At about thirteen years old I realized something – the next “family car” was likely going to be the one that I would be driving when I turned sixteen. My parents didn’t have an abundance of money at the time, and I certainly hadn’t started putting money away – I had chosen to “wisely invest” in such things as baseball cards and RC cars. Not so solid of an investment.
At the time our family car was a 1988 Caprice Wagon which was utterly terrible. I know there’s lots of love around these parts for that car, and that vintage of car – but ours was horrendous. It had a carbureted Olds 307 that my Dad just hated, for good reason – the thing was a dog. It was also the size of a yacht and just was nothing resembling a fun car. Put in perspective, my Dad at the time drove a ’87 Celebrity sedan that he thought was “sporty” – it wasn’t a good time for new cars.
I had been reading about cars since, well, I could read. I knew just about everything that Motor Trend, Road & Track or Hot Rod could tell me so when the family vehicle search began. I was armed. From the outset one thing became clear – it was going to be a minivan. I could deal with that, maybe it would be an Astro with the “small block” 4.3 and at least some semblance of fun if they choose the All Wheel drive! That could be.. cool?
Yet it was pretty clear that Dad was sour on GM, which left basically one option – Chrysler. I didn’t know a lot about them so I went looking around and without shock, it was hard to find info at the time. About all I could tell is that minivans were where the auto mags sent the new guy who in turn basically wrote everything they could to finish an article and publish it. Aside from that, I gathered that you wanted to avoid the base four cylinder – they used the words “thrifty”, “economical” and “peppy” which even I picked up was sold-out-auto-rag speak for “Slow”. Beyond that, all I could find was that there were two V6’s – a 3.0 and 3.3 – along with the magic word.. “turbo”.
We went to the local Plymouth dealer and of course, right there, was a “cool” minivan. A white Grand Voyager with a bodykit (!!!), alloy wheels and that magical “turbo” badge. I lobbied heavily but inside I knew it was a losing battle.. Dad hated white cars. Hated. I tried to keep steering him there and hoped for the best but..
This is the identical twin to the minivan Dad picked up. Your standard short wheelbase Plymouth Voyager with a 3.0 V6, auto trans and.. whitewalls! Mom was excited about it, and Dad thought it was a huge step up from the Caprice because let’s admit – it was. Many a road trip were taken with us kids steaming in the back while the heat of the Midwestern summer beat through those clear windows while the AC was turned down in front to not freeze out the parents. At least the thing could get up hills.
During the summer of my 15th year Dad had replaced the Celebrity with a car that was pretty cool, a 1990 Mazda 626 LX sedan with a five speed manual, alloys, and a sunroof! Yet another thing was clear, though – Dad liked that car, a lot. Which meant yours truly wasn’t going to get anywhere near it. So I learned to drive on the Plymouth, with a couple stick lessons in the Mazda probably just to keep me happy. Inside I hoped a car would magically appear for my 16th birthday but.. it didn’t. Dreams shattered, and keys for the minivan in hand it was high time I jumped in the driver’s seat and unleashed teenage ambition.
I won’t sugar coat it – yeah, it was disappointing.. but! Do you know what you can do with a minivan full of teenagers? A lot of nonsense – that’s what! Many a evening was spent picking up a load of friends and then doing such antics as driving down the main drag with the single side door open and a hooligan with too few years and too much ambition hanging out in hopes of acquiring more young ladies to ride with us. When it came time to move, the mighty V6 did… disappoint. Sure it would move just fine, but man it was nothing to write about.
For those unfamiliar with this motor, the best way to describe the sounds of it is.. moaning. It kind of moaned and groaned while not providing a whole heck of a lot of forward propulsion, at least not enough for my teenage hands. While it definitely could hold a lot of buddies, the thing was about as cool as slugging a can of Ensure while puffing on a Virginia Slim in the bingo hall. Of course that didn’t stop me and my buddies from smoking Virgina Slims when that was the only thing we could pilfer, and of course it didn’t stop many an antic or a teenage romance from budding thanks to a long trip out to a abandoned fishing hole.
