Hi I’m Dakota Arnold, and I’ve always been a big fan of the Neon SRT4 platform. In fact, I’ve owned 8 of them lol. I just can’t seem to get away. I’ve always been into cars and going fast – there’s nothing like it! My first vehicle was actually a minivan, a 1998 Chevy Venture to be exact. I topped it out the same day I got my drivers license. I’d pull the rear seats out & haul my motorcycle around in the back strapped-down to the seat hooks. That’s where my love for vans came from. This – is my SRT4 swapped Caravan.
About a decade ago, I saw a video of a red Caravan doing one of the nastiest burnouts I’d ever seen.
And I always thought it would be an awesome swap. Except I’d want it to be a manual transmission obviously.
Fast forward a few years, and I had a built Mitsubishi Evo 8 that I was back & forth on selling to build another Neon SRT4.
I had just started to take YouTube seriously with my channel, Boost & Bad Habits, and wanted to try to break through & ‘make it’ in a very oversaturated industry. I was at a crossroads with it all: 1) Do I keep the Evo and try to stand out from all the other Evo’s with the same builds? Or 2) Should I do some off-the-wall unique build? That’s when I remembered that Minivan video from all those years before and said… “It’s time.”
So what would any normal, level-headed adult do? Sell the Evo of course.
The hunt began for a short-wheel-base, 4-cylinder, 4th-generation Dodge Caravan. Why a 4th gen, you ask? I thought they looked the best. And from my research, it had never been done before in that model. I hunted all over to no avail. Until one day, my buddy Will called and said “Yo, there’s a SWB Caravan at this auction up the road, get here now!”
I’m speeding up there like we just found a Ferrari F40 for dirt cheap.
I popped the hood, and there it was in all its 184k mile glory. The 2.4-equipped short-wheel-base van I had been hunting. I ended up splurging… running the bid all the way up to $550 including fees. But I got it!
Now for the hard part…
I’d never swapped anything before in my life… what was I thinking?! How was I gonna do this? There’s no tutorials or how-to videos. I got pretty discouraged. But my friends Brad, Charles, Levi, and Will were ready to party… regardless if we knew what we were doing or not. And boy did we not.
I needed to find a complete, but wrecked donor Neon SRT4…
I truly love the SRT4. Like… a weird amount. And with not many being made, I didn’t wanna strip a good and/or easily repairable one. I hopped on Auto Bid Master to be able to purchase from Copart since I’m not a dealer. And after a bit, I found an ’05 Stone White Neon SRT4 with 80k miles. It was located 2.5 hours away in Knoxville with frame damage. Perfect! Now I just had to win it!
A wrecked SRT4 isn’t worth much…
So I set an absolute max budget of $1500… expecting to get the car a fair bit cheaper. After all, how many people could possibly be interested in this thing? Apparently a lot.
Within a minute of the auction starting, I was already at my max budget.
I immediately realized I’m probably not gonna win this car and said, “I’m out.” But then something happened…
I kept clicking BID.
I couldn’t help myself, and ended up winning the car for $1750 plus all the fees I was unaware of… big oof.
All said & done… meaning… after Copart & Auto Bid Master got their cut, plus the tow bill… I was in this thing for just shy of $3000.
We go pick up the SRT4 not knowing if it was even a viable donor.
I never once even heard it crank over. I was kind of sick to my stomach knowing I blew the build budget out of the water already. Thankfully, after jumping the battery, the car DID start and it even drove! So now it’s go-time! I actually have to figure out how to do this.
But first – why not have a little fun with the Caravan before tearing down both vehicles?
We put a Nitrous Express bottle in the passenger floor, ran the line straight into the intake, loaded up the homies, and hit the road!
Nitrous doesn’t clear-up a miss. So we coasted back the entire way and laughed for hours. Skip forward, both cars went in the garage and we got to pulling the drivetrains.
We got the SRT4 motor & T850 trans positioned in the van, and you’d never believe…
Everything hit everything. The firewall needed clearance. Mounts needed to be modified and/or made. And we didn’t even have a welder! …Or know how to weld.
Will was super motivated to learn though. So he went out and bought a cheap Harbor Freight welder… and later picked up a Prime Weld Tig just so he could help do my intercooler piping.
Then came the fun part: Wiring!
I tried every-which-way to make it work using the van’s factory wiring & fuse box so I could retain lights, windows, radio, etc. It turned into a giant headache, and I thought we just bit off more than we could chew. Until one day – a fellow Neon buddy, Bogdan Lazariciu with Flame Red Performance said, “Dude, you’re making this way harder than it needs to be. Just use all the factory neon stuff and it’ll work. Then just figure everything else out later!”
It made perfect sense.
It’s Alive!! Barely…
Everything wiring related (pcm, speedometer, battery) was all just lying in a pile on the windshield on the Caravan. However, it gave me the motivation I needed just hearing it run! So – I start yanking out all the van’s factory wiring. And began to figure out the layout/routing of the SRT4’s harness… making sure everything would reach where it needed to go. I utilized the factory Neon SRT4 pedal assembly, which also had to be modified & reinforced a fair bit. The factory SRT4 shifter was too short, so we made a base for it to sit on. Now we were getting close!
All the wiring was done, the pedals were working, the clutch was bled, and the shift linkage was hooked up. But we were missing something very important – axles.
Unfortunately, the Neon SRT4 axles are way too short to work in the van.
However, they did thankfully have the same spline as the Caravans hubs. 2+2=4 axles getting cut up at specific spots on each shaft to get the length we needed. And because this was obviously questionable, we even added a sleeve just for additional strength. It worked! And… it honestly worked way better than I ever expected! The Caravan was driving, and we were in business!
