5-Speed Unicorn: 1988 Dodge Caravan SE

Chrysler’s minivan may not have been the very first small van but it may have had the biggest impact of any minivan. Certainly, the platform lived on in many forms for years and millions of them are still out there on the roads. This 1988 Dodge Caravan SE minivan has a surprise inside in that it has a 5-speed manual transmission! I know, cool. The seller has it listed here on eBay in beautiful Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and they have a $3,600 buy-it-now price listed.

The trouble with saying that anything is the first, best, fastest, biggest, etc. is that it then forces some folks to want to prove us wrong, so I’m trying my hardest to not say that Chrysler’s minivans were the first. I automatically think of the Volkswagen Type II which came out over three decades earlier than Iacocca’s famous minivan, but maybe there was an even earlier example than that?

This Caravan appears to be in amazing condition. The seller says that there is just one rust spot and if this is it, this thing is in fact in outstanding condition. Especially if it’s from Milwaukee where they do get snow. The beautiful burgundy color exterior and similar interior color are great. I had a 1987 Dodge Mini Ram Van– basically this van without rear side windows – for a business that I owned in the 1980s but it had an automatic and it was white. It was so easy and comfortable to drive compared to the full-sized vans that we had.

If you haven’t driven a Dodge Caravan or Plymouth Voyager van from this era they really are comfortable and nice to drive. The seats are supportive and just about perfect, much more so than most Volkswagen Type II van seats are, at least as far as day-to-day driving duties go. I can see why they became such a hit, they’re so versatile, they get good mileage, they’re easy to drive and park and this one is a bit more fun to drive with a 5-speed manual transmission. It’s not a turbo with a 5-speed, unfortunately – if it was, it would already be on a trailer headed for our garage. The seller says that they can’t get used to driving a manual transmission in daily traffic so that’s why they’re selling it after just six months of owning it.

There are no engine photos, unfortunately, but it has a 2.5L inline-four. It’s a great engine, I’ve had a couple of them and they lasted for 300,000+ miles each. It should have just around 100 horsepower and they say that it runs great. There’s a bit of a clunk over bumps and they think that it may be the struts. I’m guessing that it’s something fairly easy. It has room for tons of luggage or whatever you want to carry and having a 5-speed minivan would be interesting for sure if you’re one of those people like me who prefers unusual vehicles or usual vehicles with unusual options. Have any of you owned a minivan with a manual transmission?


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  1. angliagt angliagt Member

    For that price,I’m surprised it hasn’t sold.

    Like 9
  2. Howard A Member

    Fiat Multipla, I believe was the 1st minivan. What a find, and from my old stompin’ grounds. Of the 8 billion(est) minivans I came in contact with, I think I saw one with a stick. My old man repaired lightly damaged ones from the auction, so I saw a few. It was unusual because these weren’t targeted to people who wanted a stick, they were people haulers. Sporting events, church outings, new drivers, none of which wanted a stick. I too had several of these, I had a maroon parts van like this, in the late 90’s, these were a dime a dozen. I bought 2 once, a really nice T&C with a baked motor, and the maroon one, with a bad trans, good motor,for TWO HUNDRED BUCKS and I drove heck out of the T&C.( put at least another 100g’s on it) Kids learned to drive on it. I also had a Plymouth with a turbo that I used for a delivery service job, put a ton of miles on it, as well,,,ton of oil too, the turbo loved oil. Some had bad luck with these, poorly maintained, mostly, but I can say, I got HUNDREDS of thousands of miles out of these, and repairs were simple( changed a timing belt in a truckstop once in a couple hours) They were comfy, economical, useful, dependable, I can’t think of another vehicle in history that can make that claim. Great find.

    Like 11
    • RayT Member

      I think the VeeDub came first, Howard A. The Multipla was first available in 1956, the VW in 1950.

      The Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth vans were, of course, later, but also roomier, faster, smoother, safer. And easier to get parts for.

