Rare Worker Edition: 1986 Dodge Mini Ram Van

Jeff LaveryBy Jeff Lavery

Over the last few months, we’ve written more than once about the emerging classic status of the original Dodge Caravan. As a breakthrough model and the standard against which other minivans were judged, it’s no surprise to see survivors appreciating modestly. But rarely do we see the cargo van equivalent, called the Dodge Mini Ram Van, like this example found here on eBay with just over a day left and no reserve. 

Similar to the Toyota Van of the same era, the windows are blocked out and solid panels are in their place, helpful if you’re hauling plumbing equipment or storage racks inside. This example still wears its traditional hatch-style opening out back, as it was possible to spec these cargo van editions with barn doors that swung open. This Mini Ram Van looks quite presentable with no obvious signs of rust or accident damage, and the twist-style wheels are a sporty touch.

Up front, a 2.6L four-cylinder provided modest acceleration and decent gas mileage. The engine bay is where this particular example has some challenges, as the seller notes that the piston rings are damaged and there’s white smoke coming out of the exhaust. Definitely not a good sign but also not surprising considering this Caravan’s intended purpose in life as a workhorse. Doing a tear-down and rebuild seems like a chore, but replacement parts shouldn’t prove too challenging to find.

On the inside, this Mini Ram Van looks far better than expected considering its life wasn’t likely a glamorous one. Seats look presentable as does the dash and steering wheel; no obvious signs of concern from this picture. Given how infrequently we see original Caravans pop up anymore, we’re guessing this worker-friendly Mini Ram Van is one of a few left that looks to still have some life under its tires. We’d absolutely fix the mechanical issues and see it live to work another day; would you?

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Comments

  1. Scotty Gilbertson Scotty Gilbertson Staff

    Ohhh, nice! I had a 1987 Dodge Mini Ram Van like this for a cleaning business that I owned in the mid-80s-early-90s. It was my favorite out of our 4 vans so I kept it after selling the business to go back to college, 12 years after graduating from high school. I know, imagine a kid telling their parent that they were going to do that today! Not going to happen. I kept that rust-free little van stored in our garage for over a decade and finally sold it a decade ago for $900 to a friend of a friend. Ugh, I wish I had it today, it had zero rust, dents, or dings, but it also had zero options: no AC, no cruise, no seats in the back – just a basic work van. I agree on these early ChryCo minivans being future collectibles, like it or not. It’s a reality like the sun coming up tomorrow morning. Nice find, Jeff!

    5+
  2. gord

    guess i cannot compete with this… mine is over 438k km = 274k miles… still runs strong but needs battery and few misc things…. now a camper, probably selling as never using anymore… this one is MUCH cleaner but… hey mine went all over the us and canada with an australian couple behind the wheel

    https://www.kijiji.ca/v-rv-motorhome/muskoka/1985-dodge-caravan-mini-camper-better-than-class-b-new-price/1171466013?enableSearchNavigationFlag=true

    3+
  3. carsofchaos

    Why am I more excited about this than the 57 Chevy 4 door in that garage in PA?

    7+
  4. John D

    Those ‘twist style’ wheels are the one year only Lemans
    wheels from the Shelby CSX-T Shadow and just the center caps alone would fetch the current $210 bid price. I lost one of mine and I would buy the van just for the wheels if it wasn’t over a $1000 away from Lake Erie.

    Rather than rebuilding the engine, I would swap another one in, maybe something six cylinder-ish as the 2.6 was rather sluggish.

    2+
  5. Big Mike

    Actually they were called Ram Cargo Van (Ram C/V Tradesman), I have had as many as 10 at one time for my Auto Parts Supply company. I had bulk heads mounted behind the front seat on every one of them. Ran everyone of them to nearly 300,000 miles, had to get rid of them because of insurance reasons.
    They are quite handy in and around the small street of St Louis Area, easier to handle than some full size or box trucks, and better gas mileage.
    I am currently running the Chevy City Express now, got a better deal on them

    7+
  6. Fred w.

    They might be wrong about the suggested problem (white smoke = bad piston rings) since:

    Blue/grey smoke= oil
    Black smoke = rich (gas)
    White smoke = coolant (antifreeze)

    7+
  7. mike D

    with all the positive remarks I hesitate to say ” it’s still a work truck” .. most likely has had it’s share of abuse , and , yes, Fred.. white smoke is not a good sign IDK what replacing the engine involves, but I guess it would be a lot of work .. and.. it is still an old work truck

    2+
  8. SAM61

    White smoke? Maybe it has provenance of being the Vatican City repair van?

    10+
  9. Reg Bruce

    @ SAM61

    Very droll, sir. Very droll indeed!
    Arguably the wittiest response there has ever been on Barn Finds.

    RB

    5+
    • SAM61

      Thank you. I feel qualified to make a “clean” Catholic joke as I am a “step child” Missouri Synod Lutheran.

      2+
  10. Michael

    I had 3 of these in my restaurant repair business. The 4 cyl motor with the 4 speed manual were great on gas darn near indestructible. I would put 3/4 ton overload helper springs to carry all my equipment. They would blow a head gasket and I would get the “white smoke” problem after they would hit 100k. It would seem that after over 100k drunks would hit them and total them.

    2+
  11. Maestro1

    I have no use for this but someone should buy it and do the mechanicals.

    1+
  12. Davey

    I had one back in 1994. Mine had a 2.2 litre engine with a 5 speed manual trans.
    Poor acceleration but it got 30+mpg on the
    Hwy. The Provincial Govt here bought a fleet of them for Various Govt departments
    Always had trouble with the trans/shifter cables. Got $200 from the wrecker.

    2+
  13. Chebby Member

    As long as you are pulling the engine, put the turbo version in there and make a one of none.

    1+
  14. Mark

    A Caravan that smokes? And at no reserve? Collectible as a Lawrence Welk rap album.

    0
  15. Al

    Nice little van but I like this one better.

    13+

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