This Turbo LS 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan Is a Professional Burnout Machine
“It’s a rough-looking engine but it runs wicked,” the owner says.
Somewhere on the isle of Newfoundland at the Eastern edge of North America, you might see a man with red hair, a dusky beard, blue eyes, and a wide grin piloting one wild vehicle. This car is a staple in burnout competitions wherever this Canadian can find them, and a ball of smoke follows him everywhere he goes because simply driving is not sufficient. One must hoon it and take in the gaping stares with aplomb.
You’ve got to be gracious and humble as you’re driving a beast of a 2014 Grand Caravan. Especially one that has been converted to rear wheel drive and powered by a 6.0-liter LS with a CAT dump truck turbo. And if that engine works for a drag-racing postal truck, you can bet it runs like a champ in a minivan.
It all started three years ago, when Barry Lambert and his wife Cass bought the van used and drove it daily until the transmission started to slip. The Lamberts filed a claim, but as luck would have it, the van was two weeks outside of its warranty. With about 115,000 miles on the clock and not many alternatives, Barry and Cass took a hard look at their van to decide what to do next.
I picture Cass squinting slightly and cocking her head to the side when she asked Barry an important question: “Can you make it a manual?”
They got to work and kicked off a six-month build during which Barry opted to swap in an LS because he is familiar with the platform and already had all parts necessary to do the job. And as wrenchers know, that’s a critical factor.
“The van is in great shape structurally, with no rust, so it was a great starting point for a swap,” Barry shared with me. He had to modify the stock engine cradle and fabricate his own engine mounts and transmission. With some foresight he designed the cradle so he could still remove the engine and transmission as an assembly by lifting off the van body.
“The rear diff came out of a 2002 F-150; I put in 3.55 gears for good highway RPM and still have low-end torque,” he explained. “I installed a spool so both wheels are locked and it doesn’t do one-wheel burnouts.”
To get the driveshaft high enough, Barry had to perform surgery on his Grand Caravan, slicing it right down the middle. Cass wanted to retain the functionality of the Stow N Go feature on the van, but there was very little room to go between the seats. Their solution was to relocate the engine and transmission two inches toward the passenger side. As a result, the driveshaft would only prevent the passenger side seat from folding down into the floor; the driver side still works as intended.
The Grand Caravan is on its third engine now; the first swap was an aluminum 5.3-liter with a 66MM Mack turbo. Barry had to make his own front sump oil pan because the steering rack was directly underneath the original sump location. The van was pretty fast, he says, and he admits he didn’t have the oil pan baffled as well as he could have. As soon as he would accelerate hard, the oil would slosh to the back of the pan and the engine would starve for oil. That caused a big problem for him.
“I was out tuning on my lunch break and the engine stated to knock pretty bad,” he said. “Smoke was pouring out of the hood exit so when I got back to the parking lot at my work, I put it in neutral and put the gas pedal to the floor. As soon as it hit two step the engine came apart and put three rods out through the block and flames up over the windshield.”
That happened on a Thursday, and by Saturday morning at 2:00 a.m. Barry had built another 5.3-liter engine and dropped in in. “It was a long couple days,” he laughed with a slight grimace.
Now, the minivan has a 2004 Chevy 6.0-liter LS from a rusted-out plow truck with nearly 200,000 miles already on it. Barry says it makes somewhere around 600 horsepower and equal torque, but he’s never measured it on a dyno; he’s going by what he plugged into HP Tuners, and Barry says it may be off by a bit.
“I bought the engine off a guy for $100,” Barry said. “It hadn’t been running for about three years before I bought it. I put it in and did a bunch of burnouts and pulls the same day to make sure it was good; it’s a rough-looking engine but it runs wicked.”
This is one resilient wrencher. Next up on Barry's project list is his 1957 Chevy 3100 and he's planning to retain the gorgeous patina wrapped around the body. Soon, it will be the recipient of a destroked 6.0-liter engine with a Sloppy Stage 3 camshaft. I have a feeling it won't be long before it will join its minivan sibling for dual burnouts.
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