      Like 3
  3. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    You know, few of us would have predicted that 60’s- 70’s full size wagons would be collectible. Who knows, maybe these will be collectible in 10 years. “Yep, I picked it up way back in 2020 for — get this — $3600!! And, it’s a 5-speed!!”

    Like 9
    • RayT Member

      I would agree, if for no other reason than the fact that most I’ve seen in the past few years are rusted-out Roach Motels. Any that got some TLC will be as prized as first-generation Mustangs!

      Like 2
  4. angliagt angliagt Member

    Looks like they dropped the BUY IT NOW price to $3000.

    Like 1
  5. William

    There were more sticks then people knew. My buddy had one, a 2.2 with a stick, I think it was. Not fast, but faster than an old air cooled VW, that is for sure. My wife and I bought a 95 Voyager with a 3.0 v6 auto brand new. Maybe the nicest new car we ever owned. That had a lot of power, but my friends 2.2 wasn’t all that much less. Chrysler really hit it out of the park with the minivans. Not just young families bought them, oldsters did too. Easy to get in an out of, you sat up high, good visibility from inside. So much nicer then some huge modern day truck on steroids that we call an SUV.

    Like 8
  6. William Shields

    I’m positive you guys had this on your auction website a while back. I agree that it is rare enough that there couldn’t be two burgundy 5sp caravans popping up on Barn Finds.

    Like 1
  7. Jon

    Yes, I will agree that there were minivans before the dodge caravan and Plymouth voyager but Chrysler put minivans on the map in 1994 and made them commonplace. They mass produced more,earlier than anyone else and for a while cornered the market.

    Like 2
  8. Evan

    I had a 2G Voyager with a stick and 7 seats. It was a great van, but if you try to use it to move 7 people, you’d probably be buying a new clutch once a year. 12-1400 lbs of people and/or cargo takes a lot of clutch slip to get moving!

    Like 1
  9. John D.

    I don’t know how or where the English Lloyd Ltd stacks up for early minivan production. This rticle mentions a pre-war minivan, but has no photos and very little information:


    “Just before the outbreak of war a van version was introduced with the engine at the front and front-wheel drive, but only a few were made.”

    Here is a 1960 model:


    I believe I saw one on American Pickers, also.

    Like 2
  10. Paul V.

    After the birth of our first child in September of ’88, My wife and I ordered a ’89 Ford extended length XLT trimmed Aerostar with the 3.0 V6 paired with the 5 speed manual. It was fun being able to row through the gears in a rear wheel drive minivan. We took advantage of the optional second and third row bench seats that folded flat in to a bed on many road trips. That might also explain how we wound up having seven children!

    Like 8
  11. Dave

    We bought a new Caravan in 1988. It was a SE trim level with the 3.0 V6 and automatic transmission. It was a quantum leap forward from the 1982 Rabbit that was our “good car”. The yearly drive to Myrtle Beach because more like watching TV from the couch and less like the 24 hours of Le Mans. A four cylinder engine guarantees that the hills of Pittsburgh will have you rowing that gear shift constantly. Still, I’d like to have another one. Yes, the price is right, but the current travel restrictions are just a buzzkill.

    Like 2
    • MarveH

      Travel restrictions? I have been moving freely all through the virus era. The only thing I couldn’t do for a while was title a car.

  12. Chris

    I had a black 88 caravan that was a 5 speed ,I loved it but did a terrible thing getting married & the other half, did not want to learn how to drive a stick so I got rid of it & bought a 91 Escort (WHY) after the van was gone not to shortly afterwards she was gone …….Then Life goes on …LOL

    Like 4
  13. SteveTheD

    Even if it were the only one on the planet it’s still just a mini-van! And an ugly one at that! Just because it’s rare doesn’t make it valuable or desirable. I’ll keep my man card and continue to never own one!

    Like 3
    • Dave

      Steve, you don’t know what you’re missing. 1000 mile days and not feeling beat up is a good thing.

