In today’s day and age, minivans are not frequently looked upon in a positive light. Despite being among the most versatile and space efficient people movers, minivans tend to make both men and women, old and young alike cringe at the very mention of them, for reasons I personally can’t fully understand. While decidedly not an enthusiast vehicle, apart from the fact that some modern minivans such as the Honda Odyssey look more “minibus”-like, I truthfully see the minivan in no worse a light than I do mainstream CUVs/SUVs, which is not the case for most — just look at crossover sales versus minivan sales in the U.S. over the past decade.
While most brands have in fact stopped producing minivans altogether in favor of one or several crossovers, it should be noted that Chrysler is the only mainstream brand in the U.S. that does not sell a crossover while still offering a minivan. In fact, Chrysler put in a rather significant amount of investment into its newly-introduced sixth generation minivan to confidently reclaim its status as the industry benchmark. Somewhat ironically, it is now just sold as the newly reincarnated Chrysler Pacifica, a name last applied to Chrysler’s crossover.
Chrysler’s commitment to the minivan comes as little surprise however, as after all Chrysler created the very first minivan, and crossovers owe a great deal of their very existence to the minivan. The story of the Chrysler minivans’ development, which largely encompasses the modern minivan’s creation as a class of vehicle, is widely known due to its significance, and has been told in great detail here before by Paul.
Released in 1983 as 1984 models, the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan created an entirely new segment in the industry that has had lasting influence, even if the minivan’s popularity and general desirability has declined from its zenith at 1.4 million units in 2001. As North America’s first front-wheel drive minivans, the T-115, as it was known internally during development, offered a trifecta of space efficiency, fuel efficiency, and affordability that fullsize vans, wagons, and SUVs could not match.
Using the Chrysler K platform as a basis (the minivans’ EEK platform was officially designated the Chrysler S platform), along with K’s powertrain and a large percentage of its components allowed the automaker to keep developmental costs down. The bulk of the minivans’ budget went towards their bodies, which shared no common sheetmetal with the K-cars.
A testament to space efficiency, the S-minivans rode on a 12-inch longer wheelbase than a comparable Aries/Reliant wagon, yet were externally several inches shorter, several inches wider, and nearly a foot taller, resulting in greater passenger capacity and nearly double the interior volume with the rear seats removed. Furthermore, the lack of any transmission “hump” intrusion made for an entirely flat floor, something not found in any comparable vehicle.
Standard seating was for five, consisting two front buckets and a three-person bench in the rear with a foldable seat back. Tracks in the floor allowed the rear bench to be repositioned fore or aft up to 6.5 inches for greater cargo or passenger space, or completely removed via its quick release latch floor anchors.
Seven passenger seating in 2+2+3 configuration was optional on midlevel SE and luxury LE models by adding a fixed-back middle row bench positioned towards the driver’s side for easy third row access. Beginning in 1985, SE models were available with a front bench seat, making for either six (3+3) or eight (3+2+3) passenger configurations.
Going on sale in the fourth quarter of 1983, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager were met with instant success. With the first completed minivan, a Plymouth Voyager, rolling off the assembly line on November 2, 1983, there were 19,397 minivans were delivered in 1983 alone, with another 190,516 in 1984 making for a combined total of 209,895 first year models sold. Surpassing the automaker’s break-even point of 155,000 units per year, it was clear the Chrysler was onto something with its innovative new vehicle.
The minivan’s success and popularity made it one of the key vehicles to Chrysler’s rebound and profitability during the 1980s, a startling contrast to its situation only a few years prior. In more ways than one, the T-115 was Chrysler’s “Magic Wagon”, a term used in initial press and advertising material, which never caught on in favor of the term “minivan”.
Not taking the minivan’s success for granted, Chrysler made consistent improvements and refinements to the Voyager and Caravan on a regular basis. The aforementioned available front bench came along in 1985, along with the “Convert-a-bed” fully reclining three-person rear bench, and the “Magic Camper” package which added an attachable 8’x10′ tent.
1986 saw the addition of electronic cruise control and a few new colors schemes, but far more significant changes came in 1987, in the form of a substantial mid-cycle refresh. Externally, Voyagers were now distinguished by composite headlamps, along with a new grille, taillights, and wheel options. Inside, a mild refresh included new upholstery fabrics, an available full-height center stack with additional lower storage console, and restyled front door panels which eliminated the “casket handle” door pulls on LE models.
Midway through the 1987 models year, the Voyager’s engine lineup was completely overhauled . A larger 2.5-liter version of Chrysler’s aptly named “K” inline-4 replaced the 2.2L K as the standard engine, for small gains of 4 horsepower and 16 lb-ft of torque. Likewise, the previously optional 2.6L Mitsubishi-sourced I4 gave way to a 3.0L Mitsubishi V6, for gains of 32 horsepower and 26 lb-ft torque, and notable as the first such application of a V6 in a K-car relative.
The biggest change reserved for a late-1987 introduction was the addition of an extended-length bodystyle, christened the Grand Voyager. Riding on a 7-inch longer wheelbase with a length increase of 15 inches overall, the Grand Voyager, available only in SE and LE trims, added 15 additional cubic feet of cargo volume for seven-passenger models with seats in-place and a total of 25 cubic feet of cargo volume with all rear seats removed.
1987 also marked the year when total cumulative sales of Chrysler’s minivans reached and surpassed the one million mark — a substantial feat for only four years on the market. Adding the Grand Voyager and Grand Caravan helped total Chrysler minivan sales increase by roughly 30 percent in 1988, their first full year on the market. 1988 also saw combined Dodge/Plymouth sales top 400,000 units for the first time ever.
Despite their humble and rather simplistic origins, the funny thing about Chrysler’s minivans is that their formula and success was something competitors found it very difficult to replicate. General Motors and FordMoCo quickly responded to the Voyager/Caravan with their Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari and Ford Aerostar competitors, but in typical American fashion, pursued the “bigger is better approach”, with significantly wider and taller rear-wheel drive competitors.
Lacking the car-like handling, space-efficiency, and maneuverability, these “shrunken fullsize vans” barely made a dent in Chrysler’s dominance of the segment. Later front-wheel drive entries from GM, Ford, and other manufacturers had slightly more success, but still did little to topple Chrysler’s leadership and popularity in the minivan segment, a segment which Chrysler virtually created and one which was becoming ever-important to the U.S. automobile industry.
