a·nom·a·ly: something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.
I had a Windstar. I drove it for almost 10 years without major problems. It still had the original transmission when I sold it. It’s still on the road today. That’s an anomaly.
One of the great things about having a father in law who works at a new car dealership is that when we need a vehicle, we just place our order and wait for the great deal on a trade in. If we’re not picky about colors or options it takes my FIL about two weeks to come up with the deal of the century (another anomaly). When our Topaz was getting tired in 2000, we needed a minivan to accommodate our growing family.
Pa did not disappoint. He came up with a red 1996 Windstar (actually built Oct 1995), immaculate with ridiculously low miles. Initially we thought we might have a lemon; within the first week the steering rack failed and we had power steering when the wheel was turned in one direction, and manual steering in the other. This is a very bizarre way to drive if you’ve never experienced it, but Pa personally delivered a new steering rack assembly which we had a local mechanic install.
As everyone knows, the Windstar was Ford’s second stab at a minivan, the Aerostar being the first. From my career in machine design, I know that when you redesign something to solve one problem it’s an easy mistake to cause another. Ford did exactly this, trading premature rust and truck like RWD ergonomics for fragile FWD drivelines and suspension components.
That being said, we still look back on this vehicle fondly. Many people pooh-pooh minivans saying they are not for car enthusiasts, but I beg to differ. If you look at the problem with “best tool for the job” eyes, minivans inspire enthusiasm. Ours brought us to lots of great places, including Vintage Racing camping weekends at Mosport.
Most importantly the minivan is the best value for a host of everyday tasks such as commuting, bringing kids to soccer games, birthday parties and camping, and this value frees up capital for more interesting and enthusiast oriented things. The entire time we have owned a minivan we have never been without a vintage car and two motorcycles and an electric guitar. With all that fun stuff who cares about the van?
We knew a LOT of people with Windstars when we got ours. They were all over school, work, and church parking lots. Then one day we noticed that everyone else’s Windstar was looking kind of ratty with rust in the rocker panels. Shortly afterwards we noticed that everyone else was driving a new Dodge, Honda, or Toyota minivan, and we were the only ones still driving a Windstar.
Now the reason for this anomaly: Our Windstar stood tall when multitudes were falling away on all sides because of the fact that ours was built with the 3.0 litre Vulcan V6 as opposed to the much more common 3.8 litre Essex V6. The Vulcan shared none of the Essex’s head-gasket-munching tendencies, and being a smaller motor it was easier on the infamously fragile AX4S transaxle. It was completely random that we wound up with this engine, but for once we’d lucked out. Our Windstar avoided the dreaded tinworm because we had it Krown rustproofed annually. $120 a year, and kind of messy, but boy does that stuff ever work.
Although we never had major issues, the Windstar did have diabolical timing for irritating random failures, which tended to occur on family trips or vacations with no warning.
One day we were on our way to visit our inlaws when the A/C stopped working. We were still puzzling over this when the ventilation fan stopped working, and then the radio started to fade. At that point I realized that the alternator must have quit without a warning light, and all we could do was drive on while everything shut down one by one. Finally there wasn’t enough juice in the battery to run the fuel pump and the Windstar lurched to a halt. We called Pa, who took the battery out of Ma’s Taurus and came to rescue us. We even got to keep the Taurus for a few days while the Windstar got fixed at the dealership.
Another time we returned from a wilderness canoe trip to find that the Windstar had blown a brake line. By the time we got to an area with cell reception only the handbrake worked, so my wife called Pa at work: “Dad, we’re in Algonquin park with no brakes, where’s the nearest Ford dealership?”.
Pa found the nearest dealer, called them to say we were (slowly) coming and convinced a mechanic to stay late and fabricate a new brake line on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend. The Windstar sure looked funny up on the hoist with a canoe on top; they took care not to crush it against the ceiling.
For our trip to the East Coast the following year we rented a Grand Caravan and left the Windstar at home.
The final factor was that for several months my job required me to visit a supplier 150km away, several times a week. By this point the 15 year old Windstar was fine in town but at highway speed felt like a loose flying formation of parts. We either needed to invest in a complete front end overhaul, or just take that money and put it into a newer van.
This decision was helped by Pa of course, who presented two potential used replacements. The first was a well optioned Ford Freestar; we took a test drive and discussed it over dinner before returning it to the dealership.
We told Pa it was a nice van, but it somehow rubbed us the wrong way and we preferred the interior in our old Windstar. He explained that was exactly what people always said when he was trying to sell them new, which is why Ford didn’t sell many Freestars.
