Chrysler minivans (S)
The first-generation Chrysler minivans are a series of minivans produced and marketed by the Chrysler Corporation in North American and Europe from 1984 to 1990. Sold in both passenger and cargo configurations, the series is the first of six generations of Chrysler minivans. Launched ahead of chief competitors Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari and Ford Aerostar, the first-generation Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager effectively created the modern minivan segment in North America, with many later North American minivans adopting a similar body configuration.
Launched in November 1983 for the 1984 model year, the Chrysler minivans were produced in a single body style, with the extended-length Grand Caravan and Grand Voyager introduced in 1987. For 1990, the minivan was added to the Chrysler brand, adopting the Chrysler Town & Country nameplate. For export, Chrysler sold the Chrysler Voyager, competing against the Renault Espace (which began life as a Talbot, part of the former Chrysler Europe).
Background and development
The development of what became the Chrysler minivans began in the early 1970s, as both Ford Motor Company and the truck division of Dodge began separate projects on "garageable vans". Intended as a more powerful, safer-handling alternative to the Volkswagen Microbus, both companies sought to create vehicles capable as a second car. The Dodge project did not progress past the clay model stage; Chrysler chairman argued that if a market for such a vehicle existed, Ford and GM would have already done it. At Ford, Lee Iaccoca and Hal Sperling developed a proposed garageable van called the Ford Carousel. It was rejected for the same reason, that GM would have done it already if it was a viable idea.
At the end of 1977, development of Chrysler minivans restarted with four main goals, with a planned 1982 model year launch.
- The ability to park in a standard-size garage
- Car-like NVH
- Low, flat load floor
- Removable rear seats (ability to carry a 4×8 sheet of building material on the floor)
Although both the front-wheel drive K-Cars and L-body (Omni/Horizon) were being considered as donor platforms, Chrysler also allowed consideration of rear-wheel drive. Ultimately, the L-body was ruled out, as it was considered too light-duty for either the size of the vehicle or its planned six-cylinder engine.
In 1978, both Lee Iacocca and Hal Sperlich were fired from Ford Motor Company, joining Chrysler Corporation. The same year, the truck engineering division of Dodge was merged within its car counterpart of Chrysler. During 1978, Chrysler began research across the United States, seeking what features customers desired in a potential minivan, finding agreement in its planned goals. Though potential customers found concept sketches "ugly", Chrysler still found a potential market of nearly 1 million vehicles per year, with Chrysler selling 215,000 of them.
By 1979, Chrysler chose front-wheel drive for the minivan project, codenamed "T-115". Though the van would share its transverse engine and transmission with the K-cars, it would be based on a separate body structure. Approved by Lee Iaccoca at the end of 1979, the T-115 project would cost $500 million to produce, funded as part of the $1.5 billion in federal loan guarantees given to Chrysler.
From is 1979 approval to the 1984 launch, the proposed design would undergo several major changes. Originally intended to use four sedan-style doors (similar to a station wagon), Chrysler changed to two sliding doors for the rear, claiming better parking-lot access. The design was later changed to a single sliding door, as Chrysler wanted to market the van to commercial buyers; while engineers wanted to make the left-side door an option. The decision to go with a single sliding door was done to reduce costs. During development, the configuration of the rear door was also contentious, with a liftgate winning out over a station wagon-style tailgate. On the exterior, in 1981, the side windows were redesigned to become flush with the body; while requiring a major redesign of components and tooling, the design change allowed for a reduction of wind noise and drag. To further reduce costs, a number of visible interior components were shared with the Dodge Aries/Plymouth Reliant, including the instrument panel, interior controls, radio, and various trim items. Drivetrain choices proved problematic as the K-car 2.2 L four was considered inadequate and the Slant Six was unsuited for transverse FWD mounting. The Mitsubishi 2.6 L four could however be offered as an interim engine until a V6 became available.
Launched in November 1983 for the 1984 model year, Chrysler marketed the first-generation minivans as the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, along with the Mini Ram Van cargo van. While the Dodge Caravan nameplate was used for the first time, Plymouth had used the Voyager nameplate since 1974 on its version of the Dodge Sportsman full-size passenger van.
