COAL: 1992 Plymouth Voyager – They Made Those With Manual Transmissions?


[Not my van, but mine was likewise red. All photos courtesy of the Internet]

The year is 2002. I had owned nothing but Volvos for the previous 5 years, and made a healthy side business of parting out junkers. But I had grown bored of them; I need something different, but not too different. I still like my cars boxy, efficient, and with clutch pedals.

Ten years earlier, a mentor had one of these brand-new, and I’d always secretly lusted for it. So I set out to find one.

A few postings on various Internet forums, and I hit pay dirt. I found a 1992 model, with decent miles, low rust (for a 10-year-old Midwestern MoPar!), and less than 200 miles away. The asking price was $1000, and some fair negotiations knocked it down to $850.

However, by this time my marriage was on the rocks (pay attention – this fact becomes important later) and my wife wanted no part of driving me to rural Illinois to buy a minivan. That left me stuck with 8 hours of “riding the dog” (that’s hobo slang for “Taking a Greyhound Bus”). Unpleasant, but it got the job done.

The seller met me at the bus stop, the deal was done, and I was on my way back to Michigan.

Up to that day, I had been driving a 1975 Volvo 245DL. That car was loud and rough on the Interstate, mostly owing to a lack of overdrive, a leaky exhaust, and lots of rust holes. So when my new Voyager was noisy and rough, I didn’t think about it for a minute. Until I couldn’t get the van to go past 55mph. Uh oh, what had I gotten myself into?

I decided to take the next exit off I-57 to see if anything could be done. As I eased off the ramp, I shifted in to neutral to coast to the stop sign. At that exact moment, I solved my problem. I had been driving on the Interstate in third gear, and was more than likely bouncing off the rev limiter, thus limiting my top speed to 55!


[When was the last time you saw a car with FOUR pedals??]

I got angry with myself for a minute, then I literally laughed out loud! I was so used to driving a lousy car that even the noise of a redlining engine never caused me alarm. I pulled back onto the highway, found fifth gear, and had an uneventful drive for the rest of the trip.

I schooled myself on these vans, and I learned a lot. By 2002, the junkyards were full of this generation of minivan, all with dead automatic transmissions. All of the stick shift vans of this generation were stripped-out models, as was mine, but the junkyard was full of upgrades from up-level Caravans and Town and Country. One of the best upgrades I did was installing the (plug-n-play) full gauge cluster, complete with tachometer. I didn’t want to make the “third gear on the highway” mistake again!

The van served me well for a few years. The only real failure I had was a hole in the rear brake line, which was an easy fix. The van got 24-28 mpg, and had a huge tank, allowing me to drive it for weeks on end without stopping at the gas station.

During my ownership, my marriage collapsed. For more than a few nights, I called that Voyager “home” and it did a pretty good job of being a camper. I also spent a lot of nights in a friend’s spare bedroom, and when I bought a different car for my move to Las Vegas, I gave my friend the Voyager in repayment for his kindness. That Voyager was a simple, honest vehicle, and I would probably buy something similar again if I could. If only the Ford Transit Connect could be had with a clutch pedal…