What do a 2006 Dodge Caravan and a 2005 SRT4 Neon have in common? If you’re a normal person, absolutely nothing, but if you’re Dakota Arnold, both vehicles are the building blocks for a unique project.
Arnold has combined the carcass of the minivan with the turbocharged driveline of the Neon to create a vehicle that would make any trip to the store a whole lot of fun.
The first vehicle that Arnold drove was a 1998 Chevy Venture minivan, the day he got his license in the van was also the day he did a high-speed run in it to see just how fast it would actually go. That van would serve as a hauler for Arnold’s motorcycle and it got him interested in the platform. The idea to build a gnarly minivan actually came from a video he saw of a Caravan doing a John Force-like burnout, but his build would have a manual transmission and be a legit sleeper.
The YouTube bug bit Arnold hard while he owned a Mitsubishi Evo VIII. He decided he wanted to create a place for himself on the platform, but it was crowded in the automotive space and he wasn’t sure what to do. Arnold was at a crossroads: keep his Evo and try to stand out from other content creators with that car, or try to do a crazy build that would get people’s attention. That’s when Arnold remembered the Caravan burnout video and the idea came to him: build a minivan that uses the driveline from an SRT4 Neon.
Arnold did some research and discovered that a fourth-generation Dodge Caravan would be the chassis he needed for this project. Nobody had ever used that platform for a swap like this, and to his surprise, a clean one was hard to come by. After looking high and low, Arnold found one at a local auction and picked it up for just $550 out the door, he even drove it home.
Now that Arnold had secured the chassis for his swap it was time to find the driveline. Arnold wanted to find a wrecked SRT4 and set a budget of $1,500 to secure what he needed. A suitable vehicle was located and bidding on the car got heated in a hurry, Arnold’s budget was busted, but he stayed in the game and won the car for $1,750…or so he thought. When the fees were calculated and the tow bill was paid to bring the car to him, Arnold was into the Neon for nearly $3,000, and he wasn’t even sure if it ran. Thankfully, the car did run and moved under its own power, so Arnold was ready to move onto the next phase of the build.
The van and Neon were home, so it was time to get to work on the project. Arnold quickly realized this was going to be an epic undertaking, but he wasn’t deterred, he was hungry and ready to make things happen.
“We get the SRT4 engine and transmission into the van and it was hitting everything, the firewall had to be modified, engine mounts needed to be made, and we didn’t even have a welder or know how to weld, for that matter. My friend Will was super motivated to learn how weld and went out and purchased a cheap Harbor Freight flux core welder to get things going,” Arnold explains.
Arnold’s aggressive persuasion techniques helped get the engine and transmission into place inside the van, so he was ready to move on to the next big part of the project: wiring. The goal was to use the van’s factory wiring and harness so everything would still work as if the van was stuck, but it turns out that was a bigger challenge than Arnold anticipated. A conversation with a friend led Arnold to using the Neon’s wiring harness as the project’s base, which was the inspiration Arnold needed to push forward. Just like that, the Van was alive, and Arnold got to work routing the wiring so everything would function as if the van came from Dodge with the Neon driveline in it.
Projects like this aren’t nearly as easy as people think they are. Arnold found out just how much custom work was required for a build, just simple things like the pedal assembly needed to be heavily modified for them to work. The shifter needed to have its own base made for it, custom linkages needed to be created…the list goes on and on for a build like this. Arnold took on each task and created the parts needed to make the van fit the picture he had in his mind.
At this point, it was time for Arnold to come up with a tuning solution that would work with his creation. Arnold started doing some research and found a group of people that assisted him in getting the Van running right.
“I decided to go with HP Tuners and boy, was I in over my head. I didn’t have the foggiest clue what I was looking at. Thankfully, there are people in the Neon community that are willing to help, and that’s where Chris Greenup comes in. I randomly messaged him one night asking how he learned how to tune since he seemed pretty knowledgeable with the platform. To my surprise, he jumped right into helping me get everything set up on HP Tuners without ever asking for anything in return. Mario Cominotti at MI Tuning helped get the Fuel Injector Development 1660cc injectors scaled properly on E85. Nigel from Brutal Speed and Tuning has now come onboard to help tune the van and get it totally squared away,” Arnold says.
The OEM intake and cold side piping weren’t in the best location, so Arnold had to do some custom work once again to make things fit how he liked. A JMFabrications intake and Modern Performance throttle body were used to replace the stock parts. Arnold fabricated a full 3-inch exhaust for the van that runs out the back via the stock location. A full-face street disc ACT XTSS clutch was selected to work with the driveline to help the transmission live longer at the track.
Since Arnold had a set of 26x10x15 Mickey Thomson slicks he was going to use for the track, some stronger axles would be needed. The Driveshaft Shop created a custom set of its Level 5 axles for the van. These axles are going to be put to the test when Arnold turns the wick up on the SRT engine and it tries to move all 4,000 pounds of the van at a high rate of speed.
Arnold plans on pushing the stock SRT4 engine and turbo as far as it can go to run a 12.99 in the quarter-mile. When that milestone has been reached, the real fun will begin for Arnold. Waiting in the wings is a fully built engine that’s filled with top-shelf parts along with a more aggressive clutch for the van. Arnold didn’t want to use the more race-oriented parts right off the bat because he just wanted to get the project going to make sure everything would function properly.
“The van is still street legal…it’s tagged and insured. You can turn on the radio, roll down the window, and cruise out to the lake a few times in it, I could 100-percent daily-drive it if I had to. I want to try and go as fast as I possibly can in this thing, but also be as safe as possible while doing it. A cage will be coming in the future…who knows, maybe I’ll convert it to all-wheel-drive, too. We’ll see, we have a lot of ideas floating around for this thing,” Arnold states.
This project has been a massive undertaking for Arnold since he had never attempted anything like this before, and he’s very thankful for the help of his friends and others who have stepped up to make this crazy dream a reality.
“Without Will, Charles, Levi, Brad, Chris, Bogdan, and Mario, none of this would have happened. I really have to thank my friend Tyler for all of his help…he allowed us to use parts from his own car to see what would work on the van. This project has been fun and we can’t wait to see how far we can take it,” Arnold says.
Dakota Arnold’s van embodies what hot rodding and racing is all about: a group of friends getting together to make a project happen. Arnold never gave up on building this confluence of two vehicles — even when he didn’t have the skills to do it, he rolled up his sleeves and learned what it took to make it happen. So, don’t feel too bad if Arnold’s van ever puts bus lengths on you at the track, it’s far from your average soccer mom ride.