Initially released in a single 112-inch wheelbase, Chrysler introduced a 119-inch wheelbase as part of a 1987 update, launching the Grand Caravan/Grand Voyager. Starting in 1988, the Chrysler Voyager was exported to markets outside of the United States and Canada. For 1990, Chrysler began production of the Chrysler Town & Country, among the first luxury vehicles produced as a minivan.
Designed as an alternative to full-size station wagons, the standard-length Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager (two inches shorter and two inches wider than a K-car station wagon), presented nearly double the cargo space of a K-car station wagon with a 7-foot long cargo floor. Similar to the K-car station wagons, the minivans use a liftgate rear door (supported by gas struts), unlocked by key.
Several seating configurations were offered, depending on trim level. The standard configuration of five-passenger seating in two rows was included with seven or eight-passenger seating in three rows; the back two seats were two-passenger and three-passenger bench seats (in the style of a larger van, these latched to the floor). The more popular two-passenger configuration was offered in several configurations, with low-back seats (as the minivan was technically a light truck), or high back seats with headrests; depending on trim level, seats could have vinyl, "deluxe" cloth or vinyl, or "luxury" cloth/vinyl upholstery. Two styles of rear seats were offered. The three-passenger rear bench was adjustable for passenger legroom or cargo space; the seatback also folded down when not in use. In 1985, a five-passenger version was introduced with a fold-flat rear seat; called "Convert-a-bed", the option allowed the rear seat to fold backwards into a bed.
To lower production and development costs of the Chrysler minivans, the vehicles maintained a high degree of visible parts commonality with other Chrysler vehicles, sharing wheel covers, door handles, instrument panels, and other visible trim pieces with the Aries/Reliant and other Chrysler vehicles. As the design of the dashboard precluded a conventional glove box, Chrysler added a large storage drawer underneath the passenger seat (a feature retained in later generations of Chrysler minivans and the Chrysler PT Cruiser). The minivans also became the first automobiles ever with modern cup holders. 
At their 1984 launch, as with the K-Cars, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager were externally distinguished largely by their grilles. Both vehicles were fitted with four headlights, with the Caravan fitted with an eggcrate grille while the Voyager was fitted with a horizontally-oriented grille. In what would become a signature styling feature of 1980s Chrysler minivans, top-trim Caravans and Voyagers were both offered with simulated woodgrain as an option.
In following with many other Chrysler vehicles, for 1986, Chrysler minivans shifted from 4-lug to 5-lug wheels. To reduce high-speed wind noise, Chrysler added a bumper-mounted air dam.
1984 Dodge Caravan LE at Walter P. Chrysler Museum
The 1987 model year saw a mid-cycle update to the S-platform minivans. Largely centered around the May 1987 introduction of the Grand Caravan and Grand Voyager, the update brought a new front fascia and taillights. To better differentiate the Caravan from the Voyager, the model lines received different grilles; all models except the Mini Ram Van (cargo van) were shifted to flush-lens composite headlamps. Fourteen inches longer in length than a standard-wheelbase Chrysler minivan, the Grand Caravan/Grand Voyager was the largest minivan in North America in 1987. The first Chrysler minivans fitted with a V6 engine, the Grand Caravan/Grand Voyager eventually became the two most popular configurations. With both rear seats removed, the "Grand" minivans offered 150 cubic feet of cargo room, 25 extra than a standard wheelbase Chrysler minivan.
The front bench seat and Convert-A-Bed, both seldom ordered, did not return for 1987. Interior upholstery was upgraded on several trims, with base vinyl seats removed (and deluxe vinyl remaining as an option on SE trim); for the first time, leather seating was offered on LE/Grand LE trim.