There were obviously a few kinks along the way…
At first, it would only make 1-pound of boost. That’s not much fun. I hooked vacuum routing up for pcm control boost, then ran into another problem. The wastegate spring was too big for the computer to control. It made it almost undrivable with such bad part-throttle boost. So I switched to an AGP 8psi spring, and decided I wanted to try my hand at tuning.
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. But thankfully there’s still a select few people in the Neon community that are willing to help, and that’s where Chris Greenup comes in.
I randomly messaged Chris one night asking how he learned to tune… as he seemed pretty knowledgeable with the platform. To my surprise – he jumped right into helping me get everything setup on HP Tuners without ever asking for a thing in return. Solid dude, am I right? He got the Fuel Injector Development 1660cc injectors scaled on E85. Let’s not forget the Walbro 450, Boomba fuel rail, with a FuelLab 8an feed, 6an return, inline filter, and adjustable fuel pressure regulator.
The factory intake manifold put the intercooler pipe in a not-so-ideal location…
So I upgraded it to a JMFabrications intake manifold, Modern Performance throttle body, & Tial blow off valve. I chose to go with a full face street disk ACT XTSS clutch in hopes it’d be a little more forgiving on the drivetrain at the track. Because did I forget to mention… We’re going drag racin’ boys!
With that said, I didn’t have high hopes for the “custom axles” we had made….
The 26x10x15 Mickey Thompson slicks I had just picked up for the van were mounted on some VMS V-Star wheels. I thought they were surely gonna snap my axles like toothpicks. So, I got in contact with Tad over at The Drive Shaft Shop about having some custom-length level-5 axles made up for the Caravan. Let’s not forget the van is 4,000lbs after all. That’s a lot of load on the axles, especially with how much torque the little stock SRT4 turbo was putting out, spiking 31-ish psi!
The goal for the Caravan since day-1 has always been a 12.99 in the 1/4 mile on the stock turbo.
Unfortunately, the clutch I had hoped would hold up… very quickly started to show me it straight-up wasn’t having a good time. 13.6 @97 was the best I could manage, hazing the clutch basically the entire pass. So, I was at another crossroads: 1) Either continue being stubborn chasing a stock turbo goal. Or 2) Give the people what they want and go all-out.
I still had some leftover Evo money…
So I picked up a built motor, BC stage-4 cams, a ported head, CP pistons, Carrillo rods, ARP hardware, a back-up trans with Carbon syncros, billet input shaft, a straight cut 1st-2nd gear, and an ACT twin disk clutch.
So I guess you could say things are getting pretty serious.
Maxpeeding Rods actually hit me up and wanted to supply a turbo for the build in return for an install video/review. I selected their s300sx3 66mm t4 twin scroll turbo… as I wanted something that wouldn’t be so hard-hitting down low & fall-off up top (since I’d now be revving the van to 8,000 rpm). A custom sidewinder manifold was really the only option, so I ordered the material, and Will & I starting mocking it up on a spare engine we had.
The goal was serviceability.
Because we were gonna be pushing the Caravan so hard… I knew it was only a matter of time before things broke. We came up with a manifold that leads to a removable v-band section pre-turbo. It can be removed in less than a minute to service the trans if needed… while leaving the manifold and turbo still attached in the car. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Will crushed it on the fab work. Not bad for a guy who just bought his first welder a year earlier!
Nigel from Brutal Speed & Tuning came on board to tackle the tuning side of things…
Since I was no longer exactly eager to risk learning on such an expensive setup. Without him, this thing wouldn’t be what it is now. He transformed it from a somewhat cool 13 second 1/4 mile mom van, into a fire breathing monster.
We started out on gate pressure (10psi) to get things dialed-in, and already this thing was a different animal! It kinda scared me. Remember – this is stock 184k mile minivan suspension I’m sitting on. Nigel didn’t have time for me to be a wimp though, and quickly had me creeping the boost controller all the way to 30 psi. ‘Kinda scary’ turned into absolutely terrifying when all of a sudden, the slicks break loose at 110mph. I used to tell everyone that the Caravan felt like a pontoon boat in the ocean… during a hurricane. Now though – it feels like the space shuttle re-entering the atmosphere… all thanks to Nigel working his magic on the keys.
With all that said, I still wanted to go a step further & make the Caravan stand out…
Bodywork isn’t my forte, so I hit up Chad Kularski at CK’s Collision Center with the idea of cutting up the srt4 hood and molding it into the factory Caravan’s hood. Chad made it happen… and the scoop is functional too!
This Caravan build has come a long way, but it’s nowhere near done…
After all, this was for a build series on YouTube, so progression is needed. The van is still a street car, tagged, and insured. Turn on the radio, roll down the widows and cruise out to the lake. I could 100% daily it if I had to. But that’s not what I ever intended it to be. I wanna try and go as fast as I possibly can in this thing, but also be as safe as possible while doing it, so a cage will be in coming in the future. Who knows, maybe even AWD. We’ll see.
I’ve mentioned quite a few people during this article. And that’s because without them, who knows where I’d be. And for that, I just wanted to give them all a huge thank you:
Will, Charles, Levi, Brad, Chris, Bogdan, Nigel, also Tyler for letting me use parts off his own car to test on the van whenever I had an issue. Massive thanks to Fuelab for coming on board and taking a chance on us & becoming our first real YouTube channel sponsor! Let’s not forget Joseph Jones and Michael Loving for these amazing shots! I’m sure I’m forgetting someone, but I’d Also like the thank Ben Battles & S3 Mag for the amazing opportunity.
Built SRT4 Neon engine & trans
Fuelab fuel system
JM Fabrications intake manifold
Fuel Injector Development 1660s
ACT twin disk
N2MB wotbox/boostbox with Kinnettic Kreations plug-n-play harnesses
Maxpeeding Rods S300sx3 66mm turbo
Custom hood by CK Collision