Along with sport utility vehicles, which were slowly rising in popularity over the course of the 1980s, the minivan completely changed the landscape of family vehicles in the United States. Most popular with adults 35-50 year of age with children, the minivan effectively replaced the fullsize station wagon as the preferred and soon somewhat stereotypical “soccer mom/dad car” in the U.S.
Constituting nearly 20 percent of total vehicle sales in the U.S. in the early 1960s, sales of station wagons, particularly fullsize station wagons, had been on the decline since the mid-1970s. This was largely a result of of the fluctuating gas prices, manufacturers including Chrysler reducing their station wagon offerings, and above all, the desire of the baby boomer generation to drive something different than what their parents drove.
In 1982, “minivan” sales in the U.S. totaled only 12,847 , consisting of the very un-minivan like Volkswagen Vanagon, which was rear-engined, rear-wheel drive. By 1984, after the introduction of the Voyager/Caravan duo, as well as the much un-minivan like Toyota Van, minivan sales in the U.S. totaled 257,196. By 1990, minivan sales in the U.S. had reached 933,630 units, with 40.1 percent of those coming from Chrysler.
While the early-1990s recession reduced all new vehicle sales in the U.S., the ensuing booming economy, continuous improvement of the minivan formula, and greater amount of competitive offerings than ever helped minivan sales in the U.S. steadily rise throughout the mid-to-late 1990s, peaking at just under 1.4 million in 2001.
Despite high sales of both the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, it should be noted that the Voyager was one of the first Plymouths outsold by its Dodge counterpart. Historically, Plymouth, as Chrysler’s value-oriented brand always outsold Dodge by a large amount. As the years progressed, however, with Dodges and Plymouths becoming more and more similar to the point of existing as identical products with a different badge, Dodge began outselling Plymouth, largely a result of its more effective marketing and perceived higher status and thus value proposition.
1982 was the last year in which more Plymouths were sold than Dodges, with the gap between the two brands, as well as the Voyager and Caravan, widening as the decade progressed. The fact that minivans were classified by the EPA as light trucks and not cars makes it more difficult to obtain exact sales figures, especially as it’s often hard to distinguish if numbers are production numbers, model year sales or calendar year sales.
However, through an achieved study on 1990 model year vehicle fuel efficiency conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy in 1991, sales figures appear consistent with other sales and production figures found from other sources. By this featured car’s 1990 model year, the last of the first generation, Chrysler sold a total of 390,306 of its S-minivans, consisting of 200,450 Caravans/Grand Caravans, 175,518 Voyagers/Grand Voyagers, 11,287 of cargo-only Dodge Mini Ram Van, and just 3,051 examples of the newly-introduced Chrysler Town & Country, the latter an even lower number than the amount of Chrysler’s TC by Maserati roadsters sold that year.
In today’s age of minivan aversion, the sheer significance and lasting influence of the minivan is something that’s oft forgotten. In truth, however, the minivan was nothing short of monumental. A car that completely revolutionized the automobile industry, with its innovative combination of compact car-like maneuverability and exterior size, fullsize van-like versatility, and fullsize station wagon-like interior capacity, the minivan’s most lasting effect is what’s now the hottest vehicle segment in the United States: crossover utility vehicles.
Combining the versatility and functionality of a minivan with the more macho looks, and sometimes, the capability of a traditional SUV, crossovers are fast becoming the most popular type of vehicle, at least in the United States. One has to wonder how the modern crossover would differ, had it not been for the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan, the original minivans.
Photographed: South Weymouth, Massachusetts – October 2017
The original Chrysler minivans had the best basic design and layout, with superior engine access – important to someone that buys vehicles long past their warranty. Chrysler spoiled that with their jellybean 1996 cab-forward redesign.
Unfortunately, those minivans were also spoiled by Chrysler’s chronic automatic tranny problems.
My younger brother bought a low-mile used 4-cylinder Voyager to replace his ’83 Celica hatchback for hauling band equipment. The tranny died two months after he bought it, transforming it into a backyard storage-shed, as my brother couldn’t afford the repair.
The Celica soldiered on as his bullet-proof equipment hauler for another 10 years!
Happy Motoring, Mark
Best thing to do is to swap the engine of yours now ”shed” Voyager with the Célica engine .
Some guy replace it with a TDi : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iiPwnqoEPbA
This brings back very fond memories of my first minivan, a 1984 Dodge Caravan C/V, bought in the fall of ’84 as a new leftover, and promptly sent out to the local van custom shop for soundproofing and finishing of the cargo area.
Which then became our “SCA-wagon”, transporting loads of armor, swords, medieval pavilions, etc. to various medieval events over the remaining seven years of my first marriage.
If you ever doubt the ubiquity of a Chrysler minivan back in the ’80’s, have someone who was in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) back then show you pictures of the parking lot at the Pennsic War (a 7 day medieval camping event for between 5-8,000 people at the time, north of Pittsburgh). Fully half the vehicles there were some variation of Voyagers or Caravans.
Homeschool conventions were the same way. The other half of the vehicles were full-size vans.
I’m a minivan owner. I get the minivan aversion. But damn its a really handy vehicle. It tows, seats 7, with seats down it can haul almostcas much as a pickup and I wouldn’t exactly call it slow.
The pacifica is nice. Really nice. I think tho that it has too many electronic gizmos that some of which will fail. The fist gen dodge was revolutiinary for north america (not Asia or Europe), but they cuda beefed up the tranny or at least add a seperate tranny cooler.
I used to be minivan-averse as well, but then it occurred to me that minivans offer more versatility at a lower cost than any SUV. We do a lot of long-distance traveling and camping, and while I’d like something a little more heavy-duty, and would like 4wd, it’s not worth the extra cost. Small SUVs/CUVs don’t have the utility, and large SUVs like Expeditions cost a fortune and are also less maneuverable in city-type environments. So, for us the choice of a minivan became clear.
That said, I too get people who avoid them at all costs. Just yesterday, I saw a Dodge Caravan with this type of bumper sticker. It made me laugh; I totally get it.