On rare occasions with enough begging, Dad would unleash me with his 626. Now that – that was a fun car. It was completely opposite of the Voyager – fun to drive, handled decently, a blast with the manual transmission, and put together solid. Where the Voyager was something I’d take three buddies with to pack in four more young ladies and go out on some gravel road, the 626 was something I’d take by myself or with a girl to go out and get lost. It was one of the better cars, to this day, I’ve ever driven despite its seeming lack of power from its 110 horsepower four cylinder. It was also great for finding a remote spot and staring at the stars through the sunroof..
Yet more often than not, the minivan was what I got sent out with. Towards the end of my 16th year two things happened. First, Dad got a new car and this time – listened to me. A fully loaded 1993 Mazda 626 ES replaced the 1990 626, red with tan leather and the oh so sweet V6 engine. In turn Mom’s minivan was sent packing in favor of keeping the 1990 626 around for her – a car she also loved. What did this mean? Neither parent was exactly enthused about setting me loose in their cars.
A plan was hatched thanks to the purchase of the newer nicer cars, and the taking off of my Mom’s real estate career. In a desperate bid to get my grades beyond “D’s make diplomas”, my parents in the fall of ’93 said that if I could keep my grades up – I’d get a car. My seat time since the purchase of the new Mazda had been severely limited, to the point where I was more often than not bumming rides with friends on the weekend. So with boredom setting in and desire for freedom I started searching for a car first, and working on my grades second.
Despite years of careful planning and pouring over magazines, my driving career had started with a.. sputter. I was out to change that, and had a clear plan of attack to do so. One thing I learned, and told myself – no matter what, I’d never drive or own minivan. Anything – anything – except for a minivan. And most definitely not a purple/maroon Chrysler minivan.
Related reading: CC 1989 Dodge Caravan Turbo – Desperate Measures
Sounds like the twin, save for color, of my grandparents’ van. ’89 (I think) Voyager SWB V6/auto, but theirs was an attractive ice blue shade with medium blue interior. They liked it well enough, and it was comfortable for passengers, but for a 16 year old it would definitely be a disappointment.
Though there is something to be said for being able to haul a lot of friends along. A friend of mine had a ’92 Olds Custom Cruiser as his first car, and more than once there were double-digit quantities of people packed into that thing. Of course, it had the 350 V8, an engine that was a bit more up to the task!
My parents bought one of these in 1987. The only options were A/C and tinted windows. I really didn’t mind driving it. It road like my 1993 Dodge Spirit, but riding much higher. It lasted over 300,000 miles.
My dad had an 89, short model with 4cyl-auto in old lady light blue. I thought the little round knobs on the ceiling to open the cable actuated rear windows were cool.
the whole rest of the van was an embarrassment
My parents had the exact same van – short wheelbase Voyager in light blue with the 4 cylinder, because my dad didn’t want a Mitsubishi engine. Which is ironic, since he later ended up buying an Eagle Summit.
I only drove it once or twice. By the time I actually got my license, my parents replaced it with a ’98 Voyager, and sold the ’89 to my brother, who wanted it for his DJ business to carry equipment. As part of the deal, I got the ’87 LeBaron sedan that they had bought for him4 years earlier
When I was starting high school around ’96 there were two seniors who drove two different burgundy minivans, one being slightly older.
Towards the end of high school there was another senior in my class who drove a 1990 Chrysler minivan. One morning a teacher caught him swearing and when he was questioned about it, he complained that his van broke down and his mom wouldn’t allow him to drive her Camry. She didn’t trust him with it. Later on I heard that the same guy had a minor mishap in the parking lot with his van while adjusting his radio. He either mounted the curb or drove into something like a small tree and had to spend some money on repairs including $100 to replace a wheel.
My drivers ed. lessons were actually in a dark blue, fully loaded 1998 Plymouth Voyager. The lessons were mostly at night and during the end of the year when there was a bit of snow on the ground. I would drive my dad’s old Pontiac after getting my license and didn’t have my own car till after College. I guess it reminds me of the saying, “Beggars can’t be choosers!”
My older son used our ’92 GC in similar escapades, and then some 🙂 I suppose there’s quite a whole demographic that grew up in these and started driving in them too. The Minivan generation.