Weeks later we got a call; “A good Caravan just got traded in, you’ve got second dibs on it but you have to come and see it tonight!” We went and saw it, and although it wasn’t exactly what we wanted, it was cheap enough to be a good stop-gap solution. The person with first dibs didn’t want it, so Pa sold him the Windstar for $500. Win-Win.
So five years later we are still driving the stop gap Caravan, and even more surprisingly, our former Windstar is still on the road. Last we heard a few months ago, it was still doing daily local service; hopefully the new owners didn’t try to take it on vacation.
I sat down here to write a story about a great van, but now I think it’s more a story of a pretty good van and a great father in law. Thanks for all the help with that one, Pa!!
minivans have such a bad rep for reliability but honestly they were meant to do a job hual family and when you try and break that cycle for instance towing,hot rodding( letting teens drive it/having a heavy foot) or overloading it of course its going to break down. Ive had amazing luck with our van we drive it with love and keep up on it 2000 honda oddessey now at 220k ruffly and still no major failures original tranny no slippage yet. however the notorious a arm coming loose happened nothing that a lock nut and washer couldn’t fix . it boils down to what do you need it for and are you willing to take care of it when it calls for you.
I’m certain that there are plenty of minivans that were babied and never even closely loaded or used to their limits, and still quickly came apart. The thing is, I would venture to guess that the vast majority were ‘domestic’ minivans. Japanese minivans, although they have issues, too, aren’t nearly as prone to failure and quite a few of them are still on the road after decades of use.
But Chrysler, Ford, and GM products are not nearly as good (although the old-school RWD Ford and Chevy small vans seem to be a bit better).
also as a after thought poor town and country vans they were the ultimate lemon but ive never heard bad things about the ford vans
With some of the “bits and pieces” at their disposal, Chrysler had the best chance to build a great minivan for gearheads….but like all car companies they either got close, or even nailed it for a few weeks then backed off.
Turbocharged engine? Got you covered. AWD? Sure thing. A MANUAL transmission? Okay. A 2 seat panel version? We are there, too. But producing a REAL sporty van and not just a van with “Sport” badges? Hmmm.
The company I worked for had a fairly large fleet of vans. At one time it was 95% or more Aerostars. Then the Aerostars were slowly replaced with Astros and SWB Dodge RWD vans. The Fords and Chevys had great staying power while the RWD Dodges were borderline dogs.
Of all the FWD minivans, the Windstar struck me as THE dullest….until the Windstar came along. Yet, the intended market for these vans wants dull, apparently.
A sporty van? What’s the point?
It has been done only once, as far as I know.
The Opel Zafira OPC, with a 240 hp 2.0 liter turbo engine and 6 speed manual.
Probably for the reason I mentioned. Who wants that? I totally get the utility of minivans, they make a lot of sense for hauling lots of things or people. I use them at work, they are very practical machines. But with sporting or luxury pretentions? No way no how.
Well, the same can be said about wagons and SUVs. And yet Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche build -or have built- high performance versions of them (like an Audi RS6 Avant or Mercedes ML-Class AMG).
And you can order a Mercedes B-Class with AMG-Line. Note it’s not the real thing, but the package sure makes it look better, IMO.
Oh, I know but I’m also the guy who does not get why anyone would even want a luxury marque SUV or wagon. Making a sporty performance Benz or Audi or Bimmer (or whatever) wagon/suv just does not register to me as anything that makes a glimmer of sense. When it comes to luxury its sedan, coupe, roadster…or bust! A wagon/suv is too practical to be classy, imo.
But that’s off topic, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Well the difference, at least to me, is that typically if you need the utility of a minivan you need a minivan. A CUV is often simply a taller car not offering much, if anything, in increased practicality compared to the car it’s based on.
So if you are stuck with needing the space and utility of a minivan, it only makes sense that you may want a more enjoyable experience than the standard vans.
Chrysler did, actually, in the late ’80’s, offer both a manual and a turbo on the Caravan/Voyager. They weren’t a big seller.
Another minivan believer here. In the process of downsizing right before selling my house and buying a smaller one, I got rid of both my Pontiac Solstice and Ford Ranger, replacing them both with a Kia Sedona. Couldn’t be happier. Added a trailer hitch which got my garden tractor, mowers, and all sorts of other implements of destruction to the new house. Ran dozens of loads of household goods to the storage locker. And still camped at Virginia International Raceway for the Superbike races, plus the twice a year tailgaiting at Richmond International Raceway for NASCAR.
Back at the point in time where a van makes the most sense of all. Re-enactment season re-starts in September, once again I’ll be glad I have it.
