Junkyard Gem: 1992 Dodge Caravan With 5-Speed Manual Transmission

Murilee Martin
·2 min read

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Believe it or not, minivans with manual transmissions once roamed America — not in huge numbers, but they existed. Plenty of mid-engined Toyota Vans and early Previas came with three pedals here, and Ford sold manual-trans Aerostars through 1994 … but Chrysler ruled the American stickshift minivan world, selling non-slushbox Caravans and Voyagers all the way through the 1995 model year. I'm always on the lookout for such vans when I visit car graveyards, and now here's this '92 Caravan in a snow-covered yard in northeastern Colorado.

Some minivan shoppers may have opted for the five-speed because they preferred driving a manual, but mostly you got a Caravan or Voyager so equipped because you got the cheapest trim level and didn't want to shell out the extra for an automatic. The base-model front-wheel-drive '92 Caravan had an MSRP of $13,706 (about $25,960 in 2021 dollars), and if you wanted a three-speed automatic instead of the standard five-speed you had to pay an extra $576 ($1,090 today).

Air conditioning on that same van cost $857 ($1,625 today), because minivan owners were tougher in the early 1990s.

Actually, this van does have pricey refrigerated air, so perhaps its original purchaser just preferred the enhanced driving enjoyment and improved fuel economy of a five-speed manual over the inefficiency of a three-speed automatic.

Because these vans shared running gear with their Dodge Shadow/Plymouth Sundance first cousins, including gearshift linkage, the shifter ended up further to the rear (relative to the front seats) than in a normal car. This meant the driver had to reach back quite far to grab a gear, but you'd get used to it. Hey, if road-racers in a Voyager Turbo can beat BMW E30s with this setup, it worked well enough.

Better than 150,000 miles on the clock.

It appears to have served as a business vehicle at some point. Imagine trying to find employees capable of wheeling a manual-equipped vehicle today!

Still, the difficulty of finding drivers willing and able to operate such a transmission counts against a van like this when it comes time to sell it. It may have been running fine when the end came.

Perhaps a dealer trade-in that couldn't sell at auction? We'll never know.

The 1992 Grand Caravan came with an automatic as base equipment, though the A/C still cost extra. As far as I can tell, its Chrysler Town & Country sibling never had a manual transmission.