(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.
I never realized the one year only 1990. This site is a great teaching tool. I can hear that distinct almost “clicking” noise the ultradrive makes as you put it into gear.
Thank you for a great article. You’ve highlighted a model with quite a history.
I spotted a picture of the Town & Country hardtop prototype at http://auto.howstuffworks.com/1946-chrysler-town-and-country-hardtop.htm
Are you a Black Keys fan, Tom? This is what I thought when I saw your first pic:
So did I. I just went to their show in Chicago and bought a shirt with that van on it.
The original minivans were almost the best thing to happen to the traditional station wagon. This brings me back to the 80’s and revisiting these, I still feel the same about them. We wanted one but couldn’t afford one – or didn’t want to make a car payment – so we drove our K-car and other used ChryCo vehicles throughout the decade.
We almost bought one after we moved to Ohio, but still didn’t want that monthly payment.
The one thing my wife and I had against the minivan was the lack of roll-down rear glass, because we don’t rely on A/C all the time. Now that the OEM’s have fixed that little issue, we don’t need one.
Our old Aerostar just had the sliding window on the side without the sliding door. Ours did not have A/C either, so the interior could get rather stifling in the summer. When I saw later minivans with tip-out rear glass, and more recently roll-up windows in the sliding doors, I thought they were great improvements.
My mom’s ’92 Grand Caravan had manual swing-out windows in the center section and power ones in the back. The switch was on the overhead console.
The original K-Car minivans were a fantastic idea, but the build quality was typically Chrysler, that is to say, generally crap. I remember my folks buying a brand-spanking new 86 Caravan and putting maybe 65,000 miles on it before the head gasket blew. Parts literally fell off, as well, including the door handle assembly on the slider that ripped right out of the door as I opened it when I was 12. I know that Chrysler eventually got their act together with later generations, but that Caravan was the reason my family swore off buying any Chrysler products again (well, except the Daytona Shelby Z– also a bit of a nightmaremobile– my dad bought in 1988, but that was before the Caravan imploded!)
My parents had an ’87 Plymouth Voyager SE with the pop out middle windows and remote back windows. However they were manual remote rear windows. There were two circular cranks just behind the drivers head that you could turn to open the rear windows.
I have seen one of these in my area, but always when I did not have time to take pictures. I compliment you on your eye for detail on these.
This vehicle is one more example of the new world order during this period: Chrysler as the marketing wizard and GM as clueless oaf. For generations, GM had been the 800 pound gorilla of the medium and high priced markets. Yesterday’s 48 Buick reminds us of the powerhouse GM was in that area. And even though Buick was still a major presence, what was the one GM division that did not get a dustbuster minivan?
Chrysler, on the other hand, loaded a Grand Voyager with leather and thick carpet and invented the idea of a high-end minivan. And made a truckload of profit on each one. People think nothing of a $40k Sienna or Odyssey today, but Chrysler blazed that trail years before. You could argue that Ford’s Eddie Bauer Aerostar got there first, but Nasser’s de-contenting killed it and made sure that the Windstar would never compete in this segment.
You could get an Oldsmobile Sillhouette min-van in 1990 at this same time already, with leather and luxury options, really the vans were already too close to each other to have a 4th dustbuster U-van, In fact, I would say that the hasty leather and “plood” on a Voyager first 1990 Town and Country is a hasty reaction to Oldsmobile comming out with a mini-van, since the Sillhouette and the other U-vans were already being shown at auto shows in late 88 I believe.
Although there was no Eddie Bauer Windstar, your couldget a loaded to the gills Windstar LX/Limited with leather and digital dash, captains chairs and the the whole works. Also there was a Mercury Minivan too, not that it helped, but the Villager, although based on a pretty crappy Nissan Quest, it did sell though a midpriced-upper midpriced brand like Chrysler, Mercury also got the next Windstar too as the short lived Monterey.
Oldsmobile Sillhouette: It’s the Cadillac of Minivans.
In the Volare and K-car T&C eras, they went back to framing the (fake) wood panel sections with lighter (fake) wood to harken back to the look of T&Cs from the 40’s. Is it just me, or does it seem rather dumb that they included a wood panel section on the front fenders when they did that?
Marchionne has talked about dropping the T&C minivan so there will just be the Dodge Caravan remaining. If they hadn’t discontinued the wagon version of the 300 (sold in Europe) when it was redesigned for MY2011, Chrysler could’ve started selling the 300 wagon in North America as the T&C. (Leave the fake wood off though, please.)
Have you seen this? I dunno if its real or not, but it does look great.
Oh I do really like that! I miss woody wagons so much. Putting wood on a minivan just isn’t the same.
“Marchionne has talked about dropping the T&C minivan so there will just be the Dodge Caravan remaining.”
