Lamest Classics: Keep it Weird With the Ford Aerostar

Welcome back to Lamest Classics, where we traipse through the options of not-notable vehicles that are now eligible for classic car status in most states in the U.S.

Minivans were weird in the ‘90s. I could spend most of the year covering these things alone. Toyota’s Previa was a spaceship lozenge. The new Odyssey didn’t have sliding doors, but boasted some very trick seating. GM had the Dustbuster van siblings. The Aerostar even faced internal competition from the new-for-’95 Ford Windstar.

But the Aerostar. The Aerostar had a monster truck.

We’ll get to the monster truck in a minute.

Introduced in 1986, this partially-flattened-cardboard-box of a vehicle was still largely unchanged by ’95. It drove like a truck. It rode like a truck. Its car-based competition was clearly superior in those departments, unless you’re the kind of person who prefers trucks — in which case, your choices were this, the Chevy Astro, or a conversion van. Or, you know, an Explorer or something, I guess.

The Aerostar’s high-schooler-with-a-drafting-table shape somehow still gave the thing a drag coefficient of 0.37, which is the same as the Mustang Cobra at the time. I’m not sure which if that’s a compliment for the pony car or the van.

Still, it enjoyed strong sales somehow. Ford kept churning these out alongside the Windstar until 1997, including in high-spec Eddie Bauer editions, with available leather seats, all-wheel drive, and a 4-liter V6. You could even get a manual transmission with the big V6, though not with AWD. I saw a cargo version for sale in that combo, and it took all my energy to not go turn it into a Lemons race car.

Don’t pretend it’s got a Cossie.

The base engine was Ford’s all-iron, 3-liter Vulvan Vulcan V6, shared with the Taurus, Ranger and Tempo. As far as engines go, the already-outdated-when-designed-in-the-’80s Vulcan was relatively short-lived.

The 4-liter, though, was a version of Ford’s Cologne family of V6s, which date all the way back to the 1960s. They get their name from the city in Germany where they were manufactured. (The city is called Köln in the original Deutsch — thank you, high school German class. I found a use for you after all.)

There was even a hot version of that engine, made by Cosworth, with four cams and 24 valves, making nearly 200 horsepower. But, of course, that wasn’t available in the Aerostar. The pushrod boat anchor stuffed under that tiny, slanted hood made a paltry 160 horsepower. Not exactly a big step up from the Vulcan’s 140 ponies.

Vehicles like the Aerostar gave minivans a reputation for being impossible to work on. My dad sold our family’s Aerostar with more than 100,000 miles on it, and the thing still had the original spark plugs on the two rearmost cylinders because they’re literally impossible to change.

But. It had a goddamn monster truck.

The Boogey Van debuted in 1993, and was piloted by one of the few women in the sport, Pam Vahle (then Pam Vaters), until 2001. I don’t know if it actually helped sales, but it’s at least a little weird to me that the monster truck kept the minivan look a full four years after the van ceased production.

It also appeared in Microsoft’s Monster Truck Madness computer games, which was probably just one of the ways Microsoft was trying to show off its Direct3D graphics API and bill Windows 95 as a great operating system for gaming. I spent a lot of time ripping up the tracks in that game on what was probably the first computer I built myself.

(Yes, I built my own computers. Yes, I’m a giant nerd.)

The weirdest thing I learned among all this (in addition to the fact that there’s a wiki on monster trucks) is that, like the Aerostar as a platform, a monster truck chassis has a surprisingly long life. The Boogey Van was reskinned into the Captain USA-themed Chevy Silverado in 2005, and is still running today as the Monster Patrol Chevy Silverado.

Well, that’s what the Monster Trucks wiki says, but that’s clearly incomplete. There are videos of the Boogey Van as recently as 2015. It has updated livery and is without the Ford grille, but it’s clearly still an Aerostar.

It’s worth noting that Ford (and Chevy) stopped selling minivans in the U.S. for a long time. Their current entrant is the hardly-marketed-at-all Transit Connect.

