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.