This 1989 Dodge Grand Caravan used to belong to Forrest Swatman, a now-99 year-old World War II veteran and former mechanic who took meticulous care of his minivan. The vehicle is now for sale on Facebook Marketplace in St. Johns, MI, and it is so beautiful, you’ll probably forget that it was originally designed to be a form-follows-function utility vehicle.
I’m not looking to buy a new car right now, and yet, because of my automotive addiction, I find myself instinctively checking Facebook Marketplace. A recent recommendation that popped up on that site—and a clear indication that Facebook’s algorithm has me all figured out—is the fantastic 1989 Dodge Grand Caravan you see here.
I reached out to the owner, Ann Stine, and learned that she’d purchased the first-generation Chrysler minivan from a World War II veteran named Forrest Swatman. Keen to learn more, I searched that name along with “St. Johns.” This brought me to a Facebook post showing a 1971 aerial photograph of Swatman’s Standard Service on MI-21 and US-27 in St. Johns—a shop that Forrest used to run, according to the comments. It’s in those comments that I noticed the name Lexa O’Brien, Forrest’s daughter according to my online searches. I reached out to her to learn more about Forrest and his minivan.
Lexa—who told me that, due to health circumstances, it’d be best for me to speak with her instead of directly with her father—told me over Facebook Messenger that during the war, Forrest was a B-26 bomber crew chief, meaning he led a team of enlisted mechanics in repairing the planes. One of the bombers he worked on was “Flak Bait,” a famous aircraft that currently sits in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Lexa told me that Forrest actually prepped the plane for its trip to the Washington D.C. area.
We’re getting a bit far from the minivan topic here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how epic of a plane Flak Bait is. From the Smithsonian:
The NASM B-26B-25-MA nicknamed “Flak-Bait” (AAF serial number 41-31773) survived 206 operational missions over Europe, more than any other American aircraft during World War II... Workers at the Baltimore factory completed “Flak-Bait” in April 1943, and a crew flew it to England. The AAF assigned it to the 449th Bombardment Squadron, 322nd Bombardment Group (nicknamed the ‘Annihilators’), and gave the bomber the fuselage identification codes “PN-O.” Lt. James J. Farrell of Greenwich, Connecticut, flew more missions in “Flak-Bait” than any other pilot. He named the bomber after “Flea Bait,” his brother’s nickname for the family dog.
Anyway, back to the minivan.
I see a ding and what looks like a little chip in the Charcoal Pearl Coat paint, but otherwise the body panels, wheels, bumpers, paint, and exterior trim look almost fresh out of the St. Louis Assembly Plant.
That’s no surprise, really, as Lexa told me that Forrest was a great mechanic who “could usually tell you what was wrong with a car if you held the phone up to it!” He ran the Standard service station after World War II, but thereafter began selling cars for the local Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Dodge dealership called Bee’s. While there, Lexa told me, he bought the van.
“He had it for [roughly] 20 years and his standing joke he’d ALWAYS tell was he ‘almost’ had it paid off. He was meticulous with everything!” Lexa told me, before explaining the joke later. “The funny part of his joke about having it paid off yet,” she wrote, “is he would have paid cash for it because he didn’t believe in borrowing money. You only bought what you could afford. (A product of growing up during the depression).”
Lexa told me some of her memories of the van. “[Forrest] also had a sedan but he’d always load his tools in this when he’d come to help on my home building projects or my brother’s,” she said, before talking about how big of a car enthusiast Forrest has been throughout his life.
Fast forward to 2017, and Forrest sold the car to Ann, who’s now looking to part ways with the incredible people-hauler. Ann, who’s been a court recorder for 30 years and therefore has ears that literally “hold up in court” says she remembers Forrest telling her that he’d actually ordered the car from Chrysler to sell at the dealership, and that he’d bought the van when he retired. All in, it’s likely he owned the car for around 28 years.
“He ordered the van to sell and ended up buying it when he retired in 1989,” she told me. “He and his wife traveled in the van to local big band dances. He never drove it in the winter and never on gravel roads. The van spent winters in his garage.”
The Grand Caravan has only 107,000 miles on the odometer, and its interior looks fantastic. The dark gray and off-white color combo is divine, as is the blocky pattern on the seats. Plus, check out the two-tone dashboard.
Though I usually prefer a manual transmission, I can’t deny that there’s something awesome about a column-shift automatic. Just look at all the space between the driver’s and passenger’s seat; you can put all sorts of stuff there—tools, a picnic basket, a dog, whatever. Also, I dig the cup holders on top of the little shelf/organizer in the center of the dashboard.
Looking through these photos makes me think of the 1990 Plymouth Voyager that my family used to own between 1990 and 1998. It hauled a crew of eight around Europe and the American midwest without issue—remarkable, considering it had the tiny four-cylinder and five-speed manual. This listing’s pictures reminded me just how great that vehicle’s outward visibility was. Just look at all the glass:
Per Stine, this van—which is layered in the original paint—is in fully functional condition. Yes, even the air conditioning works! Stine writes in her listing that the following items have been replaced or mended in the last 2.5 years: Tires, shocks, brakes, struts, the battery, CV boots, timing belt, and headliner.
The vehicle comes with the owner’s manual, a Haynes repair manual, and the original window sticker. Just look at this cool piece of history:
This 1989 “T-115" minivan has manual windows, but it’s not completely bare-bones. It’s got the “Popular Equipment Discount Package”—which cost $2,048, and included a tilt steering column, “deluxe sound insulation,” a full-size spare tire, air conditioning, an overhead console, a storage console at the base of the dash, cruise control, and special lighting and gauges—as well as a $243 two-tone paint job, a $746 four-speed auto, a $680 V6 engine, tinted glass for $418, power locks for $209, and $139 white sidewall tires.
Back in the late 1989s, this van cost $17,729 with destination fee—that’s about $38,000 in today’s money based on the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s CPI inflation calculator. But you won’t have to pay nearly that to put this van in your garage: Stine is asking $5,500.
That’s not cheap for an old minivan, but just look at this thing. It’s more than just an “old minivan.” It’s a work of art, and it’s got a great story behind it.