Now here’s a sight I haven’t seen in years – a Chevrolet Lumina APV. While widely panned as looking like a popular hand vacuum cleaner on wheels, a bit of time (and distance) actually has softened my opinion of their styling…
Let’s do a bit of comparison, won’t we? Introduced in 1979, the Black & Decker Dustbuster was powered by a battery-operated electric motor recharged by 120 volts (single phase) and had a distinctive shape formed from injection-molded plastic. The original Dustbuster was wildly popular, selling over a million units its first year of production – in fact, it’s still in production today, and under the same name.
Introduced in 1989, the Chevrolet Lumina APV was a sibling of the Pontiac Trans Sport and Oldsmobile Silhouette (CC here), and utilized the same plastic-panel-on-a-steel-spaceframe design as the Pontiac Fiero. In fact, the APV in the name stood for “All Purpose/Plastic Vehicle.” Originally introduced with a gutless 120hp 3.1l V6, an optional 170hp 3.8l V6 became available in 1992, starting a horsepower race in the minivan segment. GM was going for a “stylish minivan” look and indeed, the Pontiac Trans Sport concept still sets my heart aflutter – they simply flubbed it when it came time to turn the concept into a production reality. I would be remiss to not mention the aborted Pontiac Transvertible concept at this point, too.
I was unable to locate production figures for the 1993 Lumina APV, but I suspect it was well under one million. 1994 would bring a mild facelift, and the polarizing ‘dustbuster’ minivans would be completely redesigned for 1997. The Trans Sport and Silhouette names would live on, but the confusing duplication that came with using Lumina on both sedans and minivans would be corrected by renaming the APV to the Chevrolet Venture.
In conclusion, the Lumina APV sucked, and the Dustbuster vacuum didn’t, yet was very popular.
I had that original Dustbuster, and it’s gen II version that looked even more like the GM vans with rounder edges and a white plastic body similar to the vans.
To clarify, it was introduced in 1989 as a 1990 model.
We were one of the first in our town to have one of these. Never before or since has a minivan ever attracted so much attention. While the cheap interior, weak (but reliable) drivetrain, and poor build quality let these down, I still really like the overall concept. In typical GM fashion, they took a great idea and bean-counted their way to a disappointment.
Of course, it’s important to remember the Chryslers of the day also had weak drivetrains and and questionable build quality.
My buddy used to call our van a dustbuster, while I called their white Voyager a Saltine box.
One of these, never titled, was at the Lembrecht auction, with under 100 miles. I think someone bid $5000 for it.
I live not far from that auction and followed it with interest. There was some serious auction fever for some seriously derelict vehicles.
Bizarre man that Lambrecht. Letting brand new aging inventory sit in fields rotting instead of just lowering the price until it sold. He could have put all that cash into reasonable investments and have been way ahead over time.
He had a propensity to order strippers – or at least that was most of the inventory he had trouble moving at year end.
Portland, Oregon is full of unique and rare vehicles including nearly every post-1984 Minivan ever made, but one vehicle I never see is the GM Dustbusters aside from a few in junkyards. I view these Dustbusters as decent background fodder that make the variety of vehicles more interesting, but I will probably never ever buy one. So where is that sculpture of a Constitution Class Starship located? I would love to visit it.
The 94-01 Dodge Ram and 97-04 Dakota are nice to see as well, but are becoming rare in parts of the United States.
My best friend owned one of these and only a couple of years ago finally drove it to the junkyard under its own power, at close to 250K miles on the original 3.1l engine and transmission. Either the intake manifold gasket or a head gasket had finally had enough. Did I mention original transmission?
He did proper maintenance on it, and took my advice to use OEM replacement parts, even though they cost a bit more.
Never seen one live but Chevrolet Lumina was the badge glued to Holdens for middle east export that name sure got around
My sister’s family owned a ’92 APV with the 3800 Series engine. They put over 400,000 kilometers on it, while complementing it with a Windstar in 2001. The APV had many things go on it, but they kept it going, and the engine was strong. But it felt like it was working hard to pull this heavy feeling van around. I drove it occasionally, and never really got used to the huge expanse of expanded dash area ahead of the dash itself. That dash area could have served as a sleeping bunk. I didn’t mind the exterior styling. But it still seemed too large to compete directly with the Chrysler vans.
I agree with Ed that the Trans Sport concept was pretty sweet. If the production models had had that rather aggressive stance…?
