Curbside Classic: 1990 Chrysler Town & Country – What Happened To My Wagon?

(first posted 3/24/2012)    Chrysler’s Town & Country went through several iterations over the decades. It had been a station wagon, two-door hardtop, four-door sedan and convertible between the 1940s and 1980s, but the biggest change came for the 1990 model year, when the luxury wagon became a luxury minivan.

The Town & Country was originally introduced in 1941 as a premium station wagon based on the eight passenger sedan. It set itself apart from contemporary wood-bodied station wagons in that the roof was steel, with only the side and rear panels being wood. Another unique feature were a pair of center-opening ‘Dutch doors’ in the back instead of the conventional tailgate and hinged rear window, again owing to the modified sedan structure. Less than 1000 were made.

The classic Town & Country convertible came out after World War II, and along with a four-door sedan variant, replaced the station wagon. They would be built through 1948 with only minor changes.

Chrysler intended to have a full lineup of postwar T&Cs, with a planned roadster, Brougham two-door sedan and two-door hardtop in addition to the sedan and convertible. They even went as far as to print them in the 1946 brochure, but they were never put into production, though a few prototypes were built. At least one of the hardtops survived and has been restored.

When Chryslers were redesigned for 1949, the Town & Country was back in convertible form, though the sedan was discontinued. In 1950, the T&C became a two-door hardtop. It was a one-year only model and the last of the wood-bodied Town & Countrys.

Starting in 1951, the Town & Country became a steel bodied station wagon. These luxury wagons typically were based on the New Yorker and were available in two- and three-seat versions. Its primary competition during the ’50s were the Buick Caballero/Estate Wagon and Mercury Colony Park.

Town & Countrys received the same updates as the other full-size Chryslers through the mid ’70s. These wagons were never cheap. By 1962 they cost $4766, which adjusts to slightly less than $36,000 today. 1964 was the last year for pillarless wagons.

Despite the model’s history, Town & Countrys built after 1950 would not have wood sides, real or otherwise, until 1968. After that, however, it would become de rigueur on Chrysler wagons.

By the mid-’70s, federal safety and emissions regulations were taking their toll. The T&C was still a giant luxury wagon, but not for much longer. CAFE was the last straw, and Chrysler was going to have to put all their cars on a diet.

Town & Countrys were downsized in 1978 and moved to the LeBaron chassis, itself a modified luxury version of the Aspen/Volare line. This version would continue through the ’81 model year.

After Chrysler’s latest crisis in 1979, the front wheel drive K-car was finally unveiled for 1981. In ’82, the T&C was moved to the K platform. In a nod to the past, a wood-sided Town & Country convertible joined the station wagon. The convertible was available through 1986, while the wagon lasted until 1988. It was time for a new direction.

The Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager minivans took the US by storm when they were introduced in 1984. The ‘garagable van’ was a new concept and everybody suddenly had to have one. The 1990 T&C was introduced in 1989 on the long-wheelbase Grand Caravan/Grand Voyager platform. As a Chrysler it had many standard features, including leather, front and rear air conditioning, and power everything.

MSRP was $23,625, adjusted to $41,000 in 2012 dollars. This car was not cheap, reflected in sales of less than 10,000 for 1990. Colors were limited to Bright White or Black, with tan leather. These vans could be powered by a choice of two V6s, a 142 hp 3.0L or 3.3L with 150 hp.

The 1990 Town & Countrys were a one-year model, as all 1991 Chrysler minivans were redesigned with a more aerodynamic profile and redesigned interiors. The wood applique continued as a standard feature.

In addition to the revised sheetmetal, Town & Countrys had a new electronic instrument cluster and overhead console with compass and exterior temperature. The 3.3L V6 was now standard. All wheel drive was now optionally available.

Another neat option was Quad Command seating, which replaced the middle bench seat with two bucket seats. In 1991, my parents ordered a new 1992 Grand Caravan ES with AWD and Quad Command seats, and I can tell you it was very cool to have your own bucket seat. The rear bench seat was always the least popular spot. Our Caravan was loaded to the gills and was basically equipped like one of these T&Cs.

The biggest difference was the digital dash, fake wood on the instrument panel instead of black trim, and the wood applique on the sides (our Caravan had the monochromatic white paint & wheels with red accents). Most post-1992 T&Cs I saw had the gold pinstriping instead of the wood sides. My dad had a ’95 as a loaner one time when his Grand Cherokee was in for service – it was not that different, though the interior was more Brougham-like than our van.

Town & Countrys continued in this form through 1995, at which point they lost the K-derived chassis for an all-new design. I first saw our featured van the night before these photos were taken. It was going the other way and it registered that it was a rare ’90 before disappearing into the night. I was very happy to find it the next day, parked on the street. Despite the drastic change to minivan form, the T&C is still with us. The 1990 was the pioneer in luxury minivans.