Let’s talk about an antique. Yep, an old dinosaur of a car from…1987! Okay, so this isn’t the oldest car I’ve ever had the pleasure to drive, but it certainly saw a lot more use than all the others. It’s also fairly likely that you’ve never even heard of the Plymouth Caravelle. They were never high in the popularity list, and were certainly built for utility more than style. On the plus side, I always give more points for a car that actually operates as it should versus those that just have unnecessary luxury features.
One problem with older cars is that it is difficult to tell if their problems were because of flaws in that particular make and model, or if they are from various drivers or conditions the vehicle has had to suffer through. Let’s review this particular Plymouth Caravelle’s history.
What I know about this car started in 1997 or 1998 when it became a 16-year-old’s first car. As 16-year-olds go, he wasn’t a bad driver. He was prone to road rage and quite possibly did a little bit of impromptu racing, but he kept the fluids filled and almost always changed the oil on time.
He ended up moving to Baltimore, Maryland where said car got fixed up to fit the state’s guidelines for emissions and such — whatever else they require in states that are picky about those things. Having lived in Wyoming my whole life, I’m really not familiar with what those things might be. Then this trusty Caravelle got to run on interstates and through cities for a few years.
Fast forward to 2005. The previously mentioned owner of this Caravelle is my husband’s best friend. When my 1993 Crown Victoria broke down and we couldn’t figure out what went wrong with it, I needed a vehicle fast. At that time I had a 25-mile commute to and from work every day, and couldn’t afford to miss work. No, a bus isn’t an option – like I said, this is Wyoming. We travel by private wheels, hoof, foot, or not at all. Luckily, said friend had better, newer cars by this point and generously allowed me to use his Plymouth Caravelle until I could either fix my car or find another.
The Caravelle is quite a lot smaller than the cars I’d had previously – those included a 1977 two-door Chevy Caprice Classic, a 1986 Olds Delta 88, and my 1993 Ford Crown Victoria — with quite a bit smaller engine. Granted, it’s not hard to get smaller than those land yachts. The 1987 Plymouth Caravelle is actually very similar in size to my current 1996 Subaru Legacy.
Being smaller than the others in both engine size and actual size, the following observations shouldn’t be too surprising.
This car has a lot less power than I was used to up to that point, but worked well as a commuter car. It got up to and maintained the 65mph speed limit with no problem, and took hills the minor hills of the Powell-Cody highway with ease. Gas mileage isn’t bad considering the age of the car, ranging from between 20-25 miles per gallon on mostly highway.
Though I’m only 5’6”, the car was a little cramped to me – again, understandable for the type of vehicle. Back seats can be occupied by adults, but they’re going to be squished. On long drives, stick to keeping just kids in the back. Seats are a little harder than most newer vehicles, but then again luxury seems to be a more recent obsession. I haven’t personally driven this car further than my daily commute, so no more than 45 minutes to an hour at a time, but it’s comfortable for that long.
The audio isn’t great on this one, but it’s a great visual on the inside and outside of this car. Did I mention it’s a fairly unlovely dinosaur? Good, so no surprises there. But hey, as I mentioned in the review of my 1996 Subaru Legacy, pretty is totally useless if the car doesn’t run. This car runs, and stays running through pretty much everything.
The 1987 Plymouth Caravelle maneuvers nicely, and executes U-turns on standard two-lane roads without having to do that dangerous little 2-part turn. After my run of bad luck with cars, it does the absolute most important thing: It starts and drives every time. Even in the dead of winter. The Caravelle doesn’t care if we’re on pavement, gravel, ill-used mountain roads or solid ice, it just keeps going.
At first, driving such a small car made me nervous in the deer-ridden landscape of my daily commute. That is, until I actually hit a deer with it. I was traveling at about 40mph at the time, and the deer leaped out with virtually no warning. In that heart-rending moment, I was convinced I’d just destroyed the car that had so generously been lent to me. On close inspection, though, the dent was hardly even noticeable. Talk about sturdy. When I confessed my fender-bender to the car’s owner, he informed me that he’s also hit a couple of deer while driving it – a fact that’s not verifiable by any significant body damage.
Despite the Caravelle’s long run with maintenance that may or may not have been done on time, tune-ups not being done, inexperienced drivers, city drivers, and 300,000 miles on the car, it has had no major mechanical problems (at least since 1997). It has occasional issues starting in the cold, but in Wyoming that sometimes means -30F. This particular car had a block heater, but we only had to use it in the most bitterly cold weather.
Our vehicles broke down repeatedly, so we ended up driving this car for about two years. It was returned to its owner full-time around 2007. We had a total of one problem with it, and that was pure human stupidity. It had very old spark plugs that didn’t get changed when they needed to be. Add one human who was very determined to get it running and flooded it very badly. It needed some clean-up work, and of course new plugs before it wanted to run again.
Considering the many years this car has been driven and it’s still on the road, one could definitely do worse than a Caravelle. If you want a little workhorse and don’t care what it looks like, this blocky little sedan fits the bill. I may cuss this particular car out every now and then, but she’s getting old and is allowed to have her quirks. I’d say this is a great vehicle to have for a student, commuter needing cheap transportation, or a backyard mechanic wanting something to do. Because of its lack of computerized components, it’s still a prime candidate for home mechanical work.
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Plymouth or anyone who benefits from the sale of this car. My opinions are merely those of a satisfied consumer, and are entirely my own. An older version of this review was originally posted on Epinions, but is my property and has been reposted here despite Epinions removing the ability to delete our reviews when they eliminated the open review side of the site.