Chrysler has needed saving a few times in the past few decades. I can’t keep track of all the different groups who have been tasked with saving Chrysler: governments (Canada and US), foreign automobile corporations, domestic private equity firms, etc.
Cars have done some of the saving too. The K car saved Chrysler. The dozen or more derivatives off the K chassis certainly helped. Chrysler struck it rich with minivans based on the K platform. In the good times, Chrysler was selling a half million minivans per year.
All their early minivans were based off the K chassis. But the new for 1996 minivans were supposedly a “clean sheet” redesign, planned as a minivan from day one. We had a small, growing family, and my wife drove an early 90s Grand Caravan. When it was time to “trade up” there wasn’t any real competition. We would get a third-generation Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth of some kind, for sure. We loved the new styling, the aerodynamic low hood and the steeply raked windshield. Chrysler’s new minivans had standard ABS, and available sliding doors on both sides. At the time, the slider on the driver’s side was positively revolutionary!
Also, remember what the alternatives were in this era: The Mercury Villager, the Ford Aerostar, the Chevy Lumina APV (also the Astro) and the Toyota Previa. Some of the competition was a joke compared to the Town & Country (I’m thinking of the Astro and Aerostar specifically). We paid a lot for our ‘96 T & C, but oftentimes you get what you pay for.
Besides the three brand choices, there were two wheelbases. The one we chose was the long Chrysler. Ours had every available option except for all wheel drive. It had dual zone HVAC, rear A/C, leather, alloy wheels etc. A very nice vehicle.
I found the van very ergonomically well-thought out. The placement of most of the controls seemed intuitive. I was surprised the first time we stopped for gas, it had 20-gallon fuel tank, larger than we expected. These vans were still designed to take a 4 x 8 sheet of plywood with the seats removed. They were roomy on the inside, and somehow did not look too large on the outside. All the outside glass hung down over the sheetmetal to make the greenhouse appear larger. Cool design trick.
Speaking of engineering, a seemingly inconsequential thing that impressed me was the washer fluid container. The first time the light came on indicating “Washer Fluid Low” I picked up some at the store. I popped the hood, began pouring the gallon in… and it took the whole gallon – precisely one gallon! A silly thing maybe, but the light came on when it would accept a gallon, not when empty. In the majority of cars I’ve owned there always seemed to be a quart or half-quart of washer fluid left in the bottom of the gallon jug. Too little to keep, too much to throw away.
Back to the engineering. If I remember correctly, Chrysler spent a fortune on R & D. The engineering budget was huge, plus they put on a bunch of customer clinics. This was the pinnacle of Chrysler Corporation, at least in my eyes. Chrysler was attracting buyers who would not normally choose the five-pointed star. Good ol ‘merica was beating the imports!
We kept our van for about three years and put a lot of miles on it. It was reliable, but in the end it had a water pump (weird, external one) which crapped out. We decided to get something else. I think I had the worst case of buyer’s remorse ever when we traded it in. We got a new half-ton Chevy Express passenger van, but it was like going back in time.
I’ve never been a big Chrysler fan, but I was for a time in the late 1990s.
The Chevy Astro & Ford Aerostar were NOT a joke when it came time to tow a trailer. The Chrysler vans were (maybe still are) already transmission-failure-prone WITHOUT a trailer attached without the correct transmission fluid & an auxiliary cooler. As J P Cavanaugh stated in the “How Hard Can It Be to Make a Minivan?” series, the product planners at Ford (& obviously GM as well) believed trailer towing would be important in the minivan market. Even with the tremendous hp & torque gains in today’s minivans compared to the last 2 or 3 decades, they still can’t tow near as much as the Astro & Aerostar b/c of how they’re designed. None of them (FWD or RWD) are inherently designed “wrong”, they’re just made for different purposes. It’s certainly hard to beat the utility of Chrysler’s Stow-N-Go system, but I have an Aerostar & can appreciate its Ford Ranger underpinnings.
You make a very interesting point. The early design meetings for these vehicles would make good case studies, I think, as the engineers tried to figure out exactly how consumers would use their vans. It does make you wonder how each manufacturer decided on “carry a bunch of kids” vs “tow a boat” as a main goal of their design.
Chrysler couldn’t afford design meetings. So they produced a 7 passenger version of the K car wagon since they didn’t have a real wagon to compete against the GM and Ford wagons. Since it was just an oversized K the only thing it could do like a full size wagon was haul 7 people. Meanwhile Ford and GM had actual budgets to create a vehicle from scratch and figured it should be able to all of what the family wagon could do which certainly did include towing at the time. Plus building them from the ground up as vans meant they were also suitable for commercial use which certainly helped their sales and amortization.