I think he said the inverse of that. The T&C is the profit maker of the two.
They are dropping the Town and Country name on the Chryslers, though. They will now be known as the Pacifica.
One of the best movie appearances should be in here-
it is funny to see old T&C vans being used as ‘painter vans’, with ladders on racks. Like I used to see old Buick/Olds/Chrysler/Mercury station wagons used for work, long past their days in Cul-de-sacs.
Like this? Ironic how a $49,000 limited edition (less than 10000 produced) van gets turned up on craigslist for like $650 to be snatched up for this.
The newest to Our Fleet, a 1999 Oldsmobile Silohette is our first Minivan. It Has The leather, rather slippery if you ask me. But I Know it was marketed as “the Cadillac of Minivans”
I Like that it was an Orphan of a “premium” make. But Honestly, the basic white van comes through all too clearly in this Mom Mobile. At least we got it used at something like 92% off.
Pray what was this `eight passenger sedan’ you mentioned earlier? I’m most interested to know. Was it just a three row wagon with a trunk?
It was a long-wheelbase sedan with jump seats. Here’s an interior illustration of a 1940 version.
Thanks! Its a bloody limousine without the centre partition! Or a wagon with a rudimentary *middle* row. Grosser 600 MB had similar jump seats, but rear-facing.
Edit: It does say its identical to the Imperial limousine, only without the glass partition, in the ad.
Jeez! That’s nicer than my living room..
It was a Chrysler quirk that they kept 8-passenger sedans in the lineup through
52 for all lines except Plymouth. Part of the reason, no doubt, was the strong sales of DeSoto cabs until markets like New York stopped mandating 5-passenger rear capacity, but there was also a small but persistent demand from people with large families, a role taken over by the three seat wagon.
Picture #2 shows an early 1942 model.
The ad for the early 1960’s T&C with the oil field as the background is just fantastic! It shows how much our country has changed where the power source for our vehicles is now frowned upon.
> how much our country has changed where the power source for our vehicles is now frowned upon.
Aww, shucks. You mean folks won’t like my new Mitubishi electric car ad?
I’ve got this strange urge to buy an i-MiEV and put twin 6″ stacks on it…..
My wife has a ’00 grand voyager that is essentially identically loaded as a T&C aside from leather, and while I loathe the damn thing for breaking all the time, I will admit – its a dang comfortable way to transport a family of 5. With the double middle buckets, dual hvac, infinity stereo, and the big 3.8 it rockets down the highway with ease.
Were it a little more reliable and if it got better gas mileage than my quad cab V8 powered four wheel drive truck, we would probably keep it forever. As it is, it will soon be replaced by something small and efficient for kid carrying duty (the Kia Soul is leading the pack ATM), as 25+ MPG in town is appealing.
Chrysler really had something, but they blew it with the terrible transmissions and shoddy electronics.
think crashworthyness before packing the brood in a tin can
I spent a good portion of my childhood in a 1990 Town & Country minivan just like the one pictured here. I actually didn’t know until recently that it was a one-year model. We got it in 1991, it had been a demo of some sort and had very little miles on it. For a little while there, we were the coolest family on the block, as the T&C really was considered a full “luxury” minivan at the time.
I was 8 years old at the time, and minivan fever was in full swing. On my block alone was out T&C, a Voyager, a Grand Caravan, an Astro, a Vanagon, a Toyota Van, a Mazda MPV and a Ford Aerostar. The fever was so intense that even my dad sucummed to it by buying the Town & Country. I was an only child; there was truly no need for a 7-passenger van in the family.
Good memories of that van. I remember it had some sort of problem the first week we owned it where it just shut off at a traffic light and would re-start; had to be towed back to the dealer. I also remember the water pump failing spectacularly once, as well as the transmission going out. It was also quite loud inside from what I remember. But at the time, it was a cool way to get around as a kid.
wot an ignoble end ,to the chrysler town and country,lol plastic stik on panels on some dreary minivan..
“MSRP was $23,625, adjusted to $41,000 in 2012 dollars.”
My inlaws bought a fully loaded Plymouth Voyager LE for about $24k Canadian back in 1987. Twenty five years on, a brand new Grand Caravan “Canadian Value Package” is $19,995. The old Voyager would have had a few minor gadgets that the CVP Caravan lacks, but most of the major stuff is there along with a whole whack of stuff that didn’t even exist in 1987, and the new Caravan is a much better vehicle in most respects.
It goes to show how much Chrysler’s pricing power has eroded after 20 years of uneven quality. Twenty years ago the Mopar minivans appealed to a pretty wide demographic, and the T&C would probably have been driven by the kind of well heeled soccer mom who would be driving a Lexus SUV today.
