(first posted 5/11/2016) How do you like the snoot on this little step van? It’s a bit out there, literally. Well, unlike most step vans, this one is front wheel drive. If you’re good with your steel wheels, you’ll recognize these as being from a Dodge Caravan. Yes, the UMC Aeromate has a Chrysler minivan drive train up there, which allows for a low floor and light weight. And a long nose.
It’s hard to find much info on these; at least good factual info. One guy on the web claims they were built by Harley-Davidson. Not. The are the result of a joint venture or some other type of cooperation between Utilimaster, a van and truck body firm, and Chrysler. Utilimaster was at one time owned by H-D, so that’s where that tidbit comes from.
These came in both four and six cylinder versions. Presumably the four was Chrysler’s 2.5 (or possibly 2.2), hooked up to the three-speed Torqueflite transaxle. The six was the 3.3 V6, which might have come with the same three speed automatic or possibly the four-speed A604, a very troubled gearbox in its early years.
The oldest reference I can find is to a 1990 model, and the youngest is for a 1993, so presumably (again) those were the likely beginning and end for the Aeromate.
The body is all-aluminum, which means it’s both light and durable. And replacement components for the Chrysler drive train are fairly easy and cheap to come by. So although there aren’t many left, the remaining ones may well be around for some time.
The Aeromate concept is virtually identical to the Grumman KubVan: a compact, aluminum mini-stepvan, with an automotive FWD drive train up front. In the case of the Kubvan, it used a VW diesel Rabbit drive train. That was in 1983 or , almost a decade before the Aeromate. Only 500 KubVans were ever built, and less than 100 remain. Makes you wonder why Utilimaster thought the same basic idea would work the second time around.
Curiously, I found this Aeromate just a few blocks from the KubVan. It’s a bit bigger, but apparently was no more successful. Step vans are a shrinking part of the market, as so many other small van options have proliferated. But there’s something about the purity of these two small step vans that has lasting appeal, even if this one’s nose is too long.