I’d say that Ford is the current champion of MPVs.
Here you go: B-Max, C-Max, S-Max, Galaxy, Tourneo Courier (based on the Transit Courier), Tourneo Connect (based on the Transit Connect), Tourneo Custom (based on the Transit Custom) and a minibus based on the Transit.
Here’s the S-Max. AWD is optional.
And the small B-Max, think Ford Fiesta.
I like the idea of the current Transit Connect Wagon, it’s just disappointing they didn’t put a better engine in it or infotainment.
Great article. Having driven Toyota’s, when it came time for our household to get a van, we looked there first – the Previa’s were very nice but new ones were way too expensive, so we looked around.
I remember looking at a Windstar, what struck me about it most was when I raised the hood, there just seemed to be a lot of “empty space” that you could see right thru to the ground. That, and everything was just a little “crude”.
We ultimately decided on a used Previa, our first of three, each one going over 120K miles with zero problems. We have ’99 JDM Lucida version currently that’s still tight and runs great.
My girlfriend is in a band. They were in need of an inexpensive band vehicle. Hence- a van. So, being the car guy, I went on the hunt. After looking at many in her budget, we stumbled upon a 2002 Ford Windstar LX. We test drove it, and the price was right so we pulled the trigger. We knew it needed some work and a good cleaning. I put in a new alternator, serpentine belt, two new tires, and front brakes. The dreaded rear axle recall was already done years ago, thank goodness. She’s not perfect- some quarter rust and the infamous dancing gauge cluster will perform its routine periodically. But, she just had her maiden long voyage of an 800 mile trip to Cape Cod and Newport, RI. No problems, knock on wood.
In fact, she has her own Twitter account if you’d like to follow her exploits- @nogoodvan.
Great article, DougD. IMHO there are way too many people out there ready to define what is or is not an “enthusiast”. Ignore the mob and just keep doing what you’re doing.
“Every car has a story”. I think I read that somewhere.
Very nice writeup Doug! I like your way of describing the minivan’s strong virtues that make it such a great type of vehicle, despite what many people say.
Lord have mercy, we had a 97 Windstar service loaner for 58 days, while the local Ford store tried to get yet another transmission to work in our Medium Willow Green 96 Windstar to work…and somehow caught it on fire, frying the wire harness.
The 96 was horrible…3 transmissions, a recall for the hood skin wanting to separate and fly off, switch on the sliding door that sometimes made contact, sometimes didn’t, so locking the van was iffy. The 3.8L engine would start on the 2nd or 3rd crank, never on the first.
We were in the loaner so long that IT started having issues and it went back to the dealer for repair…we were put in yet another loaner. The day finally came to pick up our van, we turned in the loaner, and waited, and waited, and waited. The service writer walked back in the building and announced that our van wouldn’t start.
We traded it in that day on a gently used off-lease Mercury Villager Nautica, blue and white with two tone gray leather. That was smaller, but very reliable, thank heaven. Whoever thought white wheels were a good idea, was nuts, because they showed every speck of dirt, but it looked spiffy when it was clean.
My Aunt got that same recall notice about her 1996 Windstar in 1998 I think. Her’s kept having crankshaft issues that caused her too, to get rid of it before she even got the notice. I generally like Ford but these were miserable vans as far as the reliablity went. The powertrain was barely making it happen for Taurus and Sable. To add more weight to that already overloaded situation was questionable. The only Tauruses we had that were not slow as hell were the two 3.8 Essex GLs. A 1992 and 93. The 93 Was a wagon, and succumbed to the head gasket, but the 1992 was Gold for 200k. We have had 3 vulcans, and while they were more reliable, they begin to feel more overworked as they age, and the transmission, with its slow shifts does the car no favors. It obviously didn’t do any for Windstar for that matter, either.
A truly enjoyable read this morning. Thanks Doug.
I had totally forgotten the 3.0 was available in these, but it sounds like you stumbled upon a winning combination. Or you father-in-law did!
While I’m guessing it’s still going strong, hearing about a certain Focus would be interesting.
I saw a white first-gen Windstar in a parking lot the other day. No obvious rust. Can’t remember the last time I saw one. I lingered for a minute, trying to decide whether to photograph it and write it up. Didn’t. Should have.
Nice to see others appreciative of the minivan format. I think most that have/had them completely “get it” and those that have never driven one for some reason generally refuse to do so and can’t/won’t see the light. Not everyone needs one but there are plenty of people that you can look at and think their lives would be improved by using a minivan.
Glad to see you had such a great experience with yours. (and the new one as well). Happy minivanning!
