(first posted 6/23/2013) Back in 1994, my Dad decided we needed a minivan and we test-drove a Windstar. We ordered a GL in this very shade (“Tuscan Bronze”), not knowing what it would look like. Once we saw it, we were in shock, promptly said “NO”, and instead ordered an LX model in a much more attractive shade called Champagne. It took us six months to get it. Was it worth the wait?
We left two weeks later for a five week trip from Florida to Tennessee and then to Michigan and back. Other than an issue with the brakes that turned out to be very minor, the van gave us no problems for the year and a half we had it. The only reason Dad got rid of it was because Mom didn’t like to drive it, and so it was swapped out for a new Explorer. Given what a bad reputation these vans have acquired due to blown 3.8 L head gaskets, grenaded transmissions and premature structural rusting (mostly 1998-2003 models), that was probably a good call by Mom. A woman’s intuition?
Granted Ford had the FWD Mercury Villager and RWD Aerostar to go head to head with GM and Chrysler, but they realized that they could possibly one-up the competition by doing a large front-drive van. The Taurus platform provided the basis, and from there the Windstar was born! It came out in January 1994 as an early 1995 model. At first it was only offered with the 3.8 V6 and four speed auto transmission straight from the Taurus/Sable/Continental. For such a large van it proved to be surprisingly quick off the line. It had a longer wheelbase than the competition so it had a very smooth ride.
The Windstar offered an attractive interior that featured a curved dashboard. When these debuted, the buff books promptly declared that the Windstar was the new King of the Minivans. Unfortunately for Ford, that title only lasted for one year, as the 1996 Chrysler Minivans outclassed all the others overnight.
The biggest advantage the Chryslers offered was the driver side sliding door. Ford claimed that they tossed around the idea in the consumer clinics, but the idea didn’t spark enough interest to make it worth doing.
By 1996 Ford found themselves with a bit of a turd on their hands, if for no other reason than the lack of that fourth door. As a stop-gap, they came up with the extended length drivers door, and included it on the early 1998 Windstars. This would have to do until the redesigned 1999 models with a proper driver’s side rear door would debut.
The Windstar sold reasonably well, averaging around 200k annual sales through 2000; then sales started a long decline. The renamed “Freestar” that appeared in 2003 did nothing to stem that terminal decline; if anything, sales dropped even faster. All 0f 2,390 Freestars were sold as 2007s before the plug was pulled. Ford had joined GM in being unable to make a successful mini-van, leaving the market to Chrysler and the Japanese (unless one counts the Flex as a mini-van).