The Carchive: Ford Aerostar

Aerostar1

On selecting a volume to dissect today I found myself in a quandary. Of course, from my perspective the Ford Aerostar is obviously worthy of discussion because I can count the number I’ve seen in the last five years on NO fingers. But then there’s every chance that you guys each have one in your backyard that you grow strawberries in.

And then I suddenly realised that this brochure is, depressingly, twenty years old, therefore elderly enough to be of minority interest, and the deal was done. Pro-tip: If you don’t want to read about the Ford Aerostar, and there are infinite reasons why you shouldn’t, please don’t take the jump.

Aerostar2

“Our Ford Aerostar Wagon does so many things so well we call it the King of Capability”

I’ve always harboured a secret fondness for minivans, though definitely not enough of one to compel me to actually ever buy one. On my recent camping weekend, though, I did envy how the other couple we went with were able to just throw a seemingly endless array of mysterious items into the back of their Renault Megan Scenic without making the thing look particularly burdened, and still be able to drive around in some modicum of comfort. Meanwhile, with my Audi, once the boot is full (which takes a frustratingly small volume of stuff to achieve) everything overflows onto the back seat which ends up looking like a rummage sale. It also often means dirty laundry landing in our laps during heavy braking.

Of course, the Aerostar is Much Bigger than a Scenic, meaning that you probably don’t actually need to bother packing the tent away at the end of your trip, you just open the tailgate and slide the whole flimsy canvas assembly in. Especially in the gigantism-afflicted Extended Length models, whos’ additional 14″ in the overhand actually looks ridiculous and makes the standard model look quite sporty and pert by comparison.  The phrase Minivan is surely being stretched to its elastic limit, here. This is a Van. Pure and simple.

Aerostar5

“The aerodynamic body, shaped along air flow management principles, reduces wind resistance and contributes to handling”

When I first saw one of these it was at an Airshow at one of the local USAF bases of East Anglia. I remember seeing this big, multi-windowed van, smaller than a Transit, and thinking “Ford doesn’t build anything like that”. I was 7. To me, a Ford with a vertical front grille was a Cortina or a Capri, and this definitely wasn’t either of those. It was a few years later, reading a Daily Express book of Cars Of The World that I learnt of the Aerostar and it all fell into place. A little education can be a dangerous thing.

The name, Aerostar, conveys a half-truth. The severely swept windshield was certainly a step beyond Econoline levels of streamlining, but evidently Ford pursued the same course of aerodynamic fine-tuning on the lower front end as Isombard Kingdom Brunel employed when building the Clifton Suspension bridge.

Aerostar3

“….Eddie Bauer may be the finest, most luxurious mini-van you can buy”

It was in 1990 that I first encountered this legendary name. It was while reading a Maxum sportsboat brochure. Maxum (from the same group of companies as Bayliner and SeaRay) offered a 19 foot runabout in Eddie Bauer trim, which meant nicer carpeting, teal gelcoat and a deluxe trailer with rally-style wheels. And it was shown accompanied by a Matching Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer.

I asked myself  “Who on Earth is Eddie Bauer” and “why on Earth do companies want to be associated with him?”. Then, when I finally DID find out who he was, and realised that, as a person, he would have literally ZERO influence on my life, I suddenly didn’t care any more. In fact I felt a little disappointed, to the point that if I ever accidentally purchased an EB edition speedboat, minivan or SUV I would probably chisel-off the EB signatures lest people think my purchasing decision was in any way Eddie-conscious.

Aerostar4

“Inside its roomy 7-passenger interior you’ll find deluxe appointments and an attractive list of comfort and convenience features”

I have to admit to being rather impressed by this side of the Aerostar and other such betrinketted people-haulers. When I was ten and I acquired my first brochure for Dodge Conversion Vans, I immediately wanted one, for their deep cushions and hideous overdone-ness. I’m OK now, don’t worry.

This isn’t a conversion van, thank God. The carpeting is restricted to the floor, there are no limo-lights or fibre-optic “night sky” lighting setups. But there does appear to be a good dose of luxury available if you tick the right boxes on the order form. There are headphone jacks in the back, so that Maisy and Daisy can listen to whatever hideous market-driven sonic pap they desire, while Mum and Dad can have a nice, uninterrupted argument up front.

“4WD Aerostar, not an off-road vehicle in the strict “utility” sense, is engineered to help you maintain control, on a paved or unpaved road, in wet or dry weather. And the system operates “full time” without your having to touch a single switch.”

To be honest I had never really even considered that something like this might exsist, and that it does makes perfect sense. There have been 4×4 minivans in Europe before, the Renault Espace Quadra was around for a while, and the VW Caravelle Syncro, so having the same setup in something a little more stout seems quite logical. The Aerostar with its big, untaxed, lazy V6s, seems a sensible candidate for having four wheels driven. A way to take the family up to the Ski-Lodge and home, safely to the Forest Cabin and back out again no matter what the weather, or maybe to haul their Maxum 1900SC  edition up a damp slipway.