Back when I was in college, in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I had a job that in part involved loading things into customers’ vehicles. I was rather surprised to discover just how little usable interior space the Explorers, Blazers, Durangos, and similar SUVs of the day had compared to a similarly sized minivan. The only ones that did have a large amount of interior space were the monstrously large ones like Suburbans and Expeditions, but that’s just because they’re such gigantic vehicles overall. Around that same time there was a lot of backlash against SUVs for being inefficient and more about image and status than actual utility. Many SUV owners responded to that criticism by claiming that they need their SUV for hauling lots of cargo and/or passengers. Based on my experience above, I’d say no, if moving people and cargo is what you need then what you really need is a minivan. I mean if you really want an SUV that’s fine, but at least admit that you bought it because you think they’re cool, not because you need the room that they don’t actually have.
I agree; I think the difference is, SUVs have a truck-like stance and need space for the RWD/4WD driveline. What one gives up in interior room, however, one gets back in ground clearance, if it matters.
It would be interesting to compare interior dimensions of a pre-Panther Country Squire with, say, a Ford Expedition.
I don’t know how those two compare, but it seems like I heard somewhere that the Taurus Wagon actually had more cargo space than the Explorer of the same era. The Explorer was taller, and as such could fit certain bulky items that the Taurus couldn’t, but if you were just carrying luggage or similar you could fit more of it in the Taurus.
WildaBeast, you are absolutely correct. Years ago my wife and I bought a large leather couch from a mall department store’s furniture close out department. Not wanting to pay the delivery charge, I backed her Town & Country to the loading dock and the guys at the dock kind of snickered because I was trying to get this couch into a minivan instead of a truck or large SUV. In a matter of minutes all of the rear seats were folded down and the guys started loading the couch. Much to their surprise it went right in and although I had to move the front seats forward a little, it swallowed up that 8 foot couch with the rear hatch closed.
Before I pulled away I said to the guys, “And that gentlemen, is why you want a minivan and not an SUV.”
These Chrysler minivans succeeded on a number of levels.
They enticed people who had never considered a Chrysler product into purchasing one.
They presented a new and innovative approach to people moving.
They altered the automotive landscape to a large degree.
In retrospect there were a few flaws but for the time they were introduced, they hit a really nice sweet spot.
Brendan, you’ve reminded me of things about these minivans I had forgotten. Also, I have a set of pictures of an AWD Dodge (I think) minivan of this vintage. I’ve been sitting on them for three or four years; if you want them, let me know.
Sure Jason! If you ever want to send them over to me, I’d be happy to do a post in the future.
That sounds good. I’ll get them to you later today.
I wouldn’t mind having a gander at them also please if you wouldn’t mind. I had an 87 Voyager as my first minivan and I count that among the cars I have had that I have loved the most. Great versatility, comfortable on long distance trips, very reliable. Had two more Moparvans after that one – a 99 and an 01.
what year was it
It’s astonishing how only three companies (Chrysler/FCA, Toyota, Honda) really “got” what minivans were about, whilst GM, Ford, and some Japanese imports like Nissan and Mitsubishi totally misread what people found appealing about Chrysler’s product. GM and Ford actually pitched the Astro and Aerostar as Chrysler minivan competitors in their first few years, before eventually realizing they’d need a proper FWD, lower-floored minivan to compete with them (and they botched those too). The Astro and Aerostar both had a long run, but most of their business was to commercial customers who wanted a smaller version of a full-size van. FCA continues to dominate the minivan market in the US; both the Pacifica and the Grand Caravan have large market shares and together much higher sales than either the Odyssey or Sienna. I’m not sure renaming the well-known Town & Country was a good move though.
Reminds me of how Ford once “owned” the American full-sized station-wagon market even though its platform wasn’t exceptional. The minivan effectively replaced the wagon in role, and in a much more efficient package.
SUVS are effectively another form of station wagon.
To be fair, Mazda clicked with the last generation MPV. The only problem was it was underpowered. When they fixed it with a larger engine, no one noticed and it died on the vine. By that point, the SWB minivan (which had been the perfect size) had been fully supplanted by the SUV and LWB minivan. It’s a real shame there’s no longer a SWB minivan with the dimensions of the Chrysler T-115. Today’s ‘mini’ vans drive like tanks in comparison.
Shame about the MPV. The only “baby” vans that have caught on here are fleet types like the Transit Connect, NV200, and ProMaster City, which are not aimed at the family market.
I liked the last-gen MPV too – it combined the original SWB Chrysler size with updated features like a fold-into-the-floor third row seat. But people probably didn’t realize what the MPV had become given that the previous generation was more like a crossover SUV than a minivan, what with its RWD or AWD driveline, hinged side doors, and non-flat floor. The SUVishness was particularly played up on the AllSport model, fender flares, mudplates, grille guards and everything. Then from that to a pure FWD minivan.
I always assumed that Ford and GM must have laughed at Chrysler for turning the K-car into a van. They obviously understood that the market wanted a smaller van like the Moparvans, but must have assumed that Chrysler built it upon the K platform not because that’s what they wanted to base the minivan on, but because Chrysler really didn’t have any other choice. So both GM and Ford went ahead and built the vans that they thought the market really wanted. It took them years before they realized that Chrysler had actually nailed it and people actually wanted a small van built upon a FWD car platform.
I would also argue that Honda didn’t get it right away either. The first generation Odyssey was kind of an odd-ball with it’s four swinging doors on a minivan like design that didn’t seem very popular. It wasn’t until the second generation that it adopted the formula established by the Moparvans and sales really took off.
The first-gen Odyssey was advertised as “the minivan for people who aren’t really minivan people” or something like that. To Honda’s chagrin, most people shopping for a minivan were minivan people who wanted the practicality of sliding doors, a flat floor, and a powerful V6 engine. Now they’re trying for a second time with the Ridgeline, a truck for people who aren’t really truck people….
I chuckled to myself as I read, “…it should be noted that Chrysler is the only mainstream brand in the U.S. that does not sell a crossover while still offering a minivan.”
I suppose it’s not all that unusual when you only offer two models of vehicle!
Isn’t Dodge Journey considered a crossover? Or is it out of production?
He said “Chrysler brand”. Not Chrysler Corp.
It also helps that Chrysler has largely consolidated their dealerships into a single channel so most of them have a full line of Jeeps to sell.