We got the Voyager as a hand me down when my inlaws were done with it. It served us well for about five years when our daughter was young. The Voyager was certainly a practical vehicle, and the plush front seats were especially comfortable on long trips. We didn’t have many problems with it, but it had the old 3AT that was basically a Torqueflite turned sideways – an early Ultradrive might have been a different story…
Just came across the origin of “Town and Country” in a history of Boyertown Auto Body Works in Pa.
“Boyertown is credited with coming up with the term “Town & Country” in 1938 where it was used a proposal submitted to the Chrysler Corporation which showed three station wagon proposals for the 1939 Dodge chassis. One was called the Town & Country, the second, Country Club Sport, and the third, Country Gentleman. The first Chrysler-produced Town & Country would appear two years later as a 1941 model.”
Good condition ones can snatch up to $3900 as collectibles.
The one-year-only edict for the 1990 Chrysler Town & Country meant the following unintended consequences:
(1) Only 10,000 units of the T&C were allotted to Chrysler/Plymouth dealers using the original Grand Caravan/Voyager bodywork.
(2) Only V6 power was available (no 2.5L “Turbo I,” since it was to be phased out as it had served as a stopgap between the 1987 introduction of the Mitsubishi 6G72 (3.0L) V6 (along with the Grand Caravan/Voyager the engine was initially suited to) through when Chrysler made its own V6 engine, to be introduced the same year as the T&C minivan)
i has one i had it about 15 years i purchase it in march 1999 still running good very good van my Town&Country 1990 just like the one in the photo
I always wondered if these were available in colors other than white, as it seems every one I’ve ever seen has been a white one. So I guess the answer is only one other, and I don’t think I ever saw a black one.
Not the most appealing styling tweaks either–the vertical-bar grille doesn’t work in an opening this size. Much better integrated on subsequent models.
And now both the Grand Caravan and Town & Country will be replaced by the Pacifica.
The new, redesigned Chrysler minivan drops both the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country names (says Allpar). The only minivan line will be the Chrysler, with a name from the past: Pacifica.
It brings me great pleasure to state that clicking the link to this post was what first brought me to CC some 3-and-a-half years ago now! My life would be so much different had I never discovered CC.
I’m glad you did too! Where was the link, btw?
If I recall, I was actually just searching for pictures of the 1990 Town & Country and one of these images came up. Proud to be a working part of it today!
That would make a good QOTD.
In a kind of coda to this post, 2016 is the last year for the Town & Country nameplate. The redesigned 2017 Chrysler minivan will be renamed the Pacifica, probably because it sounds more modern and trendy. Here’s the ’16 T&C making its final appearance at the IA-IL Regional Auto Show in downtown Davenport earlier this month. They had a good run.
I’m not sure what they are thinking renaming their minivan Pacifica – it’s not like the last Chrysler to bear that name was a huge success. Plus, they’ve managed to kill the longest running model name in the US market.
The 2016 is a good looking design, and fully up to spec against the Sienna and Odyssey. But it’s still a minivan, and renaming it doesn’t really solve anything.
I had some hope when FCA took over Chrysler, but those hopes have proved as unfounded as the ones I had when DB took over. I wonder if things would have been better under my early 90s fantasy merger of BMW, Chrysler and Honda?
I agree on their changing the name not being a terrific idea, but it is apparently a done deal, I got a 2017 Pacifica brochure at the auto show. Unless it is a case of “Ford Five Hundred-itis” and after complaints from customers, they bring the name back like Ford did with the Taurus.
Maybe Town & Country can return as a trim level?
Fiat Pacifica sounds a bit more natural than Fiat Town & Country. Rebranding will be that much easier once FCA ditches the Chrysler name in a few years.
(I don’t want that to happen, but I sense it’s inevitable as FCA continues to gut its non-Jeep/Ram brands.)
Neighbor had a 1990 town and country probably about 15 years ago, that’s the last one I saw.
I saw a second-generation T&C with wood paneling and cheesy “New Yorker” wire wheel covers last week. I hadn’t seen one in a while, and I had a good laugh!
I have never seen one of these in a color other than white. There is a 1990 I see in Portland, OR whenever I am in a certain neighborhood and am sometimes tempted to leave a note on the windshield. It is the only 1990 Town & Country I know of around here.
One of my aunts and uncles had a K-car T&C wagon, it looked pretty much like the one pictured here. I don’t know which disappointed me more: that they traded a Buick Roadmaster for the Chrysler….or that as life-long Ford owners they had traded a Ford Mustang for the Roadmaster.
Iacocca gave Frank Sinatra a T&C K-wagon to replace his trouble-prone Imperial. Don’t know if it was Frank’s last Chrysler before he died.
I believe it was. A K-car wagon was a perfect stealth car for the time; who would see one of them on the road and think Ol’ Blue Eyes was behind the wheel?