I don’t quite see it that way. Once the other big 2 saw that Chrysler had a homerun with the minivan they had to scramble to put something in the showrooms. The quickest solution was to put a minivan body on a small truck frame. It gave them something to sell while they developed their FWD minivans. They were smart enough to use the towing capacity to beat the Chryslers somewhere where it mattered.
Chrysler had the research and data that showed there was a market for a 7 passenger car-like vehicle that became the 1984 Caravan/Voyager. Hal Sperlich had been working on a similar proposal for a vehicle when he was at Ford and when he moved to Chrysler was able to build it because of the upcoming front wheel drive K platform. Ford didn’t have a front wheel drive platform large enough until the Taurus in ’85 and while GM could have built a minivan from the front wheel drive A platform they chose a traditional body on frame truck-like solution that became the Astro.
Sure putting a van body on the small truck frame would have been the quick and easy way to do a minivan, if you were scrambling or low on cash, but neither Ford nor GM did that, they started with a clean sheet. They are unibody designs and their suspensions are not shared with their respective mini trucks. The Ranger at the time had twin I beam with coil springs while the Aerostar had unequal length A arms and coil springs. The S-10 had the Eldorado’s torsion bar A arm set up while the Astro had coil springs in its A arms. Out back the Ranger and S-10 had good old fashioned multi-leafs. The Aerostar got a 3 link and coils out back while the Astro borrowed a trick from the Corvette using composites for it’s mono-leaf set up.
Bottom line the Aerostar and Astro have a higher percentage of parts that are unique to them vs the K based Chryslers.
Of course Chrysler had research that showed there was a market for something with more than 6 passenger capacity since Ford and GM were still doing pretty good business with their full size wagons.
Allpar.com has a good article on the development of the minivan: http://www.allpar.com/model/m/history.html
It’s difficult to understate how much Iacocca gambled on the minivan. It might even be said that if the minivan experiment tanked, well, Chrysler still could have went under.
It’s the only explanation I can come up with as to why Ford and GM were so loath to follow Chrysler’s FWD lead and, instead, went with a much more conventional arrangement for their minivan competition – it was just a whole lot cheaper. To their credit, Ford and GM were trying to look ahead and, rather than take on Chrysler directly, decided to save money and R&D in the hope that the higher load capacity of their RWD minivans would do well not only in the civilian market, but they would also score in the commercial arena. Chrysler, too, had a commercial version of their minivan but most fleets seemed to prefer an Astro or Aerostar, with the former lasting for decades. While Ford eventually succumbed when the switched to the Windstar, GM would keep the Astro in production virtually unchanged at the same time they would bring out their own FWD minivans.
On top of that, I suspect that executive management just couldn’t admit to themselves that they’d missed such an opportunity and were convinced that Chrysler’s minivan was just a fad that would eventually peter out.
To that end, Ford and GM weren’t that far off the mark with the rise of the SUV. They did okay with a strategy of concentrating on them; it just took a while. To this day, SUVs are still huge and minivans, while still selling, are no longer the juggernaut they once were.
It was not a whole lot cheaper for Ford and GM to go the RWD route for their first mini-vans, it was a whole lot more expensive as they were essentially clean sheet designs. Sure they did the common parts bin engineering of using existing engines, transmissions, brake pads, u-joints and the like, but the structure and suspensions were all new. Meanwhile the Chryslers were just a K car structure in front of the cowl and they certainly didn’t spend much money on the straight axle on buggy springs out back.
I wud agree with your post had it not been for my extended families issues with aerostar tranny failure and in other ppls as well. Can’t speak for astro… But aerostar was transmission issue prone. The fwd minivans in all domestics need an extra oil cooler to survive… Easy enough… But the aerostar, I think its tranny was simply too weak.
Nice article, yes this was peak minivan for Chrysler, after these ones the market changed and decontenting became the theme.
I wonder if ABS was included across the board for these though, because our 2007 Caravan does not have ABS (!!!) although the interior panels seem like they are all made out of ABS (ba dum bum – tip your server)
A couple years ago, we got a raggedy 2000 T&C Limited as a “surfwagon” for my wife (she has a 9-foot board). Even though it was pretty worn out–and a totally obsolete design–it was still an absolute delight to drive and to use for its intended purpose. Great visibility, tons of well-thought-out features, and surprisingly enjoyable to pilot down the highway or in the city. We have had lots of nice cars, but that cruddy minivan is one of the few she actually misses.
