So this is how it ends, with a terse announcement on a sunny spring afternoon. On May 6, the Chrysler Group announced that it would no longer be making the Dodge Grand Caravan. Al Gardner, the company’s brand chief, told a press conference that the company hopes to make Chrysler its “mainstream brand.” Dodge, meanwhile, will be its “sporty, performance brand.”
So long Grand Caravan. Adios. Goodbye. Many will greet this news with jubilation. Not me. I say leave it alone. It’s a family van.
As the proud owner of a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan (a.k.a. the “anti-Porsche”) it’s a bittersweet moment. The end of an era. The Dodge Caravan was the world’s first minivan. Millions were sold. The New York Times called it “the car that saved Chrysler.” Released in 1983, it was a people-mover whose sliding doors and roomy interior ignited a transportation revolution – epitomized by the ad slogan, “one vehicle that takes the place of an economy car, sporty car, station wagon and van.” The Dodge Caravan quickly launched wave after wave of minivan moms and dads so utilitarian and proletariat in their aesthetics they would have thrived in Stalinist Russia.
In 1987, the Dodge Caravan begat the Dodge Grand Caravan, a car which today holds a strange, almost perverse place in the North American consciousness.
Let’s start with the name: Dodge “Grand Caravan.” What is exactly is a “Grand Caravan?” Just how “grand” is it and why would I want to be in one? The dictionary defines a caravan as “a company of travellers journeying together, as across a desert or through hostile territory.” Perhaps this does capture the mood of most car journeys with young children.
Driving a minivan, especially a Dodge Grand Caravan, placed you as a motorist somewhere below the guy riding a moped with a banana seat. In fact, it was the stigma of car as domestic joke that eventually led manufacturers to start offering consumers super sexy, rough and ready SUVs (minivans for people in denial).
Today, if you had to drive a minivan, you drove a Toyota Sienna or a Honda Odyssey. The “reasonably-priced” Grand Caravan – by April 15, 15,854 have been sold this year in Canada – is the lowest of the low. Of all the minivans in the world the Dodge Grand Caravan is the minivan-iest. Each one should come with a bumper stick that reads: “I Breed.”
Many drivers agonize about driving a minivan. They see it as a declaration that they are no longer hip and cool. Books have been written, such as Dan Zevin’s Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad. This was not a problem for me. You are born, become young and cool, and then have kids, and drive a car that looks like something Kurt Vonnegut edited out of Breakfast of Champions. It’s the “Circle of Life” or “Hell is other people” or whatever they said in The Lion King. I always expected to drive a minivan or some other kind of shameful family vehicle.
And it’s not all bad. At least the guy driving the minivan isn’t compensating for anything. The experience of seeing a man getting out of a Dodge Grand Caravan is the same as seeing an old out-of-shape guy at the beach wearing a Speedo. The initial reaction is abject horror. But then, slowly, he begins to take on a strange charisma.
The Grand Caravan driver, like the Speedo-wearing old guy, knows how he appears, he knows his stomach is hanging out above his spindly legs, he knows that the hair on his body is so thick and evenly dispersed it’s impossible to know where chest ends and back begins, and yet there he is brazenly out in public for all to see. His total lack of self-consciousness is magnetic. So, too, with the Grand Caravan driver. There is a look in his eyes that says, “You think this is humiliating? Ten minutes ago these hands were removing a mixture of what I hope was human excrement and Cheerios from the back seat.”
Now that’s all over – the Dodge Grand Caravan is finished. Perhaps, but another wonky vehicle (the Chrysler Town and Country?) will take its place as ultimate domestic humiliation. Like a phoenix, the Dodge Grand Caravan will rise from the ashes in a new form – bursting forth in a glorious flame of soiled diapers, lost iPads, fossilized Happy Meals and They Might Be Giants songs that play on until you want to drive off a cliff.
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