      Like 8
      • SteveTheD

        Dave, I actually do know what I’m missing. Missing the great opportunity to own and drive a mini van. Poor me!

        Like 2
      • Dave

        As the saying goes, to each their own.

    • MarveH

      I don’t think a man gives a hank about what pop culture says is cool or not, at least not past high school.

      Like 14
    • M.C.S.

      If you want to see ugly, look at any pickup, crossover, or SUV that they make these days. Many are also unnecessarily enormous and bloated.

      The first-generation Voyager/Caravan, on the other hand, was always a pretty good-looking car. I’d take a decent minivan over a crossover any day.

      • SteveTheD

        So this mini van is better looking than any pickup, crossover, or SUV made these days?? Right on! Everyone is entitled to their own opinion no matter how…….interesting that opinion might be.

        Like 2
    • Doug

      If you are worried that a car can make you less of a man, you must not be very confident in your manhood. I could drive that van whilst wearing a pink t-shirt and listening to Alanis Morissette and still not sweat it lol

      Your actions define your manhood, not crap like that.

      • SteveTheD

        Not worried about being less of a man, and don’t care about how you dress or your choice in music, it’s about driving something that looks like a ……..a mini van! I do appreciate that the condition is very nice, but that’s it. In my opinion it’s horrible looking and still just another mini van!

        Like 1
      • Doug

        For some reason, I can’t reply to your reply Steve so I’ll just reply to myself, lol.

        Fair enough, vans aren’t for everyone :)

  14. Bradshaw from Primer

    in my manual 5 speed with good pirellis it would corner nicely in 3rd gear in the rain and surprize a lot of sporting cars…..i bought it 3 years old with 199,000 miles (traveling 500 miles every 3 days ) i then put 100,000 on it with no real problems and then gave it to a student. My brother had one and both of us regret getting rid of them….simple, good handling, very comfortable, good quality interiors. crummy scabby paint..(using water based paint??) good a/c….never felt low on power, drop it in a lower gear!!…never carred more than 4 people in it usually…went camping (myself) in it…thru a twin mattrass in the back with the seats pulled….put a car cover over it for privacy at the state park….

    Like 2
  15. steve flynn

    but around my parts u gotta make sure they all blow blue smoke, have a missin hub cap or 2, rot along the bottom, and park it in front of a dilapidated mobile home…

    Like 1
    • MarveH

      Seems easy enough.

      Like 1
  16. Shelbydude

    Sorry… not the 5-Speed Unicorn of Chrysler mini vans. That title goes to the 89-90 turbo Caravan (or Voyager) with manual trans.

    Like 1
  17. MarveH

    The only thing that is slightly off-putting is the rust belt location. Milwaukee, isn’t just rust belt its the suspenders and pants too. This one looks clean but I’d have to give it the hairy eyeball.
    All that said, I’d own one of these in a minute as a car parts schlepping, video/photography gear toting, road tripping to vintage racing buggy.
    I had my eye on a cargo caravan with a stick on our local CL for about a month for $2500. I should have pulled the trigger but I was carrying 7 cars at the time.

    Like 1
  18. Shelbydude

    Sorry… nice looking mini van, but not the Unicorn of Chrysler mini vans. IMO, that title goes to the 89-90 turbo van with manual trans. Second place goes to the LWB cargo van. I have one of each.

  19. George

    Had a Black 1989 Caravan Turbo 2.5. Engine blew and had it rebuilt. Pull the balance shafts and balance the engine. Replaced the dinky Mitsubishi turbo for a larger Garrett. Went to the junkyard and got a huge Volvo intercooler and plumbed it up front. Stuck in a Grainger Valve [Gus Valve] and tweeked the boost up monitoring it with my crude narrow band O2 sensor gauge. Could have gone higher but it was my daily driver. I surprised many so called sports cars of the time. The holy Grail of Caravans was the turbo 5 speed model. I located only one ,,in the junkyard.

