I know GM Safari/Astro twins are nothing special to US readers of this website, but this video comes to you from far-away Israel, where, once upon a time, while these were quite common, they were never considered cheap. And as with many a CC, what was once common has now become rare – especially this early pre-facelift example.
All this was captured with my faithful dash-cam in the space of few miles. As you will see, this early 1990s Astro is succeeded in the film with two other Safaris of the later, post-facelift (and extended body) model. One reversing from behind its Chevy Express big brother:
That Astro is one of the very early ones and must really be loved by its owner to keep using it as a vehicle still providing service. That license number is also unique.
As an outside note, there are quite some interesting vehicles in that clip, certainly for eyes not accustomed with Israeli traffic; The Peugeot 504 Pickup is of course one hell of a CC (and was in a very fine condition, not to mention it’s a “working” vehicle), but note the Chinese Yutong bus I’m driving behind. And there’s another, absolutely bona-fida classic pipping in there somewhere – the eagle-eyed among you must’ve spotted it already.
The Safari/Astro vans were extremely popular in Israel, when new. Certain tax regulations prevented them from arriving back in 1985, when production started, but a tax exemption was introduced in 1991 and the first batch arriving in Israel sold like hot cakes. After all, here was a car (er, van) capable of serving any type of self-employed person, mostly handyman, plumber and the like, as well as his family (and their friends). It was much better than other alternatives of the time, such as the Ford Transit (too spartan), MB T1/Sprinter (too expensive) or the Peugeot J5 (too french!). Also, said alternatives were sold in Israel mostly as commercial vehicles (well, they were) whilst the Safari/Astro were marketed as a Minivan “that can also attend to all your business needs”. It had the appeal of the offered V6 petrol unit, where as its rivals all sported gutless aging diesel units (this was before the days of common rail direct injection turbo-diesel units). And most of all – it was “American” at a time when that word attached to a vehicle oozed luxury – even a simple minivan. Yes, there was also the ChevyVan/Gmc Vandura and successors Savana/Express, but those were way too big for a typical Israeli self-employed person (and more expensive, of course).
Sometime during the mid-2000s, the tax authorities decided to abolish the tax exemption and so rendered the Astro/Safari useless to most persons who previously owned them. They either stepped down to smaller utility vans (such as Renault Kangoo or Citroen Berlingo) or stepped up to the aforementioned Savana, or better yet – full size US trucks such as the Silverado or F150 (thus, realizing the “American dream” with a huge pick-up).
So I leave you with this photo of two late model Astro/Safari, and how fitting it is that both Chevy and GMC marks are represented in this photo.