Thriftstorm #3: Top Speed 100 mph

Thriftstorm is Captain Video’s secondhand anthropology project. Follow @Thriftstorm on Twitter for the latest news on things people were just going to throw away.

Artifact: Brochure for the 1994 Dodge Caravan.

Description: Glossy, magazine-style printing on pages too big to fully fit in my scanner. I tried scanning parts and putting them together digitally, but the scan beam is slightly crooked. The scanner – like maybe 90% of everything I own – is secondhand.

Source: The Long Estate Sale, an event detailed in Thriftstorm #1.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Twenty five years old is the cutoff for when a car becomes antique. That means that in a few months, the cars built in 1993 for the 1994 model year will make the magical leap from “old” to “classic.” And those of you born in late 1993 will be old enough to rent them!

True, there hasn’t been much love for the classic minivan scene. Minivans are common, functional, low-prestige vehicles, and it’s hard to sex up something with an available third row of seating. This brochure spends 28 pages walking the line between “you have a family; you need this” and “your dreams don’t ALL have to die.”


“Ten years ago,” the opening paragraph says, “the first Caravan boldly redefined the family vehicle and created a new automotive category – the minivan. Caravan set the world-class ‘Gold Standard’ by which other minivans are judged and is still the best selling minivan ever.” Skipping ahead a bit:

Your Dodge dealership is The Minivan Store™ that can meet all your minivan needs… As you read this catalog, we think you’ll discover what owners of over two million Caravans already know: Caravan is in a class by itself. Word-class.

It should go without saying that a clock-radio was standard equipment on the base model, but you could upgrade to a tape deck.


Car design is a continuum, as is personal fashion. Both the 1994 Dodge Caravan and the 1994 Cartwrights of Cedarburg, Wisconsin carried strong elements of ’80s design well into the ’90s. The Grand Caravan LE’s classic boxy contours came with an optional Woodgrain Decor Package. It, and the glasses on display here, were something seemingly every third kid’s parents had when I was about 10.

From the 1950s through the 1970s, American cars came in fun sherbet colors, which were apparently outlawed the second 1979 became 1980. Eighties cars came in dour, dark colors, unless you were A Rebel and got something in red. That selection is reproduced in the paint options for the 1994 Caravan:


The original owner of this brochure seems to have selected white, although I personally like the Sky Blue Satin Glow. An oddly standard feature is the use of tinted windows, perhaps to make an intriguing secret out of how many kids you’re bringing to soccer practice.


In comparison to the mostly drab paint options, the interior colors announce in no uncertain terms that this is the 1990s, and there’s no shame in real leather that looks fake. Pity the cow that died to become the interior of a 1994 Dodge Caravan:


Finding a way to make leather the same color as injection-molded plastic was no small achievement, though it goes unrecognized today. Helm your chariot behind a mighty array of switches, knobs, dials and vent controls all set neatly into plastic panels the color of a twilit sky.


Most of this stuff looks fairly standard today, the tape deck notwithstanding. But towards the back of the brochure are once-cutting-edge devices I wish were explained further:


Buying a cell phone with your minivan seems absurd now, but at the time it was probably reasonable; there were decades of pre-cellular car phones. A paragraph titled “Chrysler Cellular Systems” says only:


The bottom of the back cover says “The New Dodge” in small caps. The Caravan of 1994 was built on a foundation of bland reliability; the quarter century since then has only deepened it. The product line underwent a drastic restyling in 1996 for its third generation, but subsequent updates have gradually reverted to the chunky goodness of the original.

It’s hard to get nostalgic about a vehicle I never owned and never wanted to own, but I have to respect something that works. The Dodge Caravan is a machine that allows Americans to shuttle other, younger Americans around to formative life events. Its mission continues unabated.

Next time: Lucky!, by the Whammadiddle Dingbats, is a more thoughtful album than you might expect.