But it’s not just an old van, right?

By John Toth / Editor and Publisher

It’s been awhile since I reminisced about my 1995 Dodge Caravan, so let me pick it up again.

What brings me back to this topic is a story I read recently on the latest developments of Volkswagen’s deliberate cheating to violate air quality rules. Apparently, the company is going to have to fork out a few billion dollars to take care of this little problem, which it has foolishly created, and on purpose.

It was disappointing, since I have always looked at the VW minibus as my ultimate retro car. I spent two summers in camp as a kid being driven around in those dangerous contraptions. I know now that they were built poorly and don’t perform well in crash tests. Back in those days, if there were any crash tests, I didn’t know anything about them.

I would just drive it around if I had one. I don’t have any plans to crash it.

At the time, we didn’t know that they were dangerous. Just like we didn’t know that the Ford Pinto tended to blow up if hit from behind.

What a better toy to have than a vintage VW minibus to run around town in, if in fact, I could even afford one. The refurbished 1970s models can get pretty expensive.

Then a lightbulb went on inside my head (not really because that would be pretty weird). What has more meaning and history behind it than a minibus that I rode in, and luckily survived, for a couple of summers?

Well, I did have a VW Fastback when I was in high school, but that car also was a piece of junk. It had way too many problems, starting with water leaking into the interior, to transmission problems, to the rings being shot. Other than that, it was a decent car.

I finally noticed that the water was pooling under the backseat, right around the battery. That was not so good. Since I didn’t know how to stop the leak, I just drilled a few holes through the floorboard. But I still had to deal with the rotting carpet smell.

Not a whole lot of nostalgia there.

So, while I pondered how to get my hands on one of these VW minibuses without breaking the bank, I realized that I already possessed a vehicle that was more nostalgic than the minibus could ever be - my Dodge Caravan.

It transported our kids to all kinds of sports practices and games, the family to Florida and back, and to who knows where else. The van was just sitting around my lot with peeling paint and all kinds of mechanical issues. So, I started fixing it up, and slowly, it regained its original gleam and reliability.

I didn’t keep track of how much it cost. It was best not to add it all up.

So, the retro van was not a VW, but so what? Dodge-Chrysler has never been suspected of cheating on emissions tests. The van actually turned out to be a pretty good workhorse, and still delivers The Bulletin most weeks.

The rebuilt transmission is flawless; the new front end is smooth; the A/C is again cold; the inside and the outside have been redone. But then the ultimate bad news hit me: The engine is on its way out and eventually will have to be replaced by a rebuilt one.

That just tore me up. It only has 239,000 miles on it. Couldn’t we just put some form of magical fluid in it to make it all better?

Yes, but eventually there is no way around it.

One time I drove it out to the beach after all the repairs and refurbishings were completed, and the guy next to me, who must have known something about these vans, couldn’t believe what good condition it was in.

It was a good day for the old and improved family van.

But, as it turns out, the van has caught a fatal illness, and it will need an engine transplant. So, this is where we junk it or trade it in, right?


I’ll be sitting in that van in my 90s (I hope, anyway) and thinking about all the good times the family had when the kids were little. And, I’ll still be driving it (I hope) with a rebuilt and expensive engine.