars of the 1990s? The ones that come to my mind are: Jaguar XJ220, Lamborghini Diablo, Dodge Viper, and the McLaren F1. While all of them were iconic in their own right, only one of them has fallen into the sub-$40,000 range today: the Dodge Viper.

This depreciation has made the Viper’s V10 engine an attractive option for people looking to do an unusual engine swap. People like the owner of this 1959 Belvedere, for example.

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SEMA 2014: Radial Engine Swapped Chevy Truck

radial-engine-pickup-sema-2014-frontThe idea of putting an airplane engine into a car is certainly not new. The guys from Blastolene have done it, and there was an episode of Top Gear where Jeremy Clarkson recreated the Battle of Britain with two larger-than-life airplane-powered vehicles (a 27-liter Spitfire-engined Bentley and “Brutus,” 46-liter BMW aircraft-engined custom build).

However, this enterprising hot rodder has put a completely new spin on the idea of an aircraft-engine swap into an automobile. What we have here is a 1967 Chevrolet C10 pickup with a radial engine which looks completely wild!
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SEMA 2014: 1967 Volvo Amazon ‘Swedish Ops’

1967-volvo-amazon-profileThe Ultimate Street Car Invitational is an annual shootout put together by Optima Batteries, where drivers can put their street-legal cars to the test. It’s no surprise that many of the contestants are performance cars such as Mustangs, Camaros, and Corvettes. These cars are widely supported with many aftermarket and performance parts available. In this way, Robert Jackson’s 1967 Volvo Amazon truly stands out from the crowd!

With a car like this, there is next to no aftermarket support in terms of performance. If you want to change suspension parts or build up the motor, you will find yourself making a lot of custom brackets and adapters, drilling and modifying parts to fit, and other issues that most people would rather not deal with. Continue reading

SEMA 2014: Car Fix 1971 Chevrolet Camaro

1971-camaro-stabil-rearBuilding a custom car is an exciting project because it gives the owner a chance to personalize it with their own style. The choice of color, wheels, and any performance modifications will reflect the personality of the owner – and no two owners seem to share the same tastes. That’s why I found it odd that STA-BIL 360 had this custom 1971 Chevrolet Camaro as a grand prize in their booth at SEMA 2014.

The car was built by Jared Zimmerman and Lou Santiago from the TV show Car Fix on the Velocity Network. Working 12 hours a day for almost five months, these guys transformed a 1971 Camaro into a powerful custom street machine. The value of the car has been appraised at $98,000 dollars. Continue reading

SEMA 2014: Wilwood Brakes 1966 Ford Mustang

wilwood-mustang-frontI caught a glimpse of this red hot 1966 Ford Mustang on display at the Wilwood Brakes booth at SEMA 2014. As you can tell, this pony car is healthy as a horse!

This car has been completely transformed from a regular passenger car to a street machine. It was a contestant in the Optima Ultimate Street Car Invitational, which took place alongside SEMA 2014 in Las Vegas.

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