I did the same thing when I found a cheap high mile 99 T&C for sale at a time I needed a car. I bought it as a beater but quickly fell in love with it. I really like the Sedona that replaced it, but I *loved* that Chrysler. Had a new version of that van been available in 2012 I would own it now.
I wish we could say we loved ours. We really wanted to. Ours was a 1998 Grand Caravan SE. It was purchased new in the same year. While I will agree that many of the features were well thought out and everyone loved it’s very accommodating interior, most of my gripes come from the horrible Mitsubishi 3.0 engine that ours was saddled with. We only drove it for about six months before it had a main bearing in the engine fail. Chrysler/Dodge did not want to pay for the engine. It was pretty much one of the most expensive headaches, as far as a car goes in my family, ever.
Needless to say, that experience soured us all on Chrysler products forever. They didn’t want to stand by the product even though it was in warranty. We have pretty much stuck with either Fords or ‘Yotas since. I will say though, that the design has remained good looking. On rare well cared for examples, especially T&C’s you still can feel a bit of that luxury vibe of these vans.
I guess to sum it up, the thing I have always hated about Chrysler is they make some great looking cars, but every time we have had one, it’s problems, problems, problems. We had a ’95 Intrepid a little before the van. Beautiful car, very well optioned. Reliability nightmare. Actually stranded my mom in the intersection at Havana and Alameda in rush hour traffic in Aurora, CO. Scary stuff. I will give credit where due though, and I can say that the 1991 Ramcharger was far more reliable than any of these other heaps.
Sidenote: I actually came across a video on youtube regarding the lack of brake shift interlock on the Mopar minivans 1984-2000. If key is in ignition, engine doesn’t have to even be on, the shifter can be moved in all models without touching the brake. Scary stuff, especially in a vehicle aimed at families with kids. Luckily they are all pretty old now, so there can’t be a whole lot left.
The Mitsubishi engine was the 3.0l – thankfully it already had such a bad rep that I knew not to get that engine when we bought our first ’98 Caravan.
The Chrysler 3.3/3.8 engine development was headed up by the same lead engineer that brought us the /6, and those V6s are proving to be nearly as bulletproof. http://www.allpar.com/corporate/bios/weertman.html
The 3.3 you experienced was a Chrysler engine. The Mitsubish V6 was a 3.0 that was used in the 80s and was phased out after 1990 or 91 when the Chrysler 3.3 began manufacture. It is a shame that you had that main bearing failure, and from my experience you had a classic anomaly from a manufacturing defect. The 3.3/3.8 was an iron block engine that has proven to be every bit the durability equal of the slant 6 or LA 318/360 of the old days. Mine used zero oil at over 200K miles and I have heard that these are easy 300K mile engines if given even moderate maintenance. It sounds like you were more of a victim of a dealer and factory warranty people who didn’t want to stand behind a dud engine.
The more common rap on these is glitchy electricals and HVAC systems that were not as durable as they should have been. As always, Chrysler was more than capable of turning out the occasional 4 wheeled horror story, but I think it happened much less commonly with these than with many other of their vehicles over the years.
‘If key is in ignition, engine doesn’t have to even be on, the shifter can be moved in all models without touching the brake. Scary stuff, especially in a vehicle aimed at families with kids.’
My (at the time) 5 year old cousin did that in my aunt’s 97 Caravan. Scared the you-know-what out of my grandfather who happened to look up from the porch at the right time as the van rolled past him out into the street while my cousin waved from the drivers seat! Thankfully nothing happened…
I was gifted my parent’s old ’98 Voyager (stripper swb) as they no longer need two vehicles, and I was looking for something to haul stuff for my eBay/flea market vehicle without tearing up my daily driver SUV.
Unfortunately, despite dumping a bunch of money into it to pass inspection, and some more after it started leaking oil, it threw a rod on my way to an auction after about a year of ownership.
I replaced it with a 2012 Ram C/V, basically a Dodge Caravan without all those fancy windows and seats.
Nice article. I owned one of these, but it was the cheaper short wheel base Plymouth. Terrific vehicle and, as noted very well developed. I found it to be the perfect universal vehicle, good at everything.
