COAL #12: 1997 Chrysler Town and Country LXI

Sleek and smooth, instead of boxy. All photos from the web.


As I mentioned in my last post, this time I was looking for a fancy minivan! While I wouldn’t have considered a Chrysler in the same league as a Cadillac or a Lincoln, in the minivan game, the Chrysler was a premium player.


I really liked these wheels.


I found my minivan at the Wheels and Deals consignment lot. I would cruise the lot every week looking for any likely prospect and found a ’97 Town and Country LXI. This was the long wheelbase, four door, loaded model. It had a gray leather interior with second row Captain’s chairs, rear air, and an 18 speaker Infinity sound system with a toggle stick fader control. It was a light purple gray color that I would have referred to as lilac or laurel. but Chrysler called it Iris Pearl. Either way, it was a nice color. It also had gold colored alloy wheels and a roof rack. It was very clean with a low mileage of 70K.

Captain’s Chairs; comfy.


Dual sliding doors were a game changer.


I liked it immediately, and this time, I was buying it to satisfy myself. It would be something that would be very useful for our family. We were down to our two youngest children, as the oldest was away at college.

This was a luxury model that was even more practical than our first van. I dubbed it “the Luxury Liner” as I thought of it like our own personal railway car.

It was longer than our last van, and there was plenty of legroom in the second row. The Captain’s chairs had two folding armrests and the rear air kept the back seat passengers happy. Two doors made it easier for those passengers to exit and there was also plenty of legroom in the third row. It was comfortable even for adults. These vans had excellent space utilization.

I have to admit that I liked driving it, it handled well and had plenty of power since it had the 3.8 V6. I also liked the way it looked.

We took a lot of trips in that van, it would cruise easily at 75-85 mph. I would be cruising along on the highway and be passed by some big Euro sedan or a sports car and twenty minutes later we would be the ones passing them. I especially loved passing old muscle cars, they would often be trundling along at 55-60 mph. I’d pass them, and then they would speed up to over 80 mph. and pass me. Ten minutes later I’d pass them again as they slowed back down to 55 mph.

I didn’t get it, did they think that were going to hurt these cars by driving faster?

Plenty of room, even with the seats in place.


These wheels made things a bit easier. However, you still had to lift the seat out with a grunt.


Removing the seats was only a bit easier than in our earlier van because the middle row had separate Captain’s chairs. However, the rear seat was even heavier. At least it had small wheels on the bottom of the seat frame.

As much as I’ve gotten to like SUVs, I have to give the minivan a higher mark for passenger carrying capability. Access to the third row was easier, and the lack of a center console allowed the driver or front passenger to get to the back without exiting the vehicle. A big advantage.

Once Chrysler introduced the Stow and Go seat design, minivans became just as adaptable as SUVs for carrying cargo.

One time we were going to San Francisco to see Phantom of the Opera with two of our friends and their wives. I suggested that we could all go in our van. It would be easier than going in separate cars. All we would need is one parking space at the restaurant where we went for dinner before the show, then one bridge toll, and only one parking spot in the parking garage in SF. Besides that, we could all carry on a conversation during the fifty mile trip to San Francisco.

It was a fun excursion. I always enjoy seeing a minivan or SUV fully loaded with passengers on their way somewhere. That was exactly what these vehicles were designed to do.

It is true that minivans are not designed for serious towing. I had a friend who loved fishing in the Bay, and he had a large boat. He would take advantage of any opportunity to tow his boat out to the water. He also had a Chrysler minivan. He went through two transmissions before he gave up and got a truck to tow it with.

My wife started a business buying and selling furniture that had been given the “Shabby Chic” treatment. We made many buying trips to antique fairs, swap meets, and meetings with CL sellers. With the seats out, there was plenty of room inside, and everything stayed secure. I didn’t have to worry that something might come loose and fly out of the bed. I still didn’t think that I needed a truck at this time.

We suffered a couple of serious mechanical failures with this van. The first was when the compressor for the a/c seized up. filling the engine compartment with foul-smelling smoke. That was due to the belt sliding over the locked up pulley. I initially thought the engine had caught fire! It was expensive, but we had it fixed.

The second problem was with the transmission. The four speed Ultramatic was known to have problems. My brother’s Grand Caravan had suffered a transmission failure at a fairly low mileage. I think that it was just out of warranty. The dealer came to an agreement to split the cost of the repair.

My van had made it to over 130K before the transmission gave up the ghost. This time I asked my mechanic for a recommendation. The transmission was rebuilt, not replaced with a new or rebuilt unit. We had a few problems with it that took a couple of return trips to the shop to get it squared away.

All was fine for a couple of more years until the tranny crapped out again. This time the van was towed home and I let it sit at the curb for months. I just let it sit, as I was sick of thinking about it. I decided that I wasn’t going to fix it. I didn’t really need it, so I called it quits.

Such a handsome face. It was good while it lasted.


Eventually, I decided to sell it for a very low price hoping that someone was willing to invest their money, or time and labor into it, and fix it for their own use. I cleaned it up inside and out, and truthfully it still looked really nice, as it was still in very good shape. The motor ran fine, the a/c worked, and the seats looked like new. I found a buyer who would take it for 1,000 bucks. It was a young guy with a big family, and he told me that he would swap out the transmission himself. I’ll bet that he had it up and running in no time!

This was the end of my almost twenty years of minivan driving. I had found them useful and was never bothered by the “stigma.” I was down to one kid at home and she was at the age where she didn’t want to spend all her time with her parents, anyway.  I also had a pickup truck by this time, so no more need for a van.


Related CC reading:

Automotive History: The 1996-2000 Chrysler “NS” Minivans – The Culmination Of Nineties Chrysler