I really don’t think many of these non-monster Aerostars survived in colder states. My dad’s van was starting to lose its rocker panels to rust before it was 10 years old, and though the DJ he sold it to said it still ran great many years later, it had rust holes you could fit appendages into. No word on whether the holes helped with spark plug access.

That means if you really want to show off a doorstop-with-wheels at next month’s Cars and Coffee, you’ll have to venture south. There are plenty of examples still for sale, either running or ran-when-parked, for anywhere between $600 and $1,600. You can take your pick of extended or regular, 2WD or 4WD, passenger or cargo. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one that still has the Ford headphones that go with the back-seat headphone jacks. Those have their own volume control, but you had to listen to whatever was on the actual stereo mounted in the dash.

So polish that turd up and don’t forget your vintage plates. If you find yourself an Eddie Bauer edition with E-4WD, slap the biggest knobbies you can fit on there and spin those tires through a muddy field. Or get the Sportvan model with the front air dam and the running boards.

Regardless, people are guaranteed to be impressed, surprised, or confused. If you’re lucky, maybe all three at once. If you’re gonna be weird, you might as well go all out.

Lamestain Index: 1

About Alan

I'm a giant nerd and lifelong iconoclast who happens to like cars, especially terrible ones. I've built many low-budget race cars, driven in many Lemons races, worked at a Real Deal Print Car Magazine, and gave up that lifestyle in the interest of life balance. I also wear khakis and ride bicycles, though rarely at the same time.

36 Comments

  1. In the later era of minivans there came a time when Dad’s got stuck with the boxes and Mom got the SUV. This wasn’t a generational thing. It just seemed to happen across the board to make our lovely brides happy. I wasn’t the only one who drove several minivans before my kids became teenagers and I was able to finally able to hand the last one off to my son. Now that I think about it my driver age daughter didn’t get it but i digress.
    So this lead to “Manvans”. Dodge was good at this with variants of the Grand Caravans. It also brought MPV’s back into the market so we could pretend we weren’t driving minivans. Hello Journey, Mazda5 and Mercedes pretending they weren’t selling a minivan with the M Class.
    So with all that said there it seems like there was a market for the Aerostar and the old Chevy box in this time. Where Dad’s would have actively given in and gotten a van. I’ll be honest. I liked my Freestar, Mazda5 (manual!), and Grand Caravan. They are hyper useful boxes. Still if I could have had a modern Aerostar truck based minivan then I would have jumped on it just so that I could say that I didn’t feel like I driving a soccer mom mobile.

    1. Why wait for a modern Aerostar, when you could get a vintage one TODAY?!

      I currently own a Mazda5 with a stickshift and I frickin’ love this thing.

      1. I had to get rid of my Mazda5 back in 2012 when it was new because the steering would freeze in cold weather. Mazda replaced a lot of parts but never fixed it and they refused to take the car back. So i got rid of it. I really liked that car a lot. Ridiculously fun family car to drive.

    2. My Honda Stream minivan was the car I owned the longest ever, about seven years. I usually get bored or break them, but the Honda took abuse with a shrug and it was just so incredibly practical. Great fun to drive, too, so much so that friends with hot-ish hatchbacks looked at me strange when they took the Hondas wheel on long mountain trips and such.
      https://i.redd.it/xayiklamc9121.jpg

        1. -26°C that night, and I slept in the car. No problem with good gear, but getting into my boots in the morning…yikes.

          1. This sounds like only one place that I can think of that people willingly live in. How is it in Saskatchewan?

    3. The Ford Aerostar regular, short
      Version was even bigger than any grand caravan, or any chrysler minivan ever made, though the years. Even than the new caravans stopped being made in 2020! The middle seat of Aerostar Literally takes, to the measurement of any dodge or chrysler, minivans. The Aerostar vans, were just Amazing. I love the Ford’s!!

  2. You could get an Aerostar built with a Mazda sourced 5 speed – and I’ll tell you, the first (well, I guess only) time I saw one I was dumbstruck. A buddy of mine in college borrowed his Mom’s Aerostar to move home. Sure enough, goofy looking appendage poking up from the floor and an extra peddle. I had to ask him if it had been involved in a fire as the interior was soooooo saturated with Marlboro smoke I damn near got emphysema just from the one ride.