I maintain the minivan concept is a victim of its own success. As they become ubiquitous, buyers rebelled at their plebian family image , and now choose the rugged/sporty/elegant CUV, vehicles that still are not as useful at their job as the minivan. Many of my friends have CUVs/SUV’s. They complain about the cost, poor mileage, size and bulkiness , insufficient interior room (relative to overall size), yet never use the towing or rugged capabilities. It’s so obvious they need a minivan instead. But try getting them to consider one. I’m not sure how auto makers can overcome this, possibly with electric vans?
I bought a unicorn in 1998–a fully equipped short wheelbase Caravan ES with center quad seats in pearl white with grey interior and I think the only thing it didn’t have was leather seats. It was an absolute delight to drive and one of the most thoughtfully designed cars I’ve ever owned. The ride, handling and interior put the 2008 Town and Country to shame that we bought years later. My wife put 100,000 miles on it in about four years and we were both sad to see it go but just as I had paid it off the transmission began showing signs that it might not be long for this world.
This generation of minivan along with the LH cars and the then new Ram pickups truly were peak Chrysler and gave me hope that Chrysler could become one of the great car companies. Sadly after the merger of equals (?) cheapening new model interiors became the order of the day and driving dynamics no longer mattered and many of the people responsible for Chrysler’s success had bailed out leaving us with such gems as the Dodge Caliber and Avenger and the 5th generation minivan that came out in the fall of 2007 looking like the box that the previous van had come in.
“Yes, a Minivan COAL”
I wrote one first!
…but at least mine had a proper transmission!
I jumped over there. Keeping it up to read later. But yeah, I’m pretty sure the manual was the one to have.
No, *I* was first. LMAO https://www.curbsideclassic.com/my-curbside-classic/my-curbside-classic-2002-olsmobile-silhouette-gls-this-is-your-mothers-olds/
Still driving our ’97 T&C and it still performs very well and looks good to boot. Bought as a low miler in ’08, it’s still a comfortable vehicle to drive and has about everything you could want. Hauls well and the overall design still looks contemporary compared to peers from that era. Did change transmission but largely my fault for letting the fluid run low after a radiator change. Coolant line leak my bad. I upgraded to a “shift pack” to improve transmission performance and can honestly say the van has never run better. Chrysler home run in my opinion.
Really sticky tires too 🙂
…but you do NOT want to drive that road in the winter.
When it came time to replace my Grand Cherokee a few months ago I wanted something cheaper on gas and bought a L series Saturn. Being disabled, good luck getting a car loan, whatcha got for cash? After two months of never ending disaster I dumped it and got a 2003 Grand Caravan.
It is about as exciting to drive as the barn door it resembles but I am expecting (even with over 150,000 miles on it) at least a couple of years of reliable service before Mr Rust wins the battle. My last Caravan I owned for five years (a record for me!) and still ran well when I sold it!
Say what you will about them (and trust me I have ?) for the money they are still practical, basic transport for those who fall under my dad’s motto of “if it ain’t fun it better be dead bloody cheap !”
I still have a 1986 Caravan in great shape…it’s awesome.
Awesome! We had a two-tone… silver above belt line, grey below it… ’87 with wire wheels!
Beautiful van! Reminds me of my much loved and missed ’88.
That’s a beautiful minivan and I always marvel at Sperlich’s packaging of those first models. It was truly revolutionary and reminds me a lot of comparing, say, a new Mustang with the original. It really is a classic and the sort of thing I’d love to see at a classic car show, like seeing a survivor sixties’ A-body Mopar.
That’s freakin awesome! Keep it safe and cared for!
Is it an SE Or LE
I simply love these. My 99 T&C had around 200k in the odo and still drove as fresh and tight as something with 1/3 that mileage. A friend had an 04 Odyssey with half the miles at that time and I didn’t like it nearly as well.
If only Chrysler could have engineered a transmission as good as the rest of the van, these would have been legendary.
Well, if we are all showing pictures of our favorite minivans, . . . .
And with an interior color that was something other than gray or tan. How long since anything else had green interior?
That’s not a green interior, it’s gray…maybe a slightly greenish gray. This is a green interior. So’s this (okeh, not completely, but the dashboard is green enough to do the whole job).
It was definitely (light) green, but it shows much better in person than in photos.
The pictures do not pick up as green as my minivan’s interior really was, but it was a definite gray-green. I would call yours more turquoise than green, but certainly more colorful!
Great pics JP! I don’t think I’ve ever seen pictures of your Town & Country which you’ve mentioned before. The NS generation was my favorite!