For 1989, the minivans saw a minor update. To improve fit and finish, Chrysler redesigned the front and rear bumpers, with single-piece bumper covers, painted to match the color of the body. The early-1980s K-Car steering wheel was replaced by a 3-spoke design (though the rest of the dashboard remained unchanged). In addition to the standard trim levels, Chrysler added the top-line Dodge Caravan ES and Plymouth Voyager LX; as an early 1990 model, the Chrysler Town & Country luxury minivan was introduced in early 1989.
The first-generation Chrysler minivans are based upon the Chrysler S platform, using unibody construction. Contrary to popular belief, the S platform is not directly related to the K platform; though sharing powertrains to lower development and production costs, the S platform has a distinct body structure, allowing for a higher hoodline and seat height. The S platform is produced in two wheelbases: 112.1 inches for standard-length minivans; 119.1 inches for "Grand"-length minivans.
Adapting the layout of the K platform for a larger vehicle, the S-platform vans were fitted with MacPherson strut front suspension and a beam rear axle with leaf springs. All S-platform minvans are fitted with front disc and rear drum brakes.
For the first three years of production, two engines were offered – both inline-4 engines with two-barrel carburetors. The base 2.2 L was borrowed from the Chrysler K-cars, and produced 96 hp (72 kW) horsepower. The higher performance fuel-injected version of the 2.2 L engine later offered in the K-cars was never offered in the Caravan, and the 2-bbl version would remain the base power plant until mid-1987. Alongside the 2.2 L, an optional Mitsubishi 2.6 L engine was available, producing 104 hp (78 kW).
In mid-1987, the base 2.2 L I4 was replaced with a fuel-injected 2.5 L I4, which produced 100 hp (75 kW), while the Mitsubishi G54B I4 was replaced with a new fuel-injected 3.0 L Mitsubishi V6 producing 136 hp (101 kW) in March of that year.
Shortly thereafter, in model year 1989, a more powerful engine became optional: a turbocharged version of the 2.5 L I4 producing 150 hp (112 kW). Revisions to the Mitsubishi V6 increased its output to 142 hp (106 kW), and in 1990 a new 150 hp (110 kW) 3.3 L V6 was added to the option list. The V6 engines became popular as sales of the 2.5 turbo dwindled, and it was dropped at the end of the year.
None of the V6 engines nor the turbocharged four were available on the European Chrysler Voyager. The Chrysler Town & Country was only available with one engine option, the Mitsubishi 3.0 L V6, until June 1989 when it was replaced by the newly introduced 3.3 L V6.
|Chrysler S platform engine details|
|Engine name||Production||Configuration||Fuel system||Output|
|Chrysler K||1984–1987||2.2 L (135 cu in) SOHC inline-4||2-bbl carburetor||96 hp (72 kW)||119 lb⋅ft (161 N⋅m)|
|Chrysler K||1987½–1990||2.5 L (153 cu in) SOHC inline-4||Single-point fuel injection||100 hp (75 kW)||135 lb⋅ft (183 N⋅m)|
|Chrysler Turbo I||1989–1990||2.5 L (153 cu in) SOHC inline-4, single turbocharger||Multi-point fuel injection||150 hp (110 kW)||180 lb⋅ft (240 N⋅m)|
|Mitsubishi G54B||1984–1987||2.6 L (156 cu in) SOHC inline-4||2-bbl carburetor||104 hp (78 kW)||142 lb⋅ft (193 N⋅m)|
|Mitsubishi 6G72||1987½–1990||3.0 L (181 cu in) SOHC V6||Multiport fuel injection||1987½–1988: 136 hp (101 kW)||168 lb⋅ft (228 N⋅m)|
|1989–1990: 142 hp (106 kW)||173 lb⋅ft (235 N⋅m)|
|Chrysler EGA||1990||3.3 L (201 cu in) OHV V6||Multiport fuel injection||150 hp (110 kW)||180 lb⋅ft (240 N⋅m)|
Both a three-speed TorqueFlite A413 automatic transmission and a five-speed manual were available with most inline-4 engines, including the turbocharged 2.5 L (this was a rare combination). Manual transmissions were not available on 2.6 L Mitsubishi 4-cylinder models nor V6 models of the passenger Caravan, but were an option on the Mini Ram Van and Caravan C/V's long wheelbase models with a 3.0 L V6.
