MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Chrysler Archives
Published 10.28.2020

The first Chrysler minivan design proposal 1972 Chrysler Archives 1The first Chrysler minivan design proposal 1972 (Chrysler Archives) 

One of the most iconic vehicles manufactured in the United States were the great looking Chrysler minivans.  Introduced in 1984, they became a super hit in America and created huge profits for the company. Today, these vehicles have become a symbol of great engineering leadership that many consumers still have fond memories of today.

I worked at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum many years ago when the minivan was on display and still have fond memories of how visitors thoroughly enjoyed seeing it. When it opened, the museum featured the very first 1984 Dodge Caravan.

A Chrysler minivan inside the companys headquarters Chrysler Archives RESIZED 2A Chrysler minivan inside the companys headquarters (Chrysler Archives)

The 1984 Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan models hit the market at a time when drivers were looking for a family size vehicle that could fit both people and cargo. The minivans became a huge success among soccer moms and families with children.

Lee Iacocca introducing the minivan for the first time Chrysler Archives RESIZED 3Lee Iacocca introducing the minivan for the first time (Chrysler Archives)

The Chrysler minivans were the biggest engineering design and sales accomplishment in the company’s history. CEO Lee Iacocca was very involved in the project and its manufacturing process. Automotive historians said the Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager models dominated new vehicle sales during the 1980s.

Chrysler minivans at the companys headquarters Chrysler Archives RESIZED 4Chrysler minivans at the company's headquarters (Chrysler Archives)

The first Plymouth Voyager minivan drove off the production line in Windsor, Ontario on November 2, 1983. The Chrysler Town & Country models followed in 1990. Consumers enjoyed the sizable interiors for children and adults, as well as the vehicles’ cargo-hauling capacity.

When Chrysler introduced their minivans, the company was only a few years removed from the brink of collapse. During the 1970s, Chrysler engineers began experimenting with an idea referred to as the “garageable van.” The project stayed on the shelf for many years due to lack of available funding. In 1980, Iacocca allocated funds from the government bail out to develop the minivan project under the guidance of Hal Sperlich.

A line of 2008 Chrysler Town and Country minivans Chysler Archives RESIZED 5A line of 2008 Chrysler Town and Country minivans (Chysler Archives)

From the beginning, the minivan concept was called the “One Box” design because of its overall form. However, the minivan included great features like power windows and a comfortable interior, along with sliding doors and front-wheel drive.

1985 Dodge minivan advertisement Chrysler Archives RESIZED 61985 Dodge minivan advertisement (Chrysler Archives)

Chrysler created a totally new category when their minivans hit the market. They were an immediate success. Road and Track magazine called the models “straightforward honest vehicles.” Chrysler could not manufacture minivans fast enough, and sometimes consumers had to wait weeks for delivery.

Car and Driver magazine cover featuring 1995 Chrysler minivan RESIZED 7Car and Driver magazine cover featuring 1995 Chrysler minivan

In conclusion, Chrysler marked three decades of making minivans in 2014 with 30th anniversary editions. Of course, the Plymouth Voyager name is now a part of our automotive history books due to the ending of that brand. In those 30 years, Chrysler reported sales of over 13 million minivans since their 1983 introduction. The Chrysler minivans will always be remembered as iconic intermediate vehicles that served consumer needs very well.

1984 Dodge Caravan displayed at the Walter Chrysler Museum Chrysler Archives 81984 Dodge Caravan displayed at the Walter Chrysler Museum (Chrysler Archives)

Bibliography

Noah, Joseph. “Chrysler Celebrates 30 Years of Minivans with Special Editions.” September 3rd Chrysler Town & AMP country information.

“The American Heritage of Daimler Chrysler.” Published by the Walter P. Chrysler Museum.

Memmott, Mark. “Pop in a Cassette and Celebrate. Chrysler’s Minivans are 30, America.”