In 1954, Chrysler developed their very first fully automatic transmission. And from 1954, to 2017, they have yet to figure out how to build them right……
This re-design of all Chrysler brand minivans was quite appealing. I remember taking my wife and 3 young children over to the Monterey, Ca peninsula for a long weekend in ’94 or ’95 and they had a mix of the brand over at one of the hotels showing them off… they were such an improvement that even my 2 sons were oohing and ahhhing… one of the car mags ran an article about the display a month or two later.
At that time, our family vehicle was an ’87 Dodge Caravan with the 2.6L… so under-powered, but what a comfortable vehicle to take on an extended road trip! I replaced it at 115k miles, still going strong – with a new ’97 Ford Windstar… also very comfortable, more power, but not built for the long haul… saw evidence of a soon-to-fail head gasket at 100k miles, endemic problem with that 3.8 engine. Bad decision on my part.
Believe it or not: here below in SouthAmerica these fine Chrysler Minivans proven not to be as reliable as expected from such a presence with that big engine and its respectable ergonomics room inside. By the same time there were offered , among other brand’ s competitors, a humble still strange shaped minivan still Curbside Classic never shown to readers: the tiny but not so tiny Citroen Picasso Xsara of the first generation. It has the look of an aerodynamic egg , in the beginning nobody bet for this strange creature from Citroen . Now 15 years are past from this debut of both Chrysler and Citroen minivans . These are the facts : Chrysler Caravans sold an average of 25 units oer year, meanwhile Citroen Picassos were chosen by an average of 10.000 units per year. These tiny Citroen vans in only 1,6 Litre or 2.0 Litre became the unbeatable of this niche class. Reliable as a Ford F150 pickup but no way thirsty for gas at all, these Citroen Picasso’ s first generation put in pension all similar Chryslers, Opel Zafiras, VW Sharan, Peugeot 806 and most Korean minivans , companies retired their offered models earlier before its time since lacking of proper buyers, ‘ cause Citroen Xsara Picasso was selling like hot cakes and became the only-one player in the minivan’ s range, yet even Renault Scenic got off the battle . Suggesting the appreciated team of CC could be introducing to the readers the discovery of a worthwhile player in the global van field, the still venerable Citroen Xsara Picasso first generation, it deserves the place it won as a number one reliable tiny van , fuel saving, quite roomy versatile plus a design that don’ t leave indifferent to any sight .
I had one of the AWD Dodges as a company car. I expected a typical ChryCo do-it-yourself kit. I was pleasantly surprised to drive this thing over a quarter million miles with no trouble other than replacing normal maintenance stuff like tires & brakes – and even the brakes made 175k before needing new pads.
I’ve heard some say these things weren’t reliable. Then when talking to them, I noticed a pattern. Most seemed so convinced a ChryCo would be trouble that they bought something else.
I’ve had a few ChryCo vehicles and understand the sentiment. For whatever reason, these were different. The company had quite a few. According to our fleet manager – a die hard Honda fan boy – these ChryCo vans were the best vans the company ever had. He tried 2 fleet Odesseys. Both needed transmissions at a bit over 100k. Experience with the Ridgeline was much better and we still use them. No more Odesseys though.
If you would like an inside look at the vehicle’s development, pick up a copy of the late Brock Yates’ book, The Critical Path: Inventing an Automobile and Reinventing a Corporation. Yates had unprecedented access to the $3 billion ($5 billion today) program from the first planning session in the early 1990s to Job One and beyond.
The worst part of these ground-breaking vehicles? The horrifically cheap-looking steering wheel. The rest of the interior is so much superior to the crappy-looking RS minivans that followed, developed under DaimlerChrysler.
Two points to be raised. First, Chrysler had acquired AMC in 1987 and many members of the NS platform team were ex-AMC. Second, the profitability generated by the NS platform made Chrysler one of the most profitable car companies in the world at the time, leading to the now infamous DaimlerChrysler “Merger of Equals” in 1998, which virtually wrecked Chrysler.
And here’s one final interesting factoid concerning the NS platform. The Dodge Caravan EPIC battery-electric model was an early attempt at an all-electric minivan. A couple hundred were built and were lease-only, usually to government agencies. At the end of the lease, they were crushed (like the GM EV-1) but a reported 10 or so have made their way into private hands. With a range of 80 miles, about the same as the current Fiat 500E, it represents one of Chrysler’s lost opportunities to place an early claim in the electric vehicle category.
Here’s a Chrysler promotional video from 1999.