I don’t know but to me the Transport concept looked very much like the later Toyota Previa looked and we all know what a really great seller that van was(I am being sarcastic here0 so I think a Transport offered in the exact same guise as the Concept would have failed also. Both the Previa and the Transport came out in 1990 and judging what a poor seller the Previa was from 1990-1997 at a time when everything sporting a Toyota badge was gold and sold like hotcakes, It is doubtful that Pontiac would have even sold a fraction of the miniscule amount of sales that Toyota did with the Previa.(It is telling that Toyota actually sold more Siennas in the first two years they were offered in the USA then they did Previas in the 7 years those were offered in the USA)
The truth is that Chrysler had a strangle hold on the USA minivan market in those years and no other minivan maker was going to break it at that point.
(But to be honest, I see loads more Previas out in the wild then 1984-1995 Chrysler minivans. The Previa was a reliable(if not slow and under powered) vehicle while the Chrysler mainvans were a POS (especially in the trans department)
For bargain transportation in a “doesn’t matter what it looks like” situation, I’d still consider one of these. The drivetrains were stout enough, and their plastic panels didn’t rust.
Two years ago I had a friend ask me if I could find an uber-cheap yet reliable minivan for his son. I don’t normally do special requests, but this one was just too easy.
In no time I had located a ’93 Trans-Sport, white like the featured vehicle, total stripper (grey cloth, steelies with plastic covers, 3.1, 3-speed), 125K miles – for $600. Drove it home! Spent the weekend on a mechanical once-over and a good detailing. It was ugly but solid, and cleaned up nicely.
The son and his family were ecstatic. It looked, drove, and smelled like new, all for a very affordable $1200. And reliable? They’re still driving it today.
A good friend has a 1996 Trans Sport, in that bright red color. It has become theri family truckster.
My biggest complaint with these is the seats, aside from riding shotgun, the other seats are much too low and very uncomfortable after 30 minutes, at least for me.
Overall, I liked them.
I always thought these things were hideous and still do….they typify the General Motors approach of putting the money where the customer can see it—in styling, and everything else-like utility gets relegated to to secondary status. Thanks to the extreme slope of the windshield they had to push the front seats back so far that usable space is seriously impacted and forward visibility for the driver is limited. A total waste of time and effort on the part of General Motors.
Pretty funky looking for a family truckster! Was the length of the nose an attempt at the long hood- short deck proportions of older Cadillac Eldorados ?
The dustbuster vans look like the front end (forward of the B pillar) and the back end were designed by different teams that had no language in common and hated each other.
I was in grade school when these came out and thought they were pretty awesome, as minivans went. They were futuristic looking, like something out of Blade Runner. Now they look like typical 80s beaters. Funny that a minivan of all things could be ‘cool’.
Back in the day most of my co-workers had these things as kid haulers. Lots of room. Mediocre seats, but then, kids didn’t care. Ginourmous expanse of dashboard and complaints of all sorts of glare on the massive front window. Numerous transmission repairs and these things seemed to eat drivers side power window units with regularity. Overall, a nothing special sort of vehicle, but they performed yeoman duty as a family hauler.
When it comes to this vintage of minivans I prefer the Toyota Previa. Not that I am going to run out and buy one since I am not a minivan aficionado.
Funny thing; a few weeks before I started reading this blog I was visiting a friend who owns a body shop. We always talk about all the different cars he gets to work on. This particular time he told me that he had a customer bring in two Silhouettes for restoration work. At the time I did not know these things had any following at all so I thought it rather odd. Live and learn.
+1 on the Previa. Best looking minivan *evar*.
My personal experience is that any mention of GM combined with 3.1 or 3.4 has me running away as fast as I can while holding on to my wallet…. total garbage
Every one of these that I’d seen had either a 3.1 (many of them being the earlier TBI 3.1) or a 3800. Didn’t realize that the 3400 was in these for their final year, at least according to Wikipedia. (The wiki also mentions a 2.3 4-cylinder being available on the Pontiacs. Really?!)
Anecdotal evidence, but in my experience, head gasket failure: 3800 = once-in-a-blue moon, 3100 = somewhat common, 3400 = virtual certainty.
It was too bad the later vans were saddled with the craptastic 3400 as their only engine option. With their more conventional noses and ongoing free-fall depreciation, I could almost have accepted a heavily optioned Pontiac or possibly Oldsmobile version as a thrifty hauler had they come with the more robust 3.8.
