After the success of its highly profitable and industry-leading Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager duo, Chrysler decided to push the envelope by creating the first ever luxury minivan, the 1990 Town & Country. More or less a top trim Grand Caravan/Grand Voyager with an upgraded leather interior, standard (but later deletable) Di-Noc woodgrain siding, fancier wheels, and a few unique luxury features, the first and second generation Town & Country minivans had a very narrow appeal. For their third generation, Chrysler sought to change that.
With the introduction of the third generation Chrysler minivans (codenamed “NS”) for 1996, Chrysler not only succeeded in the most dramatic redesign of its iconic minivan yet — something only challenged by the 2016 Pacifica — but fundamentally changed the Town & Country from a vehicle that primarily appealed to very high-salaried families, many of whom would otherwise not purchase an American car, to a vehicle that appealed to most Americans looking for a well-equipped minivan.
So how did Chrysler accomplish this? Well, it was actually quite simple: voyage down into Voyager territory. Unlike the previous two generation Town & Country minivans, which were sold as one unnamed trim level featuring most available minivan equipment available as standard, the third generation Town & Country branched out into several distinct trim levels, each with varying levels of features.
Predictably, the downside of this for poor old ailing Plymouth was that its consistent bread winner, the Voyager/Grand Voyager, was more or less cannibalized by the Town & Country moving downmarket into its market. Essentially replacing or supplementing all Voyager trim levels but the very base model, Town & Country sales immediately increased by a staggering amount, while Voyager sales took a substantial beating.
From an accounting standpoint, yes, this was a smart move. Take the mid- and high-level Voyager/Grand Voyager, give it the Town & Country’s nose, dressier trim, body colored bumpers, woodtone interior trim, and fancier wheels (though the same wheels available on the Voyager/Grand Voyager LE which was still sold in Canada) and sell it for a higher price.
While a slightly de-contented Town & Country with cloth seats and plainer lower bodyside cladding was one thing, one that was also a stubby-bodied Town & Country was another thing. Historically a “grand”-length-only minivan, for the first time, the Town & Country was available in the short-wheelbase bodystyle, known as the “SX” (“LX” for 1996 only).
Starting with just one short-wheelbase (LX) and one long-wheelbase (LXi) model for 1996, by 1999 the Town & Country was available in four trim levels. These included the long-wheelbase LX, LXi, and Limited, and the short-wheelbase SX, which fell between the LX and LXi in terms of standard and available equipment.
On a subjective note, there’s something about the Town & Country’s more grandiose front end, along with its lower body cladding, that just didn’t work as well on the short-wheelbase NS. Visually, something’s missing.
As stated, this move worked out well for the Chrysler brand, as Town & Country sales went from just 38,358 for the old model’s last full year of sales in 1994 (only 13,059 of the old AS-body’s abbreviated 1995 year of sales) to 105,583 of the new NS body in 1996 — a figure greater than the total number of first and second generation Town & Country sales combined.
Regarding our featured short-wheelbase Town & Country SX, its sales made up a statistically significant percentage of total Town & Country sales, though this was never a truly spectacular number. In all honestly, I’ve definitely seen less than 10 examples in my lifetime. Despite this, the short-wheelbase Town & Country effectively demonstrated that it could take over for all but the base Voyager. Yet somewhat ironically, it was dropped for the NS’s final model year in 2000, due to the Voyager and Grand Voyager transfer from Plymouth’s lineup to Chrysler’s.
Short-wheelbase Chrysler-branded minivans would be badged solely as Voyagers from 2001-2003, upon which all Chryslers minivans (excluding Dodges) in North America became Town & Countrys. I guess Chrysler felt it no longer necessary to keep around any reminder of Plymouth — a brand that existed for 73 years and one that sold more cars than any other Chrysler division for most of those years.
White Town & Country SX photos by Will Jackson
1996-2000 Chrysler “NS” Minivans (Automotive History)