Wow, how CC effect. Just got back from my morning walk and passed one of these on a side street near my house. That one appeared to be a SWB but was otherwise very similar to the one pictured here except for the color….a sort of turquoise blue.
A couple of times over the years I thought of getting 1 of these when my back made getting into a “regular” car difficult/painful. I figured that the gas mileage was going to be worse than what I could live with but realize after nearly 2 years with a Crown Victoria it couldn’t have been much worse than an ex-police car.
I vigorously affirm that the third-gen Chrysler-platform minivan was the peak. We’ve owned five over the years, and borrowed a first-gen (turbo!) for several months when our ’98 Caravan was totaled, so I have experience with all but the second-gen vans.
When we gave our ’98 Grand Caravan (replacement for the totaled Caravan) to our older son, it had a touch over 200K miles on it, and it finally expired at 279K – transmission, of course, but the trans had never given us *any* trouble prior to that.
The ’06 GC we bought for ourselves was certainly nice, but the ergonomics were notably much worse than the third-gen van. Fit, finish and material selections took a real dive, too. This van got totaled by a direct lightning strike (!), so we replaced it with an ’05 T&C that we eventually passed on to our younger son. It made it to about 175K before a blown head gasket (3.8l engine) sidelined it. He’s currently driving his work van and his wife has an older Malibu that’s pushing 150K. He asked me about what to replace it with, and I suggested another Chrysler-platform minivan (used). They’re cheap, parts are available and cheap, and you can have it serviced anywhere.
Our current van is a ’12 Routan. It’s a bit better than the forth-gen vans, and VW put in better seats and a stiffer suspension (which I like), but it still doesn’t hold a candle to the ’98 GC. I will say, though, that the 3.6l Pentastar seems to be a great engine so far (~90K miles) and we can hit 30mpg on highway trips. The transmission, OTOH, leaves a *lot* to be desired due to its horrendous shift programming.
Presuming the van doesn’t break down sooner, we’ll run it another five years or up to 200K (whichever comes first) before thinking of a replacement. Given the platform won’t be around by then, I’m not sure what we’ll replace it with. Maybe I can talk my wife into a Chevy SS with an automatic? (c:
I have a T&C and I agree, I just flat out liked the older generation better. Sure the new one has a heated steering wheel, a lot more power, better economy and is overall a much better vehicle by most objective standards, but it’s just not as likeable. The transmission is a big part of that, but the chassis is creakier, the cockpit is cramped, and the visibility is worse. It’s just not as comfortable to drive, especially around town. It was a heck of a bargain though, and to be honest I didn’t really like the Odyssey, Sienna, or Sedona either.
The new Pacifica, on the other hand, is very likeable indeed. It may be the new peak minivan…though it doesn’t appear capable of saving Chrysler this time.
I like the new Pacifica, too, but it falls flat on one critical point: price. I think Marchionne is overreaching to think he can sell a minivan, nice as it might be, at the same price level as an Odyssey or Sienna, especially from a company that has both ‘Fiat’ and ‘Chrysler’ in the name.
Now, a cheaper, Dodge version of the Pacifica, that could be a winner.
I had an ’87 Voyager SE that lasted until late 1998 before the trans gave way. That was replaced by a 99 Voyager on a lease, then by my dear 2001 Caravan SE. What a workhorse, hauling family members, drywall, appliances, you name it. I recall getting to around 250,000 kms on that, I loved that minivan.
Ha, another Ontario Caravan…
Is that Derry road?
Yes, I think near Appleby Line! 🙂
…Shame none of that budget and fortune went to the headlamps.
Well they were better than the LH cars…..but not much.
I rarely got flashed when I forgot to turn off the brights when my wife had her ’97 Caravan.
I still love these, and wholeheartedly agree that these minivans represented peak Chrysler.
I ran the detail shop for a CPJ dealer when they were new, and that meant a lot of (short) drives in all manner of the new minivans, from the lowliest Voyagers to top-spec Town & Country LXis. I was particularly enamored with a burgundy SWB T&C LX with tan interior; at 23 and single, I wasn’t exactly the target demo for a minivan, but “I could see myself owning this” crept into my brain more than once.
Sadly, Chrysler minivans began sliding downhill with the 2001 redesign.
A great point about the market demographic. Minivans today are the automotive equivalent of ‘sensible shoes’, and it applies to any age group (although older folks tend not to be as concerned with image).
