An off-road-ready Dodge Caravan? It nearly happened

An off-road-ready Dodge Caravan? It nearly happened
These days, we’re used to seeing people-movers adorned with all manner of off-road pretensions. It’s the foundation on which the modern crossover vehicle is built, after all.

According to a former Chrysler designer, that trend nearly gained a foothold almost thirty years ago in the form of a thoroughly kitted-out Dodge Caravan — except for one small detail.

The crew at Jeep weren’t having it.

Michael Santoro lent his talents to several notable vehicles during his time in Sterling Heights, including the Jeep TJ and Dodge Stratus. Where does the Caravan come into play? In an entry on Santoro’s personal blog, he describes an era in which the minivan was one of the company’s best-selling vehicles. As such, there were frequent discussions around line extensions or special editions. We see this happening today with the never-ending parade of Ram 1500 Classic variants, for example.

Apparently, a chord was struck with the idea of an off-road minivan for the Dodge brand. Using items from the corporate parts bin and some design creativity, the concept was apparently fleshed out without spending too much money. A simple blackout treatment was given to the B-pillar, along with new front and rear grille bars. Some side steps also made the grade. Topping it all off was a light bar that integrated into the roof rack.

It’s tough to tell from these images – is that extra wheelwell space actually there or is it a sleight-of-camera? – if the off-road Caravan had any extra ride height or ground clearance. But a bit of suspension tweaking plus more aggressive tires and a few flares could have easily given the appearance of such. After all, that’s what manufacturers do in the crossover segment today.

According to Santoro’s blog, upper management liked the idea so much they commissioned a full-size prototype. This machine was then shown to enthusiastic Dodge dealers and the rig was just a step away from premiering at the Chicago Auto Show — when Jeep dealers got wind of it an apparently raised one hell of a stink. Those people must have had some pull within the company, as the plug was pulled on this Caravan at the eleventh hour.

[photo: Jeep: The History of America’s Greatest Vehicle by Patrick R. Foster] via Auto News

We must note this wasn’t the only time Dodge was bullied by Jeep. According to a book called Jeep: The History of America’s Greatest Vehicle by Patrick R. Foster, planning for what would eventually become the Jeep Grand Cherokee had both the Jeep and Dodge brands present a styling exercise using their own design languages.

The machine shown above (in a picture that appeared in Foster’s book ) was Dodge’s effort. It, like the off-road Caravan, never saw the light of day.
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