As I’ve written about, both my sons learned to drive in my ’69 F-100, but when it came time for their first car, each one in turn got a hand-me-down Chrysler-platform minivan.
Conversation between Taylor, age 16 and his grandmother…”Taylor, aren`t you excited? Your dad is going to get a new car tomorrow”?Taylor barely takes his eyes off his hand held video game and says “Not really Grandma. He`s going to buy a minivan”‘
There was a period of time in my middle school years when the ‘family fleet’ consisted of this exact van – 1990 V6 base model, SWB, expect in that lovely poop brown color, along with a 1992 Toyota Corolla Wagon. Only, for me, this was around 2000-2003 (the parents were pretty broke back then – no new cars for us)
My mom occasionally let me drive both on secluded back roads when I was 13 or 14 – I remember the Voyager’s V6 feeling like a rocket ship compared the tiny Corolla. Both had horrible 3-speed automatics, the Toyota in particular would drone endlessly on the highway.
Mechanically, they were both pretty stout (surprising for the Chrysler product), but they both raced to the bottom for which could rust faster. Ah, memories. Both models are practically extinct on the road nowadays – well, the wagon Corollas at least – so I always get excited to see either in person. Nice story!
It seems like almost everyone born between 1980-2000 had a parent with a Chrysler minivan of one generation or another.
Not me, but then again I’m an only child. No vans and no wagons, Mom hated them and there wasn’t really a need. So sedans it was for us, with the exception of one 5-door hatchback Escort.
As I mentioned above though, my grandparents had one…a close friend’s mom had a 1st-gen Caravan…another good friend’s Dad had a 2nd-gen caravan…2 1st-gens among the parents of guys in my Boy Scout troop…so lots of seat time regardless!
The first generation is the only generation Chrysler minivan that I haven’t ridden in. My aunt however, did own a ’95 base Voyager in the same color, and I remember it vividly. As a young child, I happened to find it pretty cool.
My first car was a 2004 Toyota Highlander. It was also a hand-me-down from my mom and it could legally fit 7 people. Performance was naturally better than a 1990 Voyager, but throw a bunch of teenagers into it, and it was a slug. Although I liked being a driver as opposed to passenger, always having to drive my friends around due to having a large car was a negative at times.
You must’ve been among the last cohort legally allowed to fill the car with teenagers as soon as the printer spit out your license, then. I worked retail alongside a bunch of high-school kids when graduated licensing came in and there was a bit of a rush to get in under the wire (some states grandfathered kids out of it by date of birth regardless of date of license issue specifically so there wouldn’t be a race to the DMV).
In Massachusetts, if you get your license before age 18, then you aren’t allowed to drive anyone under 18 for the first 6 months unless a licensed driver over age 21 is in the vehicle. You also cannot drive between 12-5am without a licensed adult over 21. This was in effect when I got my license in ’09 and had been around for a least a couple of years, from what I knew from some of my older friends.
Of course, just about everyone breaks those rules 😉
In Arkansas, you had a learner’s permit where you could drive a car between the ages of 14-16 as long as a licensed driver over 18 was with you. You could also ride a motorcycle by yourself with a 250cc limit. I spent many an hour at a full 47-48 mph redline on my new 1978 Honda XL-75 with a whopping 4 horsepower and 74cc motor on the back roads there. It earned my respect because I beat the bark off of it. Only needed a new chain and sprocket during the whole time. The quieter highways were fine to ride on, but I only ventured onto the busy ones a few times as I couldn’t go the speed limit and I wasn’t suicidal. Even the back roads had a limit above my top speed on the straight stretches. I longed mightily for a Trail 90 or 110 or an XL-100.
I cannot recall a single instance in two years of riding and over 10,000 miles traveled of anyone road-raging at me because of my slowness. Drivers have lost their courtesy.
My first vehicle was an 87 Caprice Estate with the 307 off of EBay for $510. About 20 years of age were not kind to that car.
My 2nd vehicle was a 95 Voyager with the 3.0 Litre plus 3 Speed Torqueflite and I think it had good engine sounds for what it was even when the exhaust was not rusted full of holes. To each their own though. Glad you got to enjoy the wonderous creation that is the Chrysler Minivan even if they cannot go up hills that fast.