While a lot of people prefer the more sporty SUV, those who seriously want maximum practicality choose a minivan. Frankly, they even beat pickup trucks, especially the smaller ones. Unlike a pickup where your cargo is exposed to the elements, it’s protected in a minivan. Of course, if your cargo is particularly grungy, you run a big risk of trashing a minivan’s interior.
There is a solution to the grunge problem. Supply houses sells rolls of rubber matting about 1/2 inch thick. Go to best buy or other appliance store and ask for refrigerator or washing machine boxes. Some places grumble, some don’t. Cut a template in cardboard of the van floor. Use this template to cut the rubber mat to fit. If it’s really gooey, put blue tarp over the mat. Our family toted engine cores, shrubs, flood damaged rugs, you name it. No stains and most importantly no funk. The minivan is also a great 4th of July party vehicle. You provide the space, we bring the grill, the dogs, the burgers, and beverages. The gas grill I found on the side of the road snuck right in there.
We had a purple 96 3.3L Grand Voyager.
Insurance company totaled it at about 175k due to hail damage. Insurance company wanted to much for buy back and I let it go. Should have kept it.
It was a great van except the headlights sucked and the brakes were too small so it had a voracious appetite for brake pads.
Replaced it with a low mileage 05 3.8L Grand Caravan in 06. Headlights and brakes addressed. I think it’s better.
I didn’t read thru all the comments ( you got a lot of them!) so forgive me if I am repeating. You said “Also, remember what the alternatives were in this era: The Mercury Villager, the Ford Aerostar, the Chevy Lumina APV (also the Astro) and the Toyota Previa.” The Ford Windstar was available since 1994 yet it was not mentioned in you list of competition. It was, from an engineering standpoint, probably the most direct competitor of your van, yet not considered? We know now that it might well have been a bad choice but few knew it then. Did you consider a Windstar? Did you not know then that they existed?
Yes, it’s weird not to mention the Windstar. It was the hot ticket til Chrysler brought out the 96 vans with the driver side slider and then Ford couldn’t give it away.
The Windstar wasn’t much better than the Chrysler minivans. Had a recall for the rear axles snapping like toothpicks from corrosion, resulting in crashes. The transmissions were recalled on the models equipped with the AX4N. And the FWD 3.8L engine(a Mustang/Thunderbird variant) had aluminum heads and were just as prone to head gasket failures as GM Dex-Cool engines were.
And I am trying to think of the last time a Ford had a GOOD power steering pump, but nothing immediately springs to mind…..
Paul- ( the other Paul, not Mr. Niedermeyer ) this is off-topic but just today I saw your response to my CC of my 72 Olds convertible. What ever became of that rusty Delta you and your son were planning to pull the drivetrain from?
I’m only asking because I can always use spares for mine.
My parents bought a ’96 T&C LXi brand new, and it was gorgeous. So sleek compared to what came before. Theirs was white, and as I recall the brochure showed a pearlescent white but the dealer told them that the factory couldn’t get that to work, so they used plain white instead. They had that van for 8 years, eventually trading it for a hugely discounted Durango (right as gas prices started to skyrocket), which had the advantages of AWD and towing capacity. Much later, my wife and I bought a 2003 Grand Caravan, which was very useful as we started our own family. It finally started to fail at 211,000 miles or so, a respectable life, and somehow the only Chrysler vehicle I’ve ever driven that didn’t develop electrical problems.
An interesting article, thank you James, and made even more so by the comments above. I’d never really thought of a time of ‘peak Chrysler’, but totally agree that this generation of vans (and LH sedans) was a high-point in more recent Chryslerdom. In fact, this series Chrysler minivan was (along with the Chrysler-badged Neon) the first Chrysler-badged vehicle to be be sold new in New Zealand since 1980ish. Fun fact: all our NZ-new minivans were badged Chrysler Voyager/Grand Voyager, keeping the Plymouthness alive!
I remember marveling when my yuppie sis and her hubby had an all Mopar fleet after years of import brands: Grand Cherokee and Grand Caravan.
The “Grand” trim levels were very fitting, for both of those vehicles.
Pretty sure it meant: WHEN something breaks, you better plan on spending a ‘grand’ to fix it……?
My ex wife has my 2006 T&C. HER T&C now. And it sits in the driveway because she won;t put tires on it. I loved that van for what it was. I had pickups for years and once we hit 3 kids, needed a mini van. The T&C was great for family, dump runs, musical equipment, etc. With the Stow & Gos, I could fold the seat as needed to carry whatever and not have to fight with the seats. I no longer need it for kids so much, but would still drive it and use it if I had it. Ours had a rack & pinion issue when I bought it, but was still under warranty, so Chryco fixed it.