I’ve never owned a minivan. I’ve had pickups for 30 years, but with the absolutely stupid prices that trucks command now, I do have minivans on my radar. Value wise they are the best deal on the market and I’m too old to worry about weather or not they are cool.
Brings back many happy (mostly) memories of our red ’92 Grand Caravan, which we used and abused for 15 years and almost 200k miles. Other than the three replacement transmissions (courtesy of Chrysler) and a few ABS pumps (courtesy of Chrysler), it was a trooper.
Shortly after we moved to Eugene in ’93, several families at our kids’ school all bought new Windstars. Every one of them turned out to be a colossal lemon, and within 4-5 years, they were all gone again, and we were still driving the ’82 Caravan.
You did pretty well, all things considered.
That Windstar should have been offered to the Henry Ford Museum!
I kid! I kid..
That Vulcan 3.0 was really a good engine. I had one in a Ranger that was surprisingly peppy. I’m sorry I sold it but the engine was about the only thing that wasn’t rusting off the frame.
I’ve known a handful of people that had very reliable Windstars. One even had a great 3.8 (with the neat “Split Port Induction) that made it to around 330,xxx miles with no major drivetrain failures.
It’s not the norm though.
One former neighbor had a Windstar that ate a transmission every two years. Almost like clockwork. Their backup van was a SWB Base model Caravan (not even equipped with a rear defroster!) with the 2.4. Oddly the Ford got better gas mileage than the Dodge.
And the Vulcan in my wife’s Taurus developed a bottom end knock at 89,000 km.
WOW! That’s a weird one.
I’ve owned a 2000 Ranger with a Vulcan since new, and while I really like that engine, your post is the first time I’ve seen it described as “peppy,” or “better gas mileage than…”
At almost 130,000 miles, my engine is solid, runs great, and doesn’t use a drop of oil; it might end up being as tough as the 300-cubic-inch (4.9L) straight six in my old F150.
But I’ve never found it to be much of a powerhouse, and 16 mpg seems to be about average for most Ranger drivers in town (just got 13.5 on my last tank, but that included three trips hauling 1,000 pounds or so). Of course, in the Taurus it felt much more powerful and would routinely deliver over 20 mpg, probably due to better aerodynamics and less weight.
My Ranger was a 96 with 70k on the clock. I was never wanting for power. You may have had to stand on it with the AC running but I have to do the same with my current 5.0 F-150.
The only reason I sold it was because it sat on a farm for a looong time and the suspension was rusted out front and rear. I wasn’t ready to dump a grand on a $600 truck (hindsight says I should have).
What is/are the main factor(s) that lead to several minivan models to eat transmissions, especially in the early model years? Even the early Odysseys and Siennas had drivetrain issues.
Could it be that it was a new sort of vehicle that the manufacturers did not foresee the heavy use and abuse by its users? Or were the transaxles not robust enough initially?
Lack of a tranny cooler and a Minivan weighs more especially if (over)loaded. My parents had a 95 Voyager with a 3 speed no overdrive tranny and the 3 Litre V6 which was the only combo recommended by Consumer Reports. The first Tranny died at 100K miles and the second one was still good at 75K miles when the Voyager was accidentally killed. I babied the Tranny from 50K miles when I got it to the end and never drove at 15 MPH or 30MPH which are the shift points unless I was depressing the accelerator. I could hear/feel the engine lugging which worried me. Also, if I was on certain roads I would drive at 25MPH or 35MPH to avoid Tranny hunt since I was worried about its health. I did that on Historic U.S Route 66 between Kingman and Oatman.
I do the same thing with my 03 Caravan and if safe to do so I pull over for peoples behind me.
“Many people pooh-pooh minivans saying they are not for car enthusiasts, but I beg to differ. If you look at the problem with “best tool for the job” eyes, minivans inspire enthusiasm”
Sometimes in a story a real pearl of wisdom emerges. Our DD is a Nissan Cube and my truck is a 4Runner. They are in our driveway for that very reason while I have a classic that is parked.
Good story. Your FIL obviously realizes that parenting doesn’t stop at graduation time.
We have a ’98 Windstar at work (IT department of a University, we use it for lugging computers and stuff around). It’s an ex-government one, from a GSA auction – a 2 passenger cargo model. It’s only got about 32,000 miles on it, but it’s beat to hell, mostly from our student employees hitting the side of it against side of a building on a sharp turn. It also currently has a broken window thanks to someone throwing a brick through the window to steal an 8 year old computer from inside. Runs fine, though, although sometimes the ignition will randomly get stuck and take a few tries to actually start.
