If this van could talk, it’d say “hoon me!”
After seeing the “Best Astro Ever” that Paul posted a few days back, I couldn’t help but think of the Astros of my past.
Back in the fall of 2000, my father stumbled upon an excellent deal on an ’89 Astro. It was equipped much like the one shown–2WD, wagon wheels, three rows of seats, dark tinted glass, barn doors with a side slider–only ours was powder blue. It was clean, straight, and available for a mere $900.
We were never ‘minivan people,’ but suddenly, we had a minivan. It joined a 1985 Regal coupe and a 1989 Chevy G20 van in the family fleet.
As minivans go, it was pretty sporty and peppy, with just over 100K miles and a 4.3 V6 under the hood (er, doghouse). But anti-minivan sentiment was running high in those days, and Dad wasn’t content to drive a minivan that was merely “pretty sporty.” So out came the Keystone Klassics. Soon the van was the latest member of the Keystone club, one of six or so vehicles that’d get to wear those mags over the years.
The van provided us with several years’ worth of faithful service, hauling us to and fro without incident–save for one outing.
My mother was never a very good driver. She had a tendency to panic when the going got tough, and her panic reactions were often less than ideal.
On this particular January day, she was accelerating down an on-ramp, preparing to merge onto the freeway. The only other vehicle around was an eighteen wheeler, about a quarter mile back and traveling in the left lane. As she reached the bottom of the ramp, she hit a patch of black ice and began to lose control.
Had she reacted properly, the van might have been put back on course. But instead, she went straight down the list of her panic reactions, and jumped right to the worst of them: closing her eyes and releasing the wheel. Not surprisingly, the situation went from bad to worse in a hurry. By the time she opened her eyes, the van was on its roof.
The big rig’s driver had watched the whole thing unfold, and immediately stopped to provide aid. The Astro’s engine was still running even in its inverted state; he was able to easily open the door and shut it off. My mother then released her safety belt and crawled out, shaken but unharmed. I was amazed at her good fortune.
What was even more amazing was that while she was seven months pregnant at the time, the baby was likewise unharmed. My sister was born two months later, as perfect and wonderful as a baby could be.
Several days later, well after all involved had been given clean bills of health, the van arrived home on a rollback. After a few hours of dent-pulling and a rear end replacement, my father had it back in a roadworthy state once again.
I recall picking up the new axle, me and Dad having just pulled it at the junkyard and loaded it into the back of the G20. As we were leaving the yard, I made a remark along the lines of “we better not roll this one, ’cause I don’t want to eat that axle!”
After all the repairs were done, there was just one issue which had Dad stumped: the digital speedometer was reading ridiculously high. I was the first to notice the letters “kph” illuminated; one button press and this wrecked Astro was finally all the way back to its former glory.
Unfortunately, the van would meet an inglorious end a few years later. After my parents divorced, my mother traded it in for well below its value, using the meager credit towards her purchase of a late-’80s Century beater. After all that it went through, I hate to think where it ended up.
Back to the van at hand! I bought it from a small dealer, who had accidentally bought it at an auction and wanted it gone regardless of loss. I scooped it up for a few hundred bucks, and trailered it away (since it was sitting on four flats and had a dead battery).
Upon getting the wreck home and running, I had to figure out what to do about the rubber situation. There was absolutely nothing left of the existing tires. The rims were factory aluminum 5-spokes, and were likewise pretty chewed up. Ugly and useless – time for a change! So I went to my tire rack.
Waiting there was a set of four American Racing wheels with nice, aggressive tires already mounted. They had come on an eighties Chevy conversion van that I’d bought to part out and scrap. Needless to say, I was surprised to find them hiding behind a set of cheap plastic Wal-Mart wheelcovers!
At first I thought they were painted matte black. But copious amounts of scrubbing with water and steel wool revealed that they were actually chrome, each one coated with more brake dust than I previously believed any one wheel could hold.
The back ones fit fine, but the front ones needed a little added clearance. So I carved down the plastic fascia to create the needed elbow room. Ugly? Sure, but who cares – it was cheap, and it was ready to play in the snow!
For winter driving, this little AWD rig with big knobby tires was superb. I couldn’t justify keeping it, having two other four-wheelers in my arsenal already, so I turned it around for a quick buck. But I wouldn’t hesitate to own another.