    1. My grandfather had one in the mid 90s that he towed behind his motor home. We almost traded him for our 1992 Saturn SL2 because, at the time, the Saturn was one of the few automatics that could be flat towed without transmission damage. He was a big guy, however, and the Saturn was too small for him.

      My wife’s roommate when we were engaged had a 5 speed Caravan too, so I have a connection to both rare American 3 pedal minivans. (Was there a stick shift Astro? I’ve never heard of one.)

  3. The Aerostar shared its chassis and drivetrain with the Ranger and Explorer so you could build one into a pretty serious offroader like the Quigley Econolines. I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort. The Chevy Astro with the 4.3 V6 was a more capable tow vehicle and the FWD vans are better people haulers.

    The closest modern equivalent is probably the Mercedes Metris.

    1. No the Aerostar did not share the Ranger/Explorer Chassis. The early Ranger/Bronco II/Explorer used a TIB/TTB front suspension, while the Aerostar used a traditional SLA front suspension. Out back the Ranger et all used leaf springs while the Aerostar used a 3 link coil set up. Wheels and some brake parts do interchange though.

      1. So much for the legend, I guess I might I as well put an Aerostar on a Bronco chassis for my wheeling van

      2. So much for the legend, I guess I might I as well put an Aerostar on a Bronco chassis for my wheeling van

      1. Still, I can’t think of another MPV referenced in song anywhere, much as I’d like to believe Jaques Dutronc was talking about filling an Espace with laydees

        1. CW McCall’s Convoy has a line about “11 long-haired Friends of Jesus in a chartreuse Microbus,” and I’m sure you could find several other references to the Type 2 (ooh! Men At Work! Down Under! “Traveling in a fried out Kombi!”), but other than that, there’s just some stupid country song about how it’s hard to look cool in a minivan.

          1. I’d automatically discount the microbus, because a)hippies and b) it’s a van with seats bolted in rather than a purpose built “people carrier” ..semantics maybe, but I think the Espace/Voyager/Aerostar represented a different thing.

          2. Fair enough, definitely a proto-MPV, but one that took on a much bigger second life than typical minivans.

          3. Well a dinky dodge caravan or chrysler minivan, Doesn’t cut it! Ford Aerostar vans will!! They were a whole lot bigger, and more dependable. The dodges, don’t seat 7-8 people, either, but Ford’s Aerostar vans will. More hp, means more spacious minivan roominess.

  4. I drove my mother’s Aerostar– one that looked very similar to that grey-silver two-tone one two photos up– to junior high school prom.
    Honestly, it wasn’t a bad vehicle at all, and like SlowJoeCrow mentioned, its Ranger basis means it’s a fairly versatile starting point for many… interesting… builds. I’ve seen several V8 conversions and a few 4WDs over the years.

  5. It’s not so much weird as that minivans hadn’t quite coalesced to a consensus of what they should be. e.g.:
    1950’s: [VW Type 2]
    1960’s: the big 3 – “We should respond to that”. cue the forward-control vans based on Corvair (Chevy), Falcon (Ford), Valiant A-platform (Chrysler)
    1970’s: “maybe we can base the van on the pickup?” ’71-’95 & onward GM full-size van, ’69-’74 & ’75-present Ford E-series, Chrysler B-van. People start getting ideas about building a smaller MPV.
    1980’s: “what if these fuel crises continue? what if we can’t sell big station wagons anymore due to CAFE?” Ford: Aerostar based on Ranger. Chrysler: Voyager/Caravan off the K-car. GM: still has enough might to hedge its bets and build both the Aerostar-like Astro earlier & the K-van-like Dustbusters later.
    late 1990’s: [general acquiescence to the Chrysler minivan formula]

    Also… no Bigfoot Fastrax? I am disappoint.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8602fb0528a0aef0c9a18a08fdc8f4dc1cd7b0351d0d9986acfd76ab81119c42.jpg