  20. Barry L Klotz

    I had a 88Grand Caravan, really good van. Got about 200000 miles on it. 3.0 V6 smoke after . I also had a94 Grand Caravan SE. Motor mounts kept breaking. Driver side CVJ’s kept breaking too. Liked both of them lots

  21. Dex

    I may be different, but I’ve always cared about what I drive. It’s not about pop culture or high school, I would just rather be driving something I’m into and enjoy driving. Unfortunately, a mini van isn’t one of those things. Never has been, never will be.

    Like 1
    • SteveTheD

      Couldn’t have said it any better.

      Like 1
    • George

      So what ,why care to comment then?

      Like 2
  22. geezerglide85

    We had 4 of these altogether ’92 Caravan 2.5 w/ 5spd, ’93 T&C 3.3 auto.,’94 Caravan 3.0 auto, and a ’94 Voyager 2.5 5spd. Usually we 2 or 3 at a time between me my wife and the kids. Some people were surprised at the ones with the stick shifts and even more surprised that we had 2 of them at the same time.All great vehicles.

    Like 2
  23. Scott

    When I bought our 1984 Voyager I really wanted the stick but I gave in as my wife was not comfortable about using a clutch.

  24. Tom S.

    I had an ’89 Voyager with manual transmission. It was a fine car. I pulled a small box trailer with my dirt bike in it and camped in the van. Lots of trips to the woods and to the MX races. Good times.

    Like 2
  25. Glenn Schwass Member

    A friend had one of these early ones with the 4 banger with an automatic. It was the first of 3 or more he had through the years as he bought new ones. That one had a weird cruise control that didn’t shutoff below 25mph so he could hit it
    off the line and it would take off to where it was set. He joked that he could drag race it for exact timing….

    Like 1
  26. Dan

    Based on the pictures provided, this thing is parked five minutes from my house. If I had the money to spare and a place to keep it, it’d be mine already! My stick skills are a bit rusty, but I do have a soft spot for Mopar minivans, and this would be a fun toy (and maybe a good pizza delivery beater, in time).

  27. Just Me.

    I bought one of these new back in1989 . I ordered it in fully loaded with the 2.5 Turbo engine. It never has seen any snow or bad weather. It has always been garaged year round. I park it in October thru April every year and put it in heated storage every year since I bought it new back in 1989. These Pennsylvania winters are hard on vehicles. It has only 48,000 miles on it and they are all vacation miles, no short trip mileage. It is still all totally original and looks like it just rolled out of the showroom back in 1989. It has been a great vehicle with out any problems at all !

    Like 3
  28. CecilWrage

    I owned a 64 Chrysler Newport 4 door.with a 383 and 3 on the floor. Only one I ever saw.

  29. Chip

    One of my mother’s friends had an 86 Voyager with stick, I had a chance to get it at a reasonable price, but the owner was a chain smoker. I had a 40 mile test drive, interstates, stop & go traffic, etc., and all I remembered when I finished was the smell. Said I would not take it as a gift.

    Like 1
  30. Nathan Ehlert

    I’m proud to say I bought this thing yesterday! Drove from Detroit to Milwaukee to get it. This thing is extremely clean and drives like new!
    I learned how to drive on a first gen caravan with a five speed 25 years ago. And now I own this one

    • M.C.S.

      Congratulations! Glad someone who appreciates it got ahold of it. There are so few left in such excellent condition!

  31. Doug

    If that were local, I’d be all over it. I’ve had two 84s, an 87, a 98 and now an 07. One of the 84s was a stick. I actually think the 80s ones drove better / felt better driving than the newer generation ones plus they felt a lot more lithe. I like the 08+ generation, it went back to more straight lined body design like the older ones. My 07 is a little too jellybean looking lol. In a few years when the 07 tires out, going to get a 20 or 21 to replace it as I hear that will be the last year for them. That and it looks pretty great (https://tinyurl.com/20dgcpic)

    I also had a 90 Chevy G20, 93 Ram B2500 van and a 2000 Windstar SE Sport. Vans are awesome :)

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