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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hot Wheels 1998 Dodge Caravan and 2014 Honda Odyssey

One bodystyle not often found in the Hot Wheels line, or any diecast line whatsoever, is the minivan.  Not the manly or coolest way to advertise your coolest line of cars to boys (and girls), and no one has made sporty performance models that attract male customers, not even ones that tried to be sporty.  Still that has not stopped Hot Wheels from making minivans: the first appeared in 1990's as the Chevy Lumina APV and Ford Aerostar; I did not feature these two here because the Aerostar is more of a panel van and the APV lacks rear bench seats for a spare tire.  The Dodge Caravan is the true minivan people mover that meets its newest successor, the Honda Odyssey.

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Dodge Caravan

One of the icons that created the minivan segment in the 1980's is the Chrysler minivans.  The 1996 model was the most advanced minivan on the market featuring dual sliding rear doors and seats that can be rolled once they are out of the van, and aero styling that still looks good today.  You can find plenty of replica's of the 1996 Dodge Caravan's by various diecast manufacturers, including Hot Wheels with their sporty version.  Actually this is based on the 1997 ESS show vehicle that has a revised front bumper with honeycomb grille and large round foglights below the slanted headlights, while the rear gets a large rear spoiler atop the rounded rear hatch and oval taillights.  The ESS eventually became the R/T package in 1998 Caravan's.  This casting has lots of nice and realistic details from the door handles to the ribbed roof and sunroof at the front, but the graphics always gets into the way of the details (and has been for each variation of this casting), and the 5-spoke wheels are better than these sawblade wheels on my tester.

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The interior features seating for six with captain's chairs in the second row.  The seats look supportive, while the dashboard is smooth and has subtle touches though the steering wheel is really pushed back into the driver's seat.  Despite the sporty look it is not that sporty as the chassis shows off strut front and beam axle in rear supported by leaf springs.  Other details include the spare tire at the rear and the exhaust system leading from the 3.8L pushrod V6 that produces 166 hp and 227 Ib-ft of torque through a 4-speed automatic.  Not sporty by any measure.  Since then the Caravan has been assigned to city transport duties no matter what deco it sports.

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2014 Honda Odyssey now built for racing

Even with the burst of minivans recently, and most from Japan automakers, the idea of a minivan in the Hot Wheels line is still laughable, but Hot Wheels designer Juan Imai had an idea with the popularity of his Datsun 510 wagon and the growing JDM culture the idea of a racing minivan is possible.  So using his family transporter, a 2014 Honda Odyssey, and inspiration from the 1,029 Bisimoto Odyssey, the Odyssey comes to life in the Hot Wheels line.  The Odyssey started life in 1995 as an Accord-based 4-door van that was smaller than other minivans and underpowered as well.  In 1999 the new Odyssey resolves those issues with a V6, larger size, and sliding rear doors.  The Odyssey is famous for the folding third-row seat into the rear cargo area, eliminating the need to remove the rear seat completely.  Many automakers have copied this feature, but Chrysler now has second-row that disappears in the floor in the Stow and Go seating option.  The latest Odyssey still employ the same Accord platform (now shared with Pilot SUV, Ridgeline pickup, and a few Acura products) with edgier styling highlighted by a lightning bolt kink on the rear quarter windows.  The engine is a 3.5L SOHC V6 with VTEC variable valve timing to produce 248 horsepower through a 6-speed automatic transmission.  The Odyssey is currently the most-popular minivan in the US despite the Chrysler vans still holding onto the #1 minivan title.

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Now that engine is just the stock rating, but judging by the look that mimicks the Bisimoto Odyssey and the Turbo name on the sides the V6 would be turbocharged to produce an estimated 400-500 hp.  Another problem: the interior lacks a detailed shifter, so who knows what the transmission would be: either the stock six-speed automatic, or a retrofitted six-speed manual from the Acura TL that the Bisimoto has.  Can't find out underneath as a full-width undercarriage cover resides like a super car or race car.  The look is definitely sporty with the front and rear using revised bumpers in red and part of the plastic interior piece (this will probably get old after a while).  The mismatch of colors kills the otherwise clean look of the Odyssey.  The front has headlights and grille that is part of the window trim: nice, but why not include the sharp ends of the headlights as well?  The hood has two scoops on the sides, while the lower bumper has recessed holes and a larger lower grille with chin spoiler.

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The sides have blacked-out 5-spoke wheels, the lightning bolt window kink, and Turbo badges that recall the livery on the Honda City race cars.  The rear has a large spoiler, detailed taillights, and a lower diffuser with central exhaust tips (the exhaust likely has to be rerouted around the third seat storage well to exit out in the center).  The roof has a large sunroof to not only conserve metal but to also show off the details of the interior.  Inside there is seating for six people, or four people and two infants with child seats in the second row.  The rear cargo area has luggage stuffed to the max to hide the rivet post, while the front seats get a center console with cupholders for the front and rear.  The dashboard layout is simple and up-to-date with a 4-spoke steering wheel, radio and HVAC controls, console shifter, and a nav screen with a touchpad below the radio controls.  Now is this a minivan for the track?  Yes it is as the lowered stance gives this van the handling of a race car, and combined with a rev-happy engine and independent rear suspension that are hallmarks to Honda vehicles this is by far a van that is much more fun to drive on the track than the Caravan and its ancient suspension.

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Yes there's still some denial from the collectors about having a minivan in the line, but it is here and there's no avoiding it.  Just be glad there's not a whole bunch of minivans coming out of the woodworks...or maybe its coming!?!

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