At about thirteen years old I realized something – the next “family car” was likely going to be the one that I would be driving when I turned sixteen. My parents didn’t have an abundance of money at the time, and I certainly hadn’t started putting money away – I had chosen to “wisely invest” in such things as baseball cards and RC cars. Not so solid of an investment.
At the time our family car was a 1988 Caprice Wagon which was utterly terrible. I know there’s lots of love around these parts for that car, and that vintage of car – but ours was horrendous. It had a carbureted Olds 307 that my Dad just hated, for good reason – the thing was a dog. It was also the size of a yacht and just was nothing resembling a fun car. Put in perspective, my Dad at the time drove a ’87 Celebrity sedan that he thought was “sporty” – it wasn’t a good time for new cars.
I had been reading about cars since, well, I could read. I knew just about everything that Motor Trend, Road & Track or Hot Rod could tell me so when the family vehicle search began. I was armed. From the outset one thing became clear – it was going to be a minivan. I could deal with that, maybe it would be an Astro with the “small block” 4.3 and at least some semblance of fun if they choose the All Wheel drive! That could be.. cool?
Yet it was pretty clear that Dad was sour on GM, which left basically one option – Chrysler. I didn’t know a lot about them so I went looking around and without shock, it was hard to find info at the time. About all I could tell is that minivans were where the auto mags sent the new guy who in turn basically wrote everything they could to finish an article and publish it. Aside from that, I gathered that you wanted to avoid the base four cylinder – they used the words “thrifty”, “economical” and “peppy” which even I picked up was sold-out-auto-rag speak for “Slow”. Beyond that, all I could find was that there were two V6’s – a 3.0 and 3.3 – along with the magic word.. “turbo”.
We went to the local Plymouth dealer and of course, right there, was a “cool” minivan. A white Grand Voyager with a bodykit (!!!), alloy wheels and that magical “turbo” badge. I lobbied heavily but inside I knew it was a losing battle.. Dad hated white cars. Hated. I tried to keep steering him there and hoped for the best but..
This is the identical twin to the minivan Dad picked up. Your standard short wheelbase Plymouth Voyager with a 3.0 V6, auto trans and.. whitewalls! Mom was excited about it, and Dad thought it was a huge step up from the Caprice because let’s admit – it was. Many a road trip were taken with us kids steaming in the back while the heat of the Midwestern summer beat through those clear windows while the AC was turned down in front to not freeze out the parents. At least the thing could get up hills.
During the summer of my 15th year Dad had replaced the Celebrity with a car that was pretty cool, a 1990 Mazda 626 LX sedan with a five speed manual, alloys, and a sunroof! Yet another thing was clear, though – Dad liked that car, a lot. Which meant yours truly wasn’t going to get anywhere near it. So I learned to drive on the Plymouth, with a couple stick lessons in the Mazda probably just to keep me happy. Inside I hoped a car would magically appear for my 16th birthday but.. it didn’t. Dreams shattered, and keys for the minivan in hand it was high time I jumped in the driver’s seat and unleashed teenage ambition.
I won’t sugar coat it – yeah, it was disappointing.. but! Do you know what you can do with a minivan full of teenagers? A lot of nonsense – that’s what! Many a evening was spent picking up a load of friends and then doing such antics as driving down the main drag with the single side door open and a hooligan with too few years and too much ambition hanging out in hopes of acquiring more young ladies to ride with us. When it came time to move, the mighty V6 did… disappoint. Sure it would move just fine, but man it was nothing to write about.
For those unfamiliar with this motor, the best way to describe the sounds of it is.. moaning. It kind of moaned and groaned while not providing a whole heck of a lot of forward propulsion, at least not enough for my teenage hands. While it definitely could hold a lot of buddies, the thing was about as cool as slugging a can of Ensure while puffing on a Virginia Slim in the bingo hall. Of course that didn’t stop me and my buddies from smoking Virgina Slims when that was the only thing we could pilfer, and of course it didn’t stop many an antic or a teenage romance from budding thanks to a long trip out to a abandoned fishing hole.
On rare occasions with enough begging, Dad would unleash me with his 626. Now that – that was a fun car. It was completely opposite of the Voyager – fun to drive, handled decently, a blast with the manual transmission, and put together solid. Where the Voyager was something I’d take three buddies with to pack in four more young ladies and go out on some gravel road, the 626 was something I’d take by myself or with a girl to go out and get lost. It was one of the better cars, to this day, I’ve ever driven despite its seeming lack of power from its 110 horsepower four cylinder. It was also great for finding a remote spot and staring at the stars through the sunroof..
Yet more often than not, the minivan was what I got sent out with. Towards the end of my 16th year two things happened. First, Dad got a new car and this time – listened to me. A fully loaded 1993 Mazda 626 ES replaced the 1990 626, red with tan leather and the oh so sweet V6 engine. In turn Mom’s minivan was sent packing in favor of keeping the 1990 626 around for her – a car she also loved. What did this mean? Neither parent was exactly enthused about setting me loose in their cars.
A plan was hatched thanks to the purchase of the newer nicer cars, and the taking off of my Mom’s real estate career. In a desperate bid to get my grades beyond “D’s make diplomas”, my parents in the fall of ’93 said that if I could keep my grades up – I’d get a car. My seat time since the purchase of the new Mazda had been severely limited, to the point where I was more often than not bumming rides with friends on the weekend. So with boredom setting in and desire for freedom I started searching for a car first, and working on my grades second.
Despite years of careful planning and pouring over magazines, my driving career had started with a.. sputter. I was out to change that, and had a clear plan of attack to do so. One thing I learned, and told myself – no matter what, I’d never drive or own minivan. Anything – anything – except for a minivan. And most definitely not a purple/maroon Chrysler minivan.
Related reading: CC 1989 Dodge Caravan Turbo – Desperate Measures