Minivans fulfill a purpose: schlepping people around. They do this really well. As soon as my boys got their own wheels I got rid of mine. They are simply too big if you don’t have people to schlepp around. I hope they have some good memories go along with the trips in the minivans.
The 3.0 Mitsu V6 is kind of a dog in the vans. In anything lighter they were pretty spry…especially when hooked to a 5spd. An ex GF’s mom had a Lebaron droptop with this motor..even with a slushbox it would happily spin the front tires before hooking up. I remember test driving a 4×4 Ram 50 in the early 90s with the 3.0 and 5spd. True, all Japanese minitrucks were geared deep, and that worked well with a high strung engine but that little truck was FAST.
I see nothing at all in a Mazda 4 door. Sounds like that was the best version you could’ve had but when the MX-6 coupe was available at the time…whats the point?
Im no fan of minivans, but at the same time Im a Mopar fanatic with a love of turbos and sleepers. Ive never actually seen such an animal, but for a few years, a few key things were on the options list at once:
–5spd manual trans
–windowless ‘cargo van’ body
The optimist in me hopes that theres a van out there that has all of those things at once. Now THAT would be a sleeper! Bubble windows, shag carpet, and an airbrushed picture of some ridiculous scene on the side like a half nekkid Viking warrior goddess in a metal bikini slaying a dragon. With a worked up engine and suspension, that would be the most insane vehicle youd likely see that day!
Scuze the rant, but when I see a 1st gen Caravan, this is what goes thru my mind!
You could build one and paint it with an authentic Shelby Dodge Charger paint job. What goes on the side? Shelby GLH-V, of course!
Minivans-they conjure images of soccer mothers driving their offspring to games, church vans, or somebody on the Garden State Pkwy doing a solid 47 mph in the middle lane, you know, that jerk who slows up traffic and is impossible to pass.
Funny . . . . . to me, a minivan conjures images of a full harness of plate armor packed up for an SCA tournament, or an incredibly loaded minivan heading out to the Pennsic War for 10 days of 14th century high royalty comfort living (my wife didn’t camp, the only way to get her under canvas was a 10×16 medieval pavilion with rope bed, dry sink, etc.). Or taking the Johnstown shire fencers into Pittsburgh for an Elizabethan fencing tournament.
Need something more modern? Well, there’s the 125th anniversary re-enactment of Gettysburg (the opening scene in “Glory” is the encampment), where I was doing Pickett’s Charge with the 4th Virginia Infantry.
To me, vans mean historical re-enactment. And our newly acquired ’08 Kia Sedona hits the road for Henricus Plantation Publick Days this Saturday.
Methinks your spare time is a lot more exciting that the transportation of choice that carries thee to thine events. Thus, let us get medieval.
Boy did I dodge the first-generation Chrysler minivan bullet. We moved from our house in Toledo up into the suburbs in Michigan and about a year or two before I started driving my parents traded in their ’89-ish Grand Voyager (complete with faux-wood siding and aftermarket five-spoke rims!) for a brand-new ’96 Grand Caravan, red on gray with every option short of AWD that they could tick. I actually got in trouble once for taking it out the summer before I got my first car. It moved pretty well with the 3.8, and that was a really nice van. I still think that they’re the best-styled generation of the line.
That said, a friend of mine drove her parents’ white gen 1 Chrysler minivan, and my college roommate had a gold one. Slow, tippy, and (like ours) assembled in such a way that the eventual rattles and creaks would drown out any of that awful moaning from the engine. Kind of generous of them, looking back…
Being I had a band as early as high school, (1978) and true, I had a full size Dodge van that had a 440 police interceptor that came out of a 1972 Minnesota state patrol Plymouth fury, the good part about having a van was the reason my friends didn’t nickname it “THE SPERM PALACE ON WHEELS” for nothing, I knocked off more pieces of ass in that thing than I can count. That’s the plus of being a young guy with a van. A little Frampton in the old 8 track, some Tuscany cologne, and it was instant ass!