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The Sky’s the Limit (and Beyond) with the ASTRO Van

Vans October 9, 2017

The Sky's the Limit (and Beyond) with the ASTRO Van

Between the years 1995 and 2005, the Chevy Astro Van (also called the GMC Safari) carried passengers and cargo all around the U.S., often competing for work against minivans like the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, as well as vehicles like the Dodge Durango and Honda Pilot, though it carries 8 passengers, placing it between the minivan and the full-size van.

Assembled in the Baltimore Assembly plant in Maryland for the entirety of its production run, the Chevy Astro Van was a 3-door, front engine, rear wheel/all wheel drive vehicle. It came with a 4-speed automatic, 4-speed manual, or 5-speed automatic transmission. In 1990, the Chevy Astro was the first mini-van in the United States to begin using all wheel drive, and though it provided better handling, there was a loss in fuel economy (17 mpg as opposed to 20 or 21 mpg that the rear-wheel drive option received).

Later on it was produced with multi-point fuel injection, a HydroBoost hydraulic assist brake booster, and anti-lock control. The Chevy Astros that came with fabric seats were also protected by Scotchguard, and the air conditioning system was made CFC-free. In addition to the original color choices, in 1994 three more options became available: Indigo Blue Metallic, Light Quasar Blue Metallic, and Medium Quasar Blue Metallic.

From 1985 to 1994, the first generation of the Chevy Astro Van had either a 2.5L Tech IV I4 engine (98 hp), or a 4.3L 4300 V6 engine (165 or 200 hp) with a wheelbase of 111 inches. It measured between 176.8 to 187.9 inches long. The second generation Chevy Astro had a 4.3L V6 engine (190 hp), with a wheelbase between 111 and 111.2. It measured 189.8 inches long.

With the size of the Chevy Astro, and its rear-wheel drive capabilities, it became a popular option, especially in the late 80’s, for families who wanted to tow their camper to a favorite weekend vacation spot. It was capable of towing around 5,000 lbs, which meant loading up with a camper, equipment, supplies, and a few extra people was easy. The all-wheel drive option meant it could be driven even in extreme weather conditions, although of course that meant more regular visits to the gas station. Families weren’t the only ones to flock to the Chevy Astro, as many companies purchased the commercial version for towing and toting large amounts of merchandise.

While the Chevy Astro did not perform well in the initial highway testing (the structural failure resulted in a broken leg for the crash dummy), it managed to dramatically improve its rating over the years until it received a 3-and-4 star (driver and passenger, respectively) rating. It received a 5-star rating every year for its side impact safety. In 2007, the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety disclosed that between the years of 2002 and 2005, the Chevy Astro had the least amount of killed drivers in passenger vehicles in the United States.

After twenty years of being on the road, the Chevy Astro Van was retired and succeeded by the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and the Chevrolet City Express.

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Dodge Ram Van, Record Breaking and Always Cool

Vans October 6, 2017

When you think about vehicles that break records, what comes to mind? Sports cars, racecars, and concept cars? Probably not the Dodge Ram Van, but surprisingly, it does hold a record — one to be proud of, in fact. Despite two redesigns of the original vehicle, the Dodge Ram Van holds a record as one of the longest used vehicle platforms in the US. Over three decades as a staple in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s American family is something to celebrate.

Though the plant that put these vans together is now gone (Ontario, Canada’s Pillette Road Truck Assembly was responsible for producing these nostalgia-inducing vehicles), the Dodge Ram Van lives on, particularly for those of us who recall with fondness the many hours spent inside it as we traveled from one side of the country to the other. I remember long, sunny afternoons in the very back seat, playing card games with friends and siblings. There were late nights where I fell asleep as my grandparents drove us home. There were TVs, VHS players, and plenty of space to keep us occupied for the duration of the ride.

It was a popular vehicle to convert to a cab-over motorhome in the 1970’s, as well as RV and ambulance conversions later on. Despite its popularity with group homes, church groups, and the like, it was unfortunately surpassed by the Ford company in the 1990’s. It didn’t survive much longer after that, gracefully retiring in 2003.

It’s all due to Dodge, however, that we even had this type of van to begin with. Their Maxiwagon and other large vans arrived in 1971, paving the way for Ford (which introduced its 15-passenger van seven years later) and GM (which waited until 1990 to offer its own version). Dodge’s van was available as three options, Sportsman (which included passenger seating and side windows), Tradesman (which lacked both options of the Sportsman), and the Street van, which turned out to be the least popular. The most desired version was the Tradesman, as it was the best option to customize.

Through the years, the Dodge Ram Van went from a 3.7L engine to a 7.2L V8 engine, from a three-speed automatic to a five-speed manual, and grew from 178.9 inches long to 231.2 inches. The outside was not re-designed too much until the overhaul of 1998, which included an engine move, modern dashboard and door panel designs, and sideview mirror breakaway units.

If you’re wanting to reminisce about your memories contained in the Dodge Ram Van, you might want to watch a little indie film called Napoleon Dynamite. That’s right — Uncle Rico’s orange van is a Dodge Tradesman Santana conversion van. The van is currently residing in Texas, where it is used at private and corporate events to raise money for Michael J. Fox’s Parkinsons Research Foundation. You can follow its page on Facebook and hire it for your own 80’s themed party. What better way to remember the glory days and one of the funniest films of all time than co-hosting a party with one of the most beloved vehicles in American history?

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