Of course, rival companies were doing it so Ford had no real excuse not to. In fact, speaking of that, I have seen several dozen more Astros and Safaris in this country than I have Aerostars. Do any of you have any horror stories about the quasi-aerodynamic blue-oval product that might explain their, er, exclusivity this side of the pond?

(Disclaimer:- This is the bit where I state that all photos are of genuine original manufacturer promotional material and that copyright remains their property, but I keep forgetting to put it in. No doubt lawyers the world over are queuing up to take me for every penny I have, which is about £5.13. First succesful suing gets it.)

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33 responses to “The Carchive: Ford Aerostar”

  1. longrooffan Avatar

    A totally obscure but notable fact: The Flagler Beach, Florida fire department has a red one, just like the one in the last image, in their fleet to this day. It even has the same wheel covers.
    Also, Daisy, you have a twin Maisy? The nickname for my paternal grandmother by her friends was "Maisy." For we grandkids, it was Moo.

  2. Eric Rood Avatar

    My seven-person family had one of these, luckily before I was old enough to have the displeasure of learning to drive on it (My sister was not so lucky). It replaced a rock-solid Caprice wagon that also seated the whole family, but my oldest brother had decided that it might look better with its grille firmly planted in the rear corner of a flower shop's parked Econoline.
    Most of the Aerostar's "best" features were long-since defunct by the time we got our hands on a well-used example. The rear headphone jacks didn't work. The AWD system landed us in a ditch on an icy road, somehow without rubber aimed skyward. The 600-pound door nearly sliced a few fingers off.
    But it did that one thing that a van should do: Shuttle a butt-load of people all over the place. It was mostly reliable, if a bit terrifying on the windy extreme-eastern edge of the Great Plains. Its transmission eventually called it quits in the left lane of the Eisenhower Expressway at Sacramento Blvd. in Chicago after the 1997 Chicago Auto Show. Hijinks ensued.

  3. Devin Avatar

    It's sort of weird to have a brochure on here that I actually had once. I remember those pictures!

  4. jeepjeff Avatar

    I did envy how the other couple we went with were able to just throw a seemingly endless array of mysterious items into the back of their Renault Megan Scenic without making the thing look particularly burdened, and still be able to drive around in some modicum of comfort.
    I remain unconvinced that this is a virtue. The volume of crap expands to fill all available space. If you don't have much space, you start having to ask "Do I really need this?" and start answering "No." much sooner. Why would this be a good thing? Well, for one, how long did it take for them to throw their seemingly endless array of mysterious items into their Renault? Less space, less stuff, less time to pack it in. Less time to unpack it. Savings on both ends of the journey. Less to unfold, setup, refold and stow. Less carrying and lugging about. Less work.
    (FWIW: I'm planning on walking 18 miles this weekend carrying everything I need to exist on my back for the entire distance and sleeping on rocks overnight. It helps to focus the mind on what you really want to bring with you…)

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      "…sleeping on rocks overnight. It helps to focus the mind on what you really want…."
      A rock hammer.

      1. jeepjeff Avatar

        Indeed. (I own a rock hammer.)

    2. Van_Sarockin Avatar

      That's why I always pack the cast iron frying pan and the cappucino maker. Friends bring the wine and cognac. When you have priorities, the weight can be accommodated.

  5. smokyburnout Avatar

    I worked on one of these in tech school. It had seats with pneumatic (!) Lumbar support, a clunking broken 4WD transfer case, and the rearmost spark plugs were accessed via a doghouse in the cabin (which again points to it being more Van than mini)

  6. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    A friend's slightly unhinged mother had one Back In The Day, purchased from her father "for four quarters". It ran well enough until the end – unfortunately, that end came when some part of the rear end broke free and the van went out of control into a parked trailer (or so I was told, I never saw the aftermath).
    She replaced it with an AWD Astro. That's it for Aerostar stories.

  7. jeepjeff Avatar

    Hmm, I have a surprising number of Aerostar stories. Most horrible thing that happened to me in Aerostar: a college girlfriend and I borrowed her parents' Aerostar for a weekend roadtrip, and on the way back she dumped me. The van did it's thing whole way without kicking up any kind of fuss.

    1. Van_Sarockin Avatar

      BAD VAN!

  8. MVEilenstein Avatar

    I remember our family looking at an 89 model in Tulsa. It was gold, with a matching interior. I wanted my parents to buy that van badly.

  9. MVEilenstein Avatar

    Don't forget, many of these vans were used by companies to haul things, tow things, and carry people. They're big because they're capable. Think of the Aerostar as comfortable truck that seats seven, and you'll like it.

    1. Eric Rood Avatar

      Nailed it.

  10. BoDarville Avatar

    I knew several families growing up that had these, but never drove one until I spent a couple of years in Costa Rica. An American had insisted on importing an AWD model for his family, and then he left and stuck his replacement with it. Our group also had a Hiace and a Lite Ace. The Aerostar was not built