V6 engines were only offered with the fully hydraulically operated TorqueFlite until the computer controlled Ultradrive 4-speed automatic became available in 1989. The Ultradrive offered much better fuel economy and responsiveness, particularly when paired with the inline-4 engine. However, it suffered from reliability problems, usually stemming from what is known as "gear hunt" or "shift busyness", resulting in premature wear of the internal clutches. It also required an uncommon type of automatic transmission fluid and is not clearly labeled as such, leading many owners to use the more common Dexron II rather than the specified "Mopar ATF+3", resulting in transmission damage and eventual failure.
The Ultradrive received numerous design changes in subsequent model years to improve reliability,[original research?] and many early model transmissions would eventually be retrofitted or replaced with the updated versions by dealers, under warranty. These efforts were mostly successful, and most first-generation Caravans eventually got an updated transmission.[original research?]
The S-platform Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager were both offered in three trim levels, an unnamed base trim level, mid-range SE, and top-range LE; LE-trim minivans were marketed with the option of simulated woodgrain paneling. In 1989, as part of a minor exterior update, Dodge and Plymouth each gained an additional trim level for the top of the model range, the Dodge Caravan ES and Plymouth Voyager LX, available only in standard-wheelbase configuration.
Chrysler produced two cargo van variants of the S platform, both based upon the Dodge Caravan. From 1984 to 1988, Dodge marketed the Mini Ram Van. Distinguished by a "Ram" nameplate under the side-view mirror, the Mini Ram Van was renamed the Caravan C/V (Cargo Van) for 1989. In contrast to passenger vans, the Caravan C/V was fitted with model-specific headlight clusters, using dual sealed-beam headlamps (shared with the export Chrysler Voyager). Several window configurations were available, ranging from either no windows to a full set of windows. Coinciding with the 1987 introduction of the Grand Caravan, cargo van production expanded to both wheelbases.
On the Caravan C/V, in addition to the liftgate rear door, Chrysler offered 50/50 split rear doors (similar to the Chevrolet Astro and traditional cargo vans). Produced as an option, the 50/50 doors were constructed of fiberglass; custom-installed by an outside vendor, the doors were installed between the factory and shipment to a dealer.
Chrysler Voyager (export)
Starting for the 1988 model year, Chrysler began exports of minivans to Europe. As neither the Plymouth nor the Dodge brands were marketed outside of North America by Chrysler, minivans were exported under the Chrysler Voyager nameplate, competing against the Renault Espace and Volkswagen Transporter/Caravelle (sold as the Vanagon in North America).
While the Voyager name was derived from the Plymouth division, the Chrysler Voyager was a rebranded version of the Dodge Caravan, fitted with the front fascia of the Caravan C/V cargo van. To accommodate the vehicle for European sale, the Chrysler Voyager was fitted with amber turn signal lenses (requiring new taillights), turn signal repeaters, and a model-specific license plate surround (adapted for European license plates and embossed with "Chrysler").
Along with its rebranding, the Chrysler Voyager saw internal modifications, largely to comply with European safety and emissions regulations. With the exception of the turbocharged 2.5 L I4 and 3.3 L V6, the Chrysler Voyager shared its powertrain with its North American counterpart; many examples were produced with manual transmissions.
Chrysler Town & Country
After being discontinued in the 1988 model year, the Chrysler Town & Country nameplate was revived as Chrysler released a minivan for its namesake division. Introduced in the spring of the 1989 as an early 1990 model, the Town & Country was released as the highest-trim version of the three Chrysler minivans, sold exclusively in the long-wheelbase body length. Originally slated for a 1989 release, the Town & Country was the first of the three minivans produced as a 1990 model.
Designed as a competitor to luxury-themed minivans such as the Ford Aerostar Eddie Bauer and the (then-upcoming) Oldsmobile Silhouette, the Town & Country included nearly every feature of the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager as standard equipment, with a number of trim features of its own. All examples were produced with woodgrain trim (a feature associated with the nameplate). Initially, Bright White Clearcoat was the sole color available, with Black Clearcoat added as an option in June 1989 (as 1990 Caravans/Voyagers entered production).