  6. It’s not so much weird as that minivans hadn’t quite coalesced to a consensus of what they should be. e.g.:
    1950’s: [VW Type 2]
    1960’s: the big 3 – “We should respond to that”. cue the forward-control vans based on Corvair (Chevy), Falcon (Ford), Valiant A-platform (Chrysler)
    1970’s: “maybe we can base the van on the pickup?” ’71-’95 & onward GM full-size van, ’69-’74 & ’75-present Ford E-series, Chrysler B-van. People start getting ideas about building a smaller MPV.
    1980’s: “what if these fuel crises continue? what if we can’t sell big station wagons anymore due to CAFE?” Ford: Aerostar based on Ranger. Chrysler: Voyager/Caravan off the K-car. GM: still has enough might to hedge its bets and build both the Aerostar-like Astro earlier & the K-van-like Dustbusters later.
    late 1990’s: [general acquiescence to the Chrysler minivan formula]

    Also… no Bigfoot Fastrax? I am disappoint.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8602fb0528a0aef0c9a18a08fdc8f4dc1cd7b0351d0d9986acfd76ab81119c42.jpg

    1. Yes the Greenbrier was based on the Corvair, but the Falcon Station Bus just shared the Falcon’s engines and name.

  7. I had the hand-me-down family Aerostar as my ride for high school. Your rust comments were quite kind when compared to the truth of those things in the rust belt. The CEL would turn off and on at whim, the interior lights flashed like a strobe anytime you sped up or turned left quickly (twitchy sliding door sensor), I could play “how many dash lights will I have today.” It was the best car ever.

    It even hauled all of the equipment we used in my ska band! High school was a magical time…

  8. We bought a 97 XLT, 4 liter, 4 wheel drive new. Has 193,000 on it and is rust free! West Coast van. It’s been a great van.

  9. I will always absolutely love the Ford Aerostar minivans!! I don’t care, what people say about them, I just know that they were the “Best Minivan, Ever Built!!!” Solid reliable, and always starts up running, like a top.we had one, when I was a teenager. Wow, what a great minivan. Thanks, Ford.

  10. On HOONIVERSE we’re discussing AeroSquares? I’m here because I want to tell the world how great these bastards are. First I personally piloted one to 416,000 (you read correct) mainly D.C. metropolitan miles steam cleaning commercial kitchen hood and ducts. BUT in typical HOONIVERSE fashion it wasn’t a plain Jane fridge white aerostar. It was a murdered out ’88 model. Raven black single-stage kept buffed like a mirror, springs cut in the front to match the rear payload, limo smoked windows, monochromatic black grille & headlight surrounds, blacked out ladder rack with black ladders. When done correctly, I SWEAR BY RUSTOLEUM APPLIANCE BLACK EPOXY PAINT! Weak spots on Aerostars are 1). 4A transmission. Severe usage you’ll only get 80,000 miles out of them at a time. 2). Wheel bearings in the front must be changed or repacked every 30 or 40k miles or you’ll loose a wheel.
    3). Check your hoses! There are places that coolant hoses snag on these rigs so always check those when checking the oil. That said, carry the best duct tape with you in case one springs a leak. It’ll get you out of that immediate jam. Other than that the power is plenty sufficient with the iron Vulcan motor. They’re indestructible too. These vans when stripped out and used as a cargo van do everything a pickup truck will do and even do it better! They have superior weight distribution to a full sized pickup when loaded which lands you superior handling and safety. Great mileage out it as well. All the weight that was in mine and you couldn’t tell with the Vulcan V6. When same stuff was in my 3.55 geared 5.0 ’94 F150 that truck did NOT like it. It bogged down the V8 noticeably. The ride, braking, handling suffered a lot. Not so in the “Aerosquare”. Aerostars are awesome vans, get the job done and if you’re creative can look really cool.

  11. Without further ado, I’d like to inform those curious the Aerostar is not Ranger based. It does share some parts here and there as well as powertrains however.
    They are unibody, and have more in common with the “fox” body than the beloved Ranger. For example, the “Aerosquare” has wishbone independent front suspension, while the trusty Ranger shares the “Twin I-Beam” design of the F-Series & E-?50 vans. The rear suspension is also multi-link with coil springs just like the “Fox” chassis.

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