35 Years Ago Today, Chrysler Invented the Minivan, And Changed History

1984 Dodge Caravan

1984 Dodge Caravan

On November 2nd, 1983, the world’s first minivan rolled off of Chrysler’s assembly line. It was the vehicle that saved Chrysler from financial doom. When Ronald Reagan was president — the economy was far from robust and Chrysler was on death’s doorstep. Chrysler needed a home run, and Lee Iacocca, who was running the company at the time, gambled that the first wave of baby boomers who were starting families would likely want something roomier and far more practical than the traditional family hauler, the station wagon. Iacocca practically bet the company on the fact that a new automotive segment dubbed “the minivan” would catch on with the boomers. It was a $660-million gamble, only made possible by money acquired earlier from Washington’s $1.5-billion bailout of Chrysler.

Sales improved dramatically with the debut of the well-received K-car platform and the introduction of the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager. Chrysler paid off government loans seven years early. Reed Brothers successfully navigated through numerous Chrysler setbacks during the 1970’s and 80’s, including the first Chrysler Bailout and resurgence under Lee Iacocca.

The 1984 Dodge Caravan was designed specifically with families in mind. The early design looked like station wagons at the time, featuring a wood panel along the sides. The Caravan was essentially a big, roomy box on wheels, utilizing maximum form efficiency — small on the outside, huge on the inside.

1984 Dodge Caravan

1984 Dodge Caravan

The other distinguishing features of the new minivan were its car-like features – notably including power windows, comfortable interiors, a nice dashboard, and front-wheel drive. These also explain the appeal of the vehicle. Not only did it fit in a garage like a car, but it actually drove like a car, while also providing plenty of room for the kids and luggage and giving mom a nice, high view of the road. The sliding door made it easy to for people to quickly enter or exit the vehicle and, with its lack of hinges, the sliding door was seen as a safer option for children.

After The 1984 Dodge Caravan was released, it became an immediate success. The minivan helped bring the company back from the brink of bankruptcy, and it reinvigorated the automotive market. Many buyers had to wait weeks to have their orders filled because there was so much demand. Dodge created an entirely new market with the minivan, and other models soon followed suit.

Lee Iacocca, the mastermind of the minivan era, presented this 12,000-mile Voyager at the assembly line in Windsor, Canada on November 2, 1983. A truly game-changing vehicle…

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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