Perfectly Preserved 1996 Dodge Caravan Billboard Revealed by Hurricane Ian in Florida

Hurricane Ian’s 150-mph winds peeled off the newer vinyl layers covering a time capsule billboard for the 1996 Dodge Grand Caravan in Cape Coral, Florida.

byNico DeMattia|
Dodge News photo


Hurricane Ian devastated much of Florida, leaving heartbreaking destruction in its wake. Hopefully, though, someone can get a little hint of nostalgia from a billboard that was damaged in the storm. In one area of Cape Coral, Florida, the hurricane hit a billboard so hard it sent it back in time—all the way to 1996—peeling back vinyl layers to reveal an original ad for the 1996 Dodge Caravan.

This billboard was spotted by Florida native Chastity Roark on Facebook, and it's bringing back memories. I remember the 1996 Dodge Caravan well. Back in those days, before SUVs and crossovers became the cars of choice for most suburban families, minivans were hot items. I distinctly remember my aunt and uncle driving my cousins and me around in their Caravan, while their neighbor had a second-gen Ford Windstar, and let me tell you, there was beef. Minivan rivalries were real back in the '90s and those two three-row, front-wheel drive juggernauts were two of the most competitive.

The '96 Dodge Caravan was also a huge deal for the automotive market. That might sound idiotic today, as minivans are essentially afterthoughts nowadays. But when Dodge replaced its old, boxy, faux wood-paneled Caravan with the sleeker, smoother, more premium '96 Caravan, the world took notice. Don't believe me? Don't take my word for it. The 1996 Dodge Caravan won Motor Trend's Car of the Year. A minivan. Car of the year. Wild.

How was it good enough to win an award that usually goes to sporty sedans and coupes? The '96 Caravan actually brought a lot of innovative ideas to mainstream, affordable minivans. It had things like second-row captain's chairs, dual-sliding doors, a flat load floor with the rear seats down—which could hold 4x8 sheets of plywood, something Dodge seemed very proud of—and a ride/handling balance that felt more like a sedan than an old cargo van. It changed the game for minivans, proving that they could not only be affordable people movers but cars you'd be happy to drive and proud to own.

Why is there still a Caravan billboard up at all? Back in the '90s many billboards were still hand-painted before they switched to vinyl printouts. This Caravan ad could have been the last hand-painted ad this billboard ever saw before it was eventually covered by a vinyl sheet. And because it's almost always been covered, with only brief glimpses of sunlight in between vinyl ad changes, it's still pretty well preserved.

Seeing the original ad for the Caravan brings back some great memories and reminds me of a simpler time for cars. Obviously, there's nothing good about Hurricane Ian and the destruction it left behind, but if someone in Florida can be reminded of good childhood memories thanks to this billboard, maybe it makes their day just a little bit better.

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