The final-gen vans got the modern 3.5 and 3.9. Too bad they had to get so much uglier in those final years… on paper the combo almost sounds appealing, until you see them.
I think the 2.3 Quad 4 was export only, they sold these with a manual transmission in Europe, it was the Pontiac Trans Sport body but badged as a Chevrolet from what I recall, never seen a 2.3 one in the US.
I have a lot of photos of the Chevrolet Trans Sport in Europe that I can share if anyone wants to see them, although I would not count on anyone wanting that.
Bring ’em on! Kind of like the Chrysler Grand Voyager I shot in Sweden earlier this year…
A friend of mine went through a divorce from hell, his wife decided he didn’t make enough money to alow her to quit working, and in a true bit of evil symbolism, talked him into getting a vasectomy and then telling him they were through about an hour after he got his stitches out. He was totally broke to the point he had to turn in his POS Mitsubishi Colt or whatever it was, and he lived at home with his mom for a while, until he saved enough money to get an apartment. When he was living at home, he drove mom’s car, but when he moved out, he had a choice to make, either take the local busses to work and back (Add about 2 hours to your 15 minute commute time if you did), or take his older brother’s Trans Sport. Shit, anything that had wheels and a motor was better than riding the bus, so he took the Trans Sport, a gold one, fully loaded. It was an ok vehicle for the 18 months or so he had it, but the huge dash always reflected off the windshield, and if you put anything on the dash, it would always go to the passenger side corner, requiring a stop to get out or move over to the other side, so you could get hold of it. The gold paint aged very badly once he had it, as he had no garage to get it out of the sun, so by the time the tranny puked, it had faded badly and the paint on the cladding was flaking. The ex-wife’s plans of a life of leisure didn’t work out the way she planned at all. The guy she had picked as hubby #2 decided he wanted nothing to do with her, so she ended up, for a while, until the cops broke the door down one morning to bust him, some sort of biker drug dealer loser, then a string of pinheads she worked with, one after another. None of them have stayed too long. She’s still working and still has about 7 years to go before she can retire. My friend ended up marrying the first woman he dated after he was divorced, and they’ve been married about 22 years now.
I sold both the Chevrolet and Pontiac versions of these when they were new, these had the oddest driving position, it was like driving a car from the back seat, that’s how much distance there was between the drivers seat and the nose.
These things also had the biggest windshield wipers known to man, driving one in a heavy rainstorm, it was impressive to watch the buckets of water they would through to the side.
The funny thing is that I sat in a new Fiat 500L MPV thingamagig, and it has almost the same view as the Dustbuster vans, it has these awkward windshield pillars way out on the front and then the A-pillars, just like the GM vans.
I just saw one of these today, black with dark gray lower cladding. The Pre-CC Effect, as I hadn’t been on the computer since Thursday.
My wife and I got a ’90 Chevy, and then a ’91 Lumina sedan. I started buying these for work, by the dozens.
The last two were a ’96 olds (since sold but still on the road) and a ’96 Pontiac. We had that one while my kids were in college, it went 140k miles. It ate one transmission.
The best ones were the ones with the 3800’s.
As that era ended, we changed to Yukons, Suburbans and Malibu classics. By then, our fleet mechanic could ‘just sense’ when they needed gaskets and wheel bearings.
I moved to Maine to be with a woman that I’d met on a flying trip up here. She was a camper, seamstress, baker-of-wedding-cakes. Our first minivan was a Plymouth Voyager with a five-speed box and worn cam lobes. Changed the head once, and broomed it soon after. Our first Dustbuster happened once the brown Voyager was disposed of – a maroon ’90 Lumina, with that damned 3.1. It served us nobly for several years, whether it’s task was cake delivery, or a Parrothead pilgrimage to Mansfield. One day, a friend was frantic to buy it for some reason or other, so we sold it to him. We let it go quickly, because days before, we’d spotted a red/silver Trans Sport on the back lot of the local huge Ford dealer. It was brought home, cleaned up, and promptly named “Shuttlecraft”. I would probably still be running the thing today, if it had only had the 3800, instead of that boat-anchor 3.1. Everything in the interior broke. Everything underneath wore out/rusted. (because, Maine/winter). I traded it off to a guy who had a woodlot full of old American stuff, and it was still sitting out front, looking pretty much the way it did when it came off the line, the last time I saw it, a few months back . . .