The entire post-Fiat merger brand strategy is a headscratcher to me. I can see not wanting duplicate models, but rehashing the Neon as the Dart rather than sticking with the Caliber concept but redesigning it in a much more refined way led to a bare compact-car cupboard, way too much has been spent on reviving the moribund Italian prestige makes, there was never any real reason to rebrand Dodge Trucks “Ram” (imo that should be the *model* name for the fullsize pickup)…
Do people in your country actually call the ex-Dodge trucks ‘Ram’, or is it still ‘Dodge Ram’, like ‘Chrysler Imperial’?
They are still called Dodge. In my pickup heavy part of the country I have yet to hear one called a Ram.
I’ve long assumed renaming the trucks “Ram” was done to open up the possibility of selling just the truck business, or just Dodge but keeping the trucks.
With 3 kids, and needs to haul stuff, a minivan made sense to me at one point. I had a Frontier crew cab, which worked well enough with 2 kids. But the third child, having 2 in car seats – it just didn’t work. Chyusler T&C, however, did work. I could haul the whole family AND Nana tot he beach for a week. And the following week, go get a 4×8 and materials. All with one vehicle. And nothing blowing out of the bed on the side of the highway. I drove it proudly. And when I opened my little graphics shop, I half-wrapped it on the bottom to be able to advertise. Worked great. Still does for my ex.
Kudos, Brendan, for keeping the minivan love flowing! It amazes me how many clean old minivans you are finding in the northeast.
True confession: I hated these when they first came out. Well, not hated (I couldn’t hate anything from Chrysler 🙂 ) but I found them worthless. When it was time for a van in my own family I went countercultural and bought a Ford Club Wagon. This allowed me to spend years considering myself morally superior to all of the minivan-driving lemmings of the world.
But in the years since I have owned 3 and am a fan. You are right that these original Chryslers found a sweet spot that the market didn’t know it had, and (in its first four generations at least) exploited it masterfully – in a very un-Chrysler-like way.
You know I have a huge soft spot for minivans, especially the Chryslers 🙂
So, my fellow CC readers and responders: Which year Mopar mini-van do YOU consider to be the “Best” one of all the various years and generations?
Why do you say so?
Reply one, reply all!
The 3rd generation (1996-2000). The minivan perfected.
Styling-wise, my favorite is the 1996-1997 Town & Country
You picked the more conservative front end, and I agree it was probably a little more tasteful. I preferred the 98-00 version with the bigger grille and that that big chrome winged emblem in the middle. It provided just the right amount of swag that made a T&C recognizable from 100 yards.
It’s funny, I used to feel that way, preferring the 1998-2000s, but somewhere over the years my preference shifted to the 1996-1997s. Maybe my tastes in automotive styling are skewing more conservative with age?
More likely it’s just because I always saw way more of the 1998-2000s, and see almost none of the 1996-1997s today.
2nd Gen. You could get a 5 speed manual trans AND turbo for a few years of that generation.
Plus the 2nd generation (91-95) still looks good today and looks like it is a modern vehicle.
To me the 3rd gen looks dated and the 4th generation shows no originality (take a 3rd gen and add a few things and boom! here is the 4th Gen)
In terms of styling, I think the 2nd generation is best, but before the mid-cycle refresh (so 1991-1993). Overall, though, the 3rd generation vans probably had the best overall formula for convenience, value, space, etc.
3rd gen, early years. My reasons are based on personal experience and are also super-nerdy. My parents had one of each of the first 3 generations, also moving stepwise up the ladder from ‘87 Voyager to ‘91 Grand Caravan to ‘96 T&C. To me, (again, nerd alert) it seemed like we were moving up through the generations of Star Trek.
The Voyager (Vger?)/TOS was a bit flimsier than the others. The Grand Caravan was more solid and mature and serious-looking, not unlike the Enterprise-A of ST VI (I even thought the typeface and switch designs in our silver van bore some resemblance to those in the movie, perhaps an overactive imagination). And finally, the white T&C was sleeker on the outside and quieter and more luxurious on the inside, not unlike the Enterprise-D on TNG, with which it even shared the wood, tan leather, and swoopy-dash interior design motif!
I’d never seen that tent attachment before; it’s kind of a cool gimmick. Had I been my age now in the 1980s, these would have held some appeal, but I would have surely have opted for a poptop Vanagon instead. That would have been the wiser choice, given the transmission problems that abounded with Dodge/Chrysler minivans. A family friend bought a ’92 Caravan that went through 3 transmissions while still under warranty!
We ought to clear up that transmission issue. Until the 4 speed “Ultradrive” came out in 1989 the only transmission available was a FWD version of the old 3 speed Torqueflite, which was quite durable. For several years after the OD automatic became the norm the 3 speed was still offered on low-end short wheelbase vans with the smaller engines.
The Ultradrive (which soon got its name erased, probably due to bad early publicity) was quite advanced, but was often short-lived, especially early in its run.
Right you are JP. And in fact, the 3-speed was still standard in early-year 4th generation base vans!
We’re just a sample of two, but our ’98 Caravan went 95K with no transmission problems before it got totaled. Its replacement was a used ’98 GC with about 98K. The trans pan had gasket sealer on it so I figure it had already been “fixed” at some point. It ran out to almost 280K miles, when the trans finally died. No issues with it up until that point. Never changed the fluid, either!
I do, however, remember that several folks at church bought ’96s when they came out, and they all had problems, usually within 3-6 months of purchase.
My 99 T&C had a shaft break inside the transmission at about 207K. The guys who took it apart and rebuilt if for the lady I gave it to were convinced that it had never been out of the car or apart before. The prior owner had driven lots and lots of highway miles with the car. Up to that time it had shifted flawlessly and never gave any indication of failure. My guess is that a lifetime of short trips in city/suburban traffic (with lots of shifting) and lack of regular fluid changes (in other words, the way most of these were driven) was where you saw most of the failures.
While the Ultradrive wasn’t too great to begin with, Chrysler didn’t do themselves any favors by recommending the wrong transmission fluid, which assured failure in short order.
> Until the 4 speed “Ultradrive” came out in 1989 the only transmission available was a FWD version of the old 3 speed Torqueflite
The only *automatic* transmission was the 3 speed, but you could also get a 4 speed, or later a 5 speed manual transmission with the 2.2L or 2.5L vans. You could get a 5 speed stick with the turbo 2.5L 4 at the time this van was built. I didn’t think any V6 was ever offered with a manual, but apparently the Caravan C/V cargo version offered the V6/5 speed combo.
