Chrysler Minivan

David E. Davis, Jr.
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Greg Jarem

The minivan is frequently ridiculed by the chattering classes, and there are any number of upward-striving baby-boomer housewives who would sooner die than be seen driving one. Nonetheless, the minivan is probably the most important new vehicle concept introduced since World War II and the most useful hauler of people, pets, and parcels since the United States Army's 6x6. Lee Iacocca, former chairman of Chrysler, has one at each of his residences. The great Giorgetto Giugiaro started the minivan ball rolling in 1978 with his Lancia Megagamma show car. He was fascinated by one-volume vehicles, and he said that a time was rapidly approaching when baby boomers would be unwilling or unable to get on their hands and knees in order to board their favorite sport sedans. Around this time, Hal Sperlich was developing a similar concept called the Mini/Max and promoting it hard within the management councils of the Ford Motor Company. It was a van you could park in a normal garage, a van that drove like a car, a van that would offer easy adaptation to a variety of seating and load-space layouts. Henry Ford II was not amused and fired Sperlich when he pushed too hard. Sperlich went to the old Chrysler Corporation, discovered lots of front-wheel-drive Simca components lying around, used them to build his Mini/Max prototype, and convinced Iacocca-also a casualty of Henry Ford II's ax-that if he took over at Chrysler there would be a revolutionary new vehicle waiting in the wings. Iacocca took over, Sperlich delivered the radical vehicle, and a huge success story was written. Although Chrysler's minivans, the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager, were built using components from the largely unloved K-cars, there was a kind of mystical synergy that made those bits and pieces work better in the minivans than they did in the donor cars. The minivans were more refined, more thoroughly developed, and more pleasant to drive. Curiously, neither General Motors nor Ford ever "got" the minivan idea. Their contenders never measured up to the Chrysler products-or to the Honda Odysseys and Toyota Siennas that have come along more recently. From their introduction in 1983 to the end of 2005, Americans have purchased 22,127,848 minivans, and the Chrysler products are still leading the pack.

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