I’m probably about to become a minivan owner myself – my parents have offered me their ’98 Voyager, as they’ve decided they don’t really need 2 cars. I sell at hamfests and on eBay, and I’ve beaten up the interior of my Pathfinder pretty badly moving stuff. I figure I can probably put more in the van, and won’t really care about interior damage. I suppose being a childless 30-something dude with a minivan probably sends some bad signals, though.
In Portland, OR most Windstars are owned by the USPS and seeing one with license plates is a rarity. I am glad my parents listened to Consumer Reports and bought a relatively reliable 95 Voyager.
I had an 87 Aerostar with a 3.0 engine, it burned two valves at around 90,000 miles. I pulled the heads and sent them to the machine shop, and I put it back together. Literally the only good thing I can say about it is it was the only engine that I ever put back together that started on the first try.
We rented a Windstar in 1996 for a trip where we had to haul stuff about 350 miles. Hertz had cable locked the seats in the rear to the brackets, a wrench took care of that. After driving 700 miles in one I decided that it was as big a failure as my Aerostar was.
I now drive a 2003 Astro cargo van for work, that thing has taken quite a punishment and has remained quite reliable.
My parents had a late nineties Windstar with a 3.8. It threw a rod at the end of the 3/36 warranty. Ford replaced the engine. Engine #2 also threw a rod at 80 or 90k. Dad replaced it with an ’05 Grand Caravan SXT which fared much better. My wife and I are on our 3rd GC. Best utilitarian bang for the buck!
All things considered, the minivan class has endured rather remarkably since Iacocca’s original debuted in 1982 (as a MY83), longer if one espouses to the theory that the minivan originated sooner as, say, the VW Type 2. Honestly, the minivan is just one master stroke from going back on top, and I suspect something like a hybrid drivetrain that dramatically improved fuel economy could do it.
Regardless of how one personally feels about them, there’s no denying their practicality. It’s possible to do a lot of cargo hauling (human and otherwise) with one in relative comfort and safety, and yet they’ll still fit inside a standard sized garage. Iacocca made some mistakes later in his tenure at Chrysler, but when you were the driving force behind a vehicle that will almost assuredly go down in history as one of the top five milestones in automotive history (alongside vehicles like the Model T and Beetle), well, that one accomplishment is enough.
Good story! You make the second person I know who has gotten good service from a Windstar. The other is a friend I call the Windstar Whisperer. He is still driving a 99 that he bought new.
I looked at one briefly in 95 when they were first out, before going with a 1 year old Club Wagon instead. A good choice, I think, since you two guys probably got the only two good ones. 🙂
It’s time to replace our current ’05 Grand Caravan and we looked around because we’d like something different. But nothing else makes nearly as much sense. CUVs are severely compromised in space and don’t offer near as much for the money.
On paper I wanted to buy a Odyssey…and then I sat in one. Excellent seats in back, terribly cramped driver’s seat. And the prices…looks like we will be back in another Chrysler. They may not be as refined but overall I still think they do minivans best. Easily the most thoughtfully designed interiors for families.
I see plenty of the 1995-1998 generation, whereas I see pretty much none of the later “2nd” gen ones, reverse of the what I see in the junkyards, absolutely NO 1995-98 wheras the JYs are littered with “2nd” gen ones. My father has a 1995 loaded 3.8 V6 I occasionally drive and for nearly 200k all original its in great shape, looks like new inside and out and drives as good too. Minivans are not my thing though, although I agree it is massively useful. IIRC they held the title for safest and fastest minivan for a few years.
Seem like nice enough vans (Windstars), comfortable, well built and reliable.
I’ve driven pretty new Odysseys and they do not seem any nicer other than newer styling, gadgets and ultra quiet, other than that they seem built the same and whatnot, Odyssey has a cheaper interior IMO hard plastics abound, which is fine for a cheaper car (Cobalt, Focus, Civic..ect) but for a “expensive” van that people hype up it seems wrong. I do not mind hard plastics but the soft touch interior of the 95-98 Windstars is very nice. (do not know if the later ones have a soft touch interior.)
We had a 2001 Windstar Sport and the only reason we got it over a Chrysler van was the power adjusting pedals–my wife is undertall and this kept her from being too close to the steering wheel. I think we had it 3 years and I really don’t remember spending any money on the thing other than maintenance.
CC Alternator effect?
The Caravan alternator died this morning. However we just returned from Algonquin Park yesterday with no problems, this morning it gave my wife a warning light and a growly noise, but she was only 2 minutes from home so was able to return safely. She took the Focus and I rode a motorcycle to work.
And that is how I like my vehicle to break down…