That tent is “curvilinear”! I wonder how long it took the copy writer to think that one up. And I don’t quite get the statement that the tent comes at no charge with the package. I mean, isn’t the package basically the tent? But hey, it’s good to see another Detroit factory tent, options that seemed to have a long history but pretty low take up rate. Though when we camped at Tahoe earlier this fall, there was a newer Chrysler minivan in another site with their tent set up right next to the van, though not connected.
My sister and BIL were some of the early adopters of these, a ’84 Caravan bought new in spring of ’84. Mitsu 2.6L “HEMI” (had to throw that in lol). Had some recall issues, including one of the side windows that could fall out (it happened to them) and I put a head gasket in it at about 140K. It was, overall, a really good rig. No trans troubles to speak of, and they got buckets ‘o cash for it when they traded it in, as these were still the very hot ticket at the time. I like them.
I sometimes think the minivan was TOO successful early on and that was what led to its’ ultimate downfall; there were a few attempts at first (as in, leading up to launch) to market them to surfers, “vanners” etc but that ended once the wagon versions proved so popular that Chrysler’s main challenge was supplying enough of them. That continued from the mid-80s to the early ’00s, the years the Baby Boom generation was raising the Millennial one, and by the time that was over the minivan was so firmly pigeonholed as a lifestage vehicle that any attempt to market them as a lifestyle one was futile.
Lifestage vs. Lifestyle vehicle. That’s an interesting way of framing the minivan conundrum.
Interestingly, I’ve known a few people over the years who owned minivans but are not at the “young kids” lifestage – and they are fiercely loyal to minivans.
For example, one is a childless couple who have dogs. They own a Caravan, which always has the rear seats removed, and they say the dogs can get into & out of the minivan much easier than in any other type of vehicle. Plus the minivan isn’t as unwieldy to drive as an SUV.
Another is couple in their 60s who are sort of compulsive accumulators/sellers of “stuff.” He uses a Toyota Sienna for hauling stuff around: It’s cheaper to operate than a bigger vehicle, and he jokes that if something can’t fit in the minivan, he doesn’t want it.
Like I said, these folks are devoted minivan owners – more so than many young families, who seem to aspire to the day when they can drive something else.
You’re talking to another one of those kind of people here. The middle seats came out of our Kia the day it came home, the rear seats are always retracted in the floor, except for rainy days while race track tailgating. And there are zero kids in the combined history of my (third) wife and myself.
For us, it was discovering that the minivan is an almost perfect replacement to the formerly ubiquitous mid-sized pickup. We’ll probably never own a pickup truck again. The only things it does better is haul dirt or a motorcycle in the bed.
I’ve definitely seen that too over the years, with people who are very loyal minivan drivers, despite not having many young or teenage kids.
I usually see it among older folks or couples who find the minivan’s easy step-in height and seating position ideal.
In fact, I recall around 2001 or so when my recently widowed elderly great uncle traded in his Buick LeSabre for a new Chrysler Town & Country. He was rather frail if I recall and had some mobility problems, so the minivan bodystyle was better suited for his needs.
You are absolutely right. The step in height is simply perfect for most folks – you don’t have to jump up into it or fall down into it. It does, unfortunately, get you roped into helping when kids move to a new apartment. 🙂
I have an acquaintance—the former mother-in-law of my good friend, and also a former yearbook teacher—who, a few years back, drove a 2005 Jaguar XJ Vanden Plas. We’ll call the woman K.
Well, K eventually wrecked the Jaguar. She said she had been run off the road, but really she had crashed into a tree. She didn’t even tell my friend and her son this; they found out via online public records. K and her husband, decided to get a new—this was in early 2015—Chrysler Town & Country…very nicely equipped. They took the hood ornament from the Jaguar and mounted it to the Town & Country, and got a vanity plate that says “JAGVAN”.
The reason for the minivan is because K and her husband were, in their mind subtly, hinting that it was time for my friend to start cranking out babies with K’s son.
Well…my friend shouldn’t really have kids, the marriage dissolved, and K’s son has expressed zero interest in having kids. And he’s an only child. So K is definitely not getting any grandchildren, but she is stuck with the Town & Country. I hope she at least likes it. It has a better step-in height than the Jaguar did, and unlike the Jaguar, the T&C’s air suspension won’t leak and collapse to the bump stops when it sits in the cold.
these were great but i think the minivan was perfected by vw with the t4 eurovan mv. i’m dreaming of the westfalia pop-top weekender version…
There’s no question that the taller body of the VW T4/5/6 makes for decidedly better seating in all the rows. Once you’ve sat in one of the back seats of a VW, any US-market minivan feels highly compromised in the back seats. But making minivans taller would presumably make them even dorkier.
This is a typical German thing; they will not compromise on certain things.
Of course, in Europe, the T4/5/6 is really more of a full-sized van, and is used so heavily commercially that a taller body is essential.
I like the first and second generation of the Mopar minivans.
You can see that the owner of that van made a little modification to the trim piece above the license plate in order to keep it attached, so many of those went missing on those vans due to folks grabbing the trim piece to open and shut the tailgate instead of that bracket/handle that was under it.
I don’t consider the Astro/Safari to be a failure. It may have been considered a failure by GM because it did not outsell the Mopar vans but GM did sell a lot of them in the 20 years they made them. In one area that the Astro outsold the Caravan was in the commercial vehicle area. The Astro van seemd to have cornered the market in this field. Dodge offered a Caravan for commercial use called the Mini Ram Van(Pre 1989)/ Caravan C/V (after 1989) which failed to get many sales.
As for minivans being “uncool” oh well, I bought mine for versatility and I have never cared what folks thought of my cars.
My $500 1997 Trans Sport is now my defacto daily driver. It is comfortable to drive and despite being a LWB, is easy to drive, maneuver and park.
Very good post on these. The interiors still look remarkably practical and inviting in their own way. When these were introduced, the “average” car was sized like a Plymouth Reliant, and the remaining full-size cars were shrunken, emasculated in the engine department and highly stigmatized as blue-hair mobiles by anybody under 30.