To externally distinguish the Town & Country, Chrysler added a chrome waterfall grille (styled similar to the Chrysler New Yorker), clear-lens turn front turn signals, body-color mirrors, a crystal Pentastar hood ornament (shared with the New Yorker/Fifth Avenue), lower body trim (a monochromatic, long-wheelbase version of the Dodge Caravan ES body trim), and 15" alloy wheels (later used with the Plymouth Voyager LX and other Plymouth models). The interior featured model-specific leather seating, leather interior trim panels, all available power-operated equipment, front and rear air conditioning, and an Infinity II sound system.
Depending on production date, the 1990 Chrysler Town & Country was produced with one of two V6 engines. Prior to June 1989, it was fitted with a 142 hp 3.0L Mitsubishi V6. From June 1989 onward, all examples were fitted with the 150 hp Chrysler 3.3L V6. Although all S-platform Town & Country minivans have 1990 VINs, the EPA classifies examples with the 3.0L V6 as 1989 vehicles. Both engines were paired with the 4-speed Ultradrive automatic transmission.
Original commercials for the 1984 Voyager featured magician Doug Henning as a spokesperson to promote the Voyager "Magic Wagon's" versatility, cargo space, low step-in height, passenger volume, and maneuverability. Later commercials in 1989 featured rock singer Tina Turner. Canadian commercials in 1990 featured pop singer Celine Dion.
- Hyde, Charles K. (2003). Riding the Roller Coaster: a history of the Chrysler Corporation. Wayne State University Press. p. 267. ISBN 978-0-8143-3091-3. Retrieved March 4, 2011.
- Sorth, Lennart. "The Matra/Renault Espace". www.matrasport.dk. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
- "A Brief History of the Chrysler Minivan". Allpar. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
- "Original Minivans: 1984-91 Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager, Chrysler Town & Country". www.allpar.com. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
- Dean, Sam. "The History of the Car Cup Holder". Retrieved June 24, 2019.
- Early sales material for the model referring to it as a 1989 model, retrieved on 2014-12-13.
- "1990 Chrysler Showroom Brochure" pg. 30, retrieved on 2011–06–18.
- "1990 Chrysler Showroom Brochure" pg. 20-21, retrieved on 2011–06–18.
- "Fuel Economy of the 1989 Chrysler Town and Country", retrieved on 2015-04-17.
- Wilson, Gerard (June 2013). "Chrysler Cars and Production Numbers, United States". Allpar. Retrieved March 6, 2016.
- "1984 plymouth voyager commercial", retrieved on 2010–08–25.
- "1989 Tina Turner Plymouth Voyager Commercial", retrieved on 2010–08–25.
- "Celine Dion : 1990 Dodge Caravan & Plymouth Voyager", retrieved on 2010–08–25.
Dodge truck timeline, North American market, 1970s–present
|Van||A100||Tradesman||Ram Van/Ram Wagon||Ram Van/Ram Wagon||Ram|
|Compact pickup||D-50||Ram 50||Ram 50|
|Full-size pickup||D Series||D Series||Ram (D Series)||Ram||Ram||Ram|
|Heavy-duty truck||LCF/C Series|
|Notes:||‡ The Ramcharger was not sold in the United States after the 1994 model year; it was later made exclusive to Mexico.|
|After Fiat S.p.A. acquired Chrysler LLC in 2009, models of trucks and cargo vans were no longer designated as Dodge, but exclusively as Ram. A timeline of these models can be found here.|
|Notes||Model exclusive to Mexico|
|Full-size||Fury||Gran Fury||Gran Fury|
|Road Runner||Road Runner||Road Runner||Conquest|
|Compact MPV||Colt Vista|
|Minivan||Voyager/Grand Voyager||Voyager/Grand Voyager||Voyager/Grand Voyager|