I did spin the bearings in the original motor, but that was my fault for not checking the oil often enough. I was going to change the oil the following Saturday, but spun bearings taking off too quick on Tuesday. I was able to change the bearings in the driveway with the engine in the vehicle, but too much dmamge to save it. It was worth a try to learn something new. I ended up with a newer junk yard engine that had no issues while I was with the ex. I heard she had to put a catalytic converter on it. She is the only person I know that has to have the converters replaced. She has had them clog in at least 3 different vehicles. She drives too slowly all the time.
Oh well, thanks for the article. Good to see love for the minivan.
Whenever I take my mother to a doctor’s appointment I call for a taxi that is wheelchair accessible. And I always strike up a conversation with the drivers. I ask them about their cabs (minivans) and how many miles they have accumulated and so forth. The last time we took a cab it was a Dodge minivan and I asked the driver my usual questions. His reply was that he owned two minivan cabs and the other was a Toyota. He said that the Toyota had 250k miles and the Dodge had over 300k. I asked which was better and he said it was a toss up. The Toyota didn’t break down often but when it did parts were very expensive. The Dodge had the advantage in the cost of parts.
Funny thing most minivan taxis around here are either Mopar or Toyota. I don’t recall seeing a Honda minivan used as a taxi.
I love the comparison to the Chevy Astrovan. Because I know a man, that over 14 years ago, had 392,000+ miles on his 1994 Astro, and still on the FACTORY 4.3L Vortech V6/700r4 combo.
Do you remember the last time the Chrysler minivans made it to 400,000 miles? Yeah, me neither.
When the transmissions were blowing up, and sending differential pins through the bell housing, the front shock towers were rotted out at about 60k, and the EGR system were shot by about the same time.
Fuel pumps sucked as well, and constantly burned up. Brakes are known for seized calipers on a lot of the late models now.
And while the Ford Aerostar was absolutely hideous, it was RWD and had the bulletproof, Ohio-built 3.0L Vulcan V-6 in it.
Since these vans made Chrysler the most profitable automaker, of the 1990s, it should be good to point out how their “genius designed” autoTRAGIC transmissions made salvage yard owners and repair shops extremely profitable, too…..
i have not read this entire thread, just here and there. Am on my 2nd chrysler mini van as of yesterday! This one looks to be a gem, if sort of a boat. A ’05 dodge grand caravan w/ a 3.8, it has reasonable power, but it seems less yet than our previous 2000 3.3 plymouth voyager. That 3.3 had ‘oomph’! I wonder if the stow n’ go seats are heavy, but some guy in a web thread said they’re only a hundred pounds. All of them? Not too sure… Seats or no, the voyager would go.
but the reason i’m here is to complain about the 2000 van. It only lasted a year, a gift from family, with tranny troubles. Speed sensor swap fixed the tranny. but then i stopped to look at a similar van being sold for parts on roadside. Looked better than mine… Similar year. [just lookin’.] Guy told me his shock tower had collapsed, and van was useless. Hhmmmmm. I went to look at my shock towers. Holy poop! Same problem.
well i just kept driving it though the shock tower didn’t look good. Meant to spray water up there, like at the car wash, or hook up a hose, [we’re in massachusetts], but never did… If it had got through winter, i meant to try to do some crazy thing to reinforce it. I don’t weld, and can’t pay that kind of money for a beat van, but i’d imagined i could do something with heavy sheet metal and bolts maybe. Shock collapsed near winter’s end.
This is all because of a serious design flaw, the details of which i studied at the time, but i’ve since forgot. Something to do with the water being trapped, [and salt!], in the tower. Chrysler never let the problem go to a recall status. It woulda cost ’em a bundle if they had! Not a simple thing to fix! [of course, not an issue for many in california and southern states.] But they never fixed the problem with this in the four years they ran the ‘third generation’ of their minivan. I guess it’s possible, though, that by the time it became so very apparent how bad it was, it was too late…
so for all these reminiscing about their ’96-’00 vans, let’s not forget.
i admit, what do i want from a 19 year old vehicle?
Chrysler did fix the problem with the ’01 ‘makeover’ though, and this 15 yr old [’05] van’s towers are rock solid.
the 2000 van did feel much ‘lighter’ and was more fun to drive, even if it wasn’t as ‘option loaded’ as this ‘boat’, but i’m optimistic this one will survive these winters better…