The problem was, the “average” car in 1982 or so was cramped, if not miserable for four or more people, and was lacking in the luggage department. People over 6 feet tall with kids and dreams of traveling to Wally World had to do something, and Ma Mopar had the answer in spades. Fertile buyers in 1984 buyers bought in big when the other typical options were the Country Squire and Olds Cutlass Ciera sedan. The Voyager literally came to the rescue.
Having come into my family reproductive years right in the face of the minivan maelstrom, these were interesting to watch and I eventually bought in – and bought out.
By 1999, the world was changing, and I was, as usual, a few steps behind. I purchased a brand new 1999 Chrysler Town & Country LX. It was the most expensive automotive purchase I’d made to date, and my first comment to my wife when backing away from the showroom to take it home was “we bought a bus.” Not exactly high praise for the most desired minivan of the late 1990s.
It was relatively noisy inside, and felt like overkill in the versatility department. Yes, you could remove all the seats, but the second row buckets were oddly hooked to the floor, you had to master a perfect twist to get the heavy suckers out, the third row bench was ungodly heavy to lift out, and took a lot of space to store when out of the van. And, you had to lift it back in.
I think I pulled all the seats once on moving day to a new home, and maybe the third row a few more times.
A rental Dodge Durango in 2001 was a revelation. Relatively quiet, and the interior versatility was much easier to deal with when a few simple seat folds could provide multiple easy configurations and as much interior room as I needed 90% of the time. The idea of having some real towing capacity when nautical visions were floating in my head was also very appealing.
So, I traded off the first vehicle I didn’t keep until it was dead for a shiny new 2001 Dodge Durango, and I still have it!
Yes, Chrysler Stow & Go sort of resolved the interior versatility issue, but the fact that only Chrysler has done second row folding seats is a testament to the compromise of less comfortable seats that result. And, vans just don’t work for boat towing – the picture of the van on the ramp in the post put a smile on my face – friends tried to use their van on a boat ramp and much hilarity ensued when trying to get the boat out of the water on a wet ramp. They visited their friendly Buick dealer soon and came home with an Enclave.
I’m not a van hater. With large SUVs priced prohibitively as rentals, minivans are my go to vehicle on family fly-and-drive vacations. The Toyota Sienna is a remarkable traveling companion with its space, sound insulation and powerful V-6. Five full-size roller bags behind the third row? No sweat. Heavily loaded, it flies down the road in a manner a 1984 Voyager could only dream about.
Last summer, I had the new Pacifica as a rental. It was as functional as our previous Siennas, but the drivetrain was not as responsive and the impression of quality did not match the Toyota. There is still space in the market for mini-vans, but you have to have the best product out there if you want to sell them.
I assume that Buick Enclave has AWD b/c otherwise it won’t be any better than an ordinary minivan when retrieving that boat: the drive wheels are still at the FRONT! RWD is superior to FWD for heavy hauling OR towing of any type, be it in a van OR SUV. The maximum tow rating for any of the GM Lambda crossovers is 5200 lbs., but it can ONLY be achieved with the factory towing package (it’s around 2000 WITHOUT it). An Astro/Safari tops out at around 6000 and the Ford Aerostar around 5000; these 2 vehicles can STILL tow a tad over 3000 even without factory towing packages. The image below is from a 1989 Ford Aerostar commercial.
Absolutely. I’ve been shopping Enclave and Traverse myself for our next vehicle with AWD and the tow package. It would be a secondary tow vehicle behind my F-150 for our boat and the primary for our jet-ski.
That Aerostar ad almost makes my spine shiver. In 1990, a friend rented two vehicles to take a group of friends to a Chiefs game. I was appointed the driver of the 1990 Lincoln Town Car (loved it) and the other vehicle was an Aerostar.
Both vehicles were loaded with men, beer and luggage. The 5.0 in the Town Car was competent in that it held speed on steeper interstate grades. The Aerostar was a DOG of the first order, lagging on upgrades. My guess is getting to speed with a heavy trailer would be measured with a calendar.
==One has to wonder how the modern crossover would differ, had it not been for the Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan, the original minivans.==
Not by much, because as the minivan boom was occurring, there was another boom occurring – the SUV. Throughout the 1980s we see a boom at Jeep. The Cherokee was experiencing explosive growth for AMC. We also see a boom in 4WD vehicles with Subaru, AMC, Jeep, Chevrolet and Ford all seeing significant growth within the US market. Not only were buyers driving new little Subaru wagons, they were also driving Chevrolet Suburban wagons.
The SUV boom does not owe anything to the old Minivan boom.
I’ve had two minivans and they were both excellent vehicles. Fortunately, they are for my wife and kids. They are excellent family vehicles. I hate them. They are to vehicles what a high rise condo is to housing. I drive them only when necessary.
When you have little kids, they poop and pee in minivans. They barf and spill in them. Minivans are rolling diaper pails that shouldn’t cost any more than a stripped medium size sedan. They are great at what they do, but driving them is about as exciting as riding in a mass transit bus.
Give me an SUV or a station wagon, please.
^This comment goes a long way to explaining Chrysler’s difficulty in killing off the previous generation Grand Caravan, which has been around since 2008 and only a mild refresh in 2012. It’s a cheap, basic family/cargo hauler in which small kids/dogs are going to make messes in. It’s a lot easier to live with compared to the other, newer, upscale minivans which, in the highest trims, can come close to costing twice as much.
Agreed on the messes. I wish there was an option to get cloth seats up front and vinyl in the back, for ease of cleaning. The kids are in car seats anyway.
I drove a current-gen rental Dodge Caravan a year or so ago and I found it to be a wonderful vehicle. Plenty of power and comfort. Handled reasonably. I’d drive one daily.
When my kids were young and I needed a minivan, the lot of them were wallowy, underpowered beasts. Bleh.
Brendan, I have to admit that your enthusiasm for minivans is having an impact on me. I have really started to see them in a new light, and there is much to appreciate.
Though conventional wisdom says that the K Car “saved” Chrysler, this was really the vehicle that kept them on the map. Looking back at old Consumer Guide Auto Tests in the 1980s and 1990s, for example, and the Chrysler minivans always earned top honors, even ahead of the Japanese makes, who had come to dominate the sedan segments. People who wouldn’t have dreamed of buying a Chrysler car happily snapped up these vans. And Chrysler worked really hard to keep them competitive and ahead of the curve, offering Japanese-style continuous improvement that kept them fresh.
As for the stigma of driving a minivan, I think that it’s the overwhelming practicality that does them in. They are so logical for hauling people and cargo that they fundamentally can’t be remotely interesting as a personal-use vehicle. In contrast, SUVs have that “go anywhere” imagery combined with practicality that makes them a choice for all sorts of individual drivers (young, old, single, married, families). The signals SUVS send are like a Swiss Army Knife of vehicles: “I can camp/haul/commute/dress-up/dress-down/survive the apocalypse, etc. etc.” Commuting into Chicago from the ‘burbs, for example, you see a stampede of SUVs driven by single commuters (and I’m one of them in a Grand Cherokee). Foolish, wasteful, image-driven nonsense I know, but minivans just can’t compete.
GN, you make a great point about how these vans brought people into ChryPly and Dodge dealerships who would otherwise have never gone within a mile of the places. In my circle of family and friends many of these were purchased. I can only think of one or two of them who had been Mopar customers before. I can think of one cousin who had been vocal in his disgust at Chrysler products – he became almost an evangelist for his Grand Voyager.
When we bought our ’92 GCV, I so didn’t want to have to deal with a Dodge dealer we used a broker! So there. 🙂
As long-time readers know, we’re on our fifth ChryCo minivan, and will look seriously at the Pacifica, if they’re still around in five years or so when it’s time to replace our current ’12 Routan (which gets 30mpg on the highway, FWIW).
Glad I’ve converted at least one 🙂
In the fall of 1984 we were ready to buy our first new car. Had two little kids. Often had grandma or aunt in tow. I really liked the new Chrysler minivans, and that’s what would have served us best, by a long shot.
But Stephanie was adamant about an SUV. She was totally into the looks/image of one, and frankly, the idea of being able to do some off-roading in the mountains appealed to me too. So we bought a Jeep Cherokee instead.
I built a little rear-facing seat out of plywood and foam that Stephanie upholstered. And I added some seat belts. That’s how we turned it into a 7-seater, along with a roof top luggage carrier.
But when our third came along in 1992, we bit the bullet and bought a Grand Caravan.
I will say that the swb versions lacked enough luggage capacity to be properly versatile.They were just too short, if one wanted to carry 6-7 and the luggage/camping gear. But the lwb version was perfect. That was really the key to making the minivan what it should have been all along.
It’s remarkable how the Jeep Cherokee served the family market in those years. 1982 may have represented an all time low in expectations for interior room in a vehicle. The introduction of a new and typically V-6 powered family wagon in 1984 seemed like one of the first steps out of the malaise era. The Cherokee probably looked HUGE sitting next to a Renault Alliance in the showroom.
With its incredible 17 year production run, the Cherokee was still around in my prime family years. I still found the exterior on some editions to be quite handsome and the value proposition was there. But, stepping into the backseat at the auto shows was remarkable. I literally had to hop my butt over the rear wheel opening intrusion in the rear door, and wedge my size 13 shoes through. The back seat seemed almost non existent. The Explorer, Durango, Tahoe, 4 Runner, Grand Cherokee etc. had made it obsolete.
I think that the number of kids and their lifestyle was the great divide between the minivan and the SUV in the 80s-90s. For families with one or two kids, particularly those not involved in carpooling activities, the Cherokee/Blazer/Explorer was the hot new thing. But for those with that 3rd kid or who regularly toted extra friends or family, those didn’t make the cut. The minivan raked up most of that business (with the Suburban being for those who could afford to not have to compromise either max seating or “SUV-ness”).
We fit into the latter category so any 4/5 seat SUV was never going to work. Frankly I found my Club Wagon to be a better value proposition than the Grand Carager because it cost the same and was a lot bigger. But then I am the exception who had a garage tall enough to house it and a Mrs willing to drive it.
A former boss deemed the third child exponential, and I came to live that. I looked very briefly at conversion vans, but potential cost, garageability and shear size, like a Suburban, held me back from that. That, and scarcity of such vans by 2005 or so. My wife likely would have drawn the line as she is not a fan of my F-150 Supercrew for in town driving.
While the F-150 technically makes me the owner of giant car, it still fits in my garage where a Suburban would not due to length. Our top family vehicles of choice have been three row SUV’s / CUV’s with the criteria of realistically functional third row seats, and most importantly, three across seating in the second row. Our Durango and the ever obscure Ford Freestyle met those criteria, with the bonus that the Freestyle can pull 23 mpg on the highway. For five of us, folding the third row down meant plenty of luggage space on reasonable travel adventures, and plenty of passenger space for carpools and friends with the third row in use.
By default, biannual airline tickets and large rental vehicles have been our stand-in for a Suburban or super mini for that trip to Wally World or wherever. My constitution seems to lack an inner Clark Griswold for marathon drives with kids.
These were certainly hugely popular on the West Coast, but at least in our area it felt like the minivan didn’t really take off until the advent of the Sienna and 2nd gen Odyssey. Our kids were born in the early ’90’s so we should have been in the thick of it, but while they were certainly well-represented in the drop-off zone and at soccer games, I don’t remember them as being pervasive, certainly not like SUV’s by the year 2000. Oddly enough (to me), around the time our kids were born, my wife’s parents bought the first of what ended up being a string of about 5 Chrysler minivans, very handy for loading up with three generations. I probably drove a few of them; I certainly remember a longish trip in their first 3rd gen, and found it quite pleasant. Unfortunately I only saw, but never drove or even rode in, the 2nd gen, 4 cylinder 5 speed Plymouth Voyager they owned briefly.
My father was a smart man, having purchased a new 1984 Voyager almost as soon as they rolled off of the line. He loved that minivan. Had a 5 speed on the floor. Paint was a mild navy with blue cloth on the inside. SE model. Engine died at some point and he just didn’t want to fix it. It went on to a second life elsewhere.
Then, he got a 2005 Town and Country. Treated that almost as well as the 1984. Was his last ever minivan.
We were the only family on that street with a Voyager. In 1984. Imagine that,
Excellent article. Few my pounts to share.
The story of Chrysler minivan again showing the US auto industries in 80s and 90s were much more innovating than critics thought. But they were experiencing market share corrosion. Japanese beat them attactive and reliable care that won the heart of American consumers. The results ended with government bailout of GM and Chysler in 2009.
Even minivan lost its glory because of 7-seat SUV popularity now. To make these SUVs roominess, auto makers are forced to copy the minivan space arrangement tricks. The prime example is the current model of Honda Pilot, a SUV share platform with Odyssey van, it is basically a high seating all wheel drive minivan (it is also sold front drive model ).
Anorher problem is today minivan is no longer mini, both Sienena and Odyssey are big –they are wider and close to the same length of my 83 Caprice Sedan. The last mini minivan is Mazda 5 which had very poor reception despite good porformance and review.
Strangely minivan is still very popular in Asian particularly in China, it is primarily used as busines executive vehicle. Buick G8, riding on old GM minivan platform, is among the most popular for successful business man when he or she feels Mercedes and Bently getting too much attention, the seating position in the second row is more spacious and comfortable, his assistants and body guards can be the same vehicle. Another one is Toyota Allphard, that is Lexus of minivan, popular among the super rich in Hong Kong. This vehicle is based on improved version of Toyota Previa.
As discussed before on a previous thread, “minivan” is really a misnomer for Chrysler’s pattern. It’s more of a “midivan,” as there are decidedly smaller vans sold internationally (e.g. Toyota Hi-Ace), as well as larger ones.
Toyota didn’t really succeed until they offered the Sienna; earlier models just weren’t big enough for most N. American families. The latest XL20 model is no larger than the XL10, which we have. It partly reflects size growth in its Toyota K platform.
The size increase (mostly in width) from the first 1984 minivans to today’s full-size models can mostly be blamed/credited on the growth and extended usage of child seats. I’m not even sure if there are any minivans that offer a middle bench seat.
“shorter than a K-car wagon”
I had forgotten just how petite these minivans were!
How, for so long, did Chrysler get away with using that Pentastar logo in place of actual brand logos (and note that they did not do this with Jeep)?
By the early 1980s, after its near death experience, Chrysler had discontinued usage of separate Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth logos for the Pentastar in both vehicle badging and promotional material. The reason was likely cost savings.
It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that they began using the Ram logo on all Dodges, brought back the Chrysler medallion logo, and gave Plymouth the new sailboat logo.
If I recall, my mom’s 1994 Grand Cherokee did feature little Pentastars on the trim just ahead of the front doors. By and large, however, Jeep was always a bit more independent than the other brands, sharing no common vehicles until the mid-00s.
As far as Jeep, it was probably because its branding was invaluable that it didn’t emphasize the overarching corporate branding…but yes, I remember the little fender Pentastars on Jeeps, too; they were also on other Chrysler vehicles’ fenders as far back as the early 60s when that logo was first conceived.
FCA quietly started retiring the Pentastar logo as soon as the merger was complete some time in 2014, but I just confirmed with my salesman friend, who works at a CJDR dealership, that they still print it on the windows of all their cars, including newer post-merger ones, like the Compass, Renegade and Pacifica.
GM kind of tried to embrace similar branding with those Mark of Excellence badges that appeared around 2006, and promptly disappeared after bankruptcy in 2009 when the GM name was no longer a thing of price…although the GM badges inexplicably appeared on every one of the new-for-2010 cars (Camaro, Equinox, Terrain, LaCrosse, SRX), except the 9-5. And GM did badge a single production car under its own brand, the EV1.
1981 was the last year of divisional logos in favor of all Pentastar all the time beginning in 1982. The Plymouth Reliant was introduced in 1981 with a modified Plymouth Rocket within the confines of a Pentastar, a one year only deal.
1995 was the year of the return of divisional logos. My 1995 Concorde was the first year of that model to sport the return of the Chrysler Blue Ribbon brand.
The final version of the Plymouth Rocket Logo…….
Wow. I’ve never seen that before.
In England, I drive a 2004 right hand drive, 5 speed, turbo diesel Chrysler Grand Voyager, made in Austria. It does 50mpg easily, quiet, comfortable cruiser.
Hmm. It must have been Magna Steyr who assembled the European ones, then.
That would be correct.
The CC effect: I saw a 2nd gen SWB Caravan on the way home tonight. It even had the early 90’s wheel to wheel running boards on it.
I’ve mentioned here before that I have a long running love affair with the original minivans. My wife was one of those who would not be seen driving a minivan. It was up until a couple of years ago that we markedly did NOT have a minivan. I finally got my wish, but ended up with a rather nice Oldsmobile Silhouette.
Several years back when my oldest was graduating from high school, I rented a then new Grand Caravan (2008) for hauling relatives to and from the airport. I thought it drove, handled and stopped well for a people moving appliance. More recently, I’ve driven my friend’s Town & Country and found it to be an excellent road tripper.
I remain a fan and foresee me keeping a minivan in the fleet for some time to come.
I didn’t want a mini van at first, but with two kids, one in a baby seat there just wasn’t any room in our ’94 Cougar. We bought a new ’90 SWB Dodge Caravan. There were just two rows of seats and it was a plain model but it had the Mitsu V6 and three speed auto. This was just the most versatile vehicle, I even had an early Honda Civic wagon, which I really liked, for a time. When the third child showed up we made the jump to a ’97 T&C with second rows capt’s chairs. This was deluxe rig and we took so many comfortable family vacations. The minvan is just the best family vehicle.
I know that story. Traded our ’89 Thunderbird for a ’99 LWB Town and Country. The Thunderbird was sort of functional when we had one kid, even with a baby seat. But, when the second kid came along, it just was not going to work anymore.
“While most brands have in fact stopped producing minivans altogether in favor of one or several crossovers…”
Which brands are those? Ford and GM? GM’s Enclave and Traverse (and first-gen Acadia) and Ford’s Flex and MKT are the full-size CUV replacements. Every other brand offers 3-row mid-size CUVs alongside its full-size mivians.
The thing with minivans is that although they’re more space-efficient than large CUVs, they only come in full-size. CUVs come in 5 sizes. Attempts at marketing other-than-full-size minivans have mostly fallen flat in the US market.
I have a 1990 voyager se turbo and NO it’s not for sale! 190k plus on it. Everything is
working like new. All the kids are grown and gone so took out the 2nd and 3rd seats.
Using it for cargo. Also remove roof rails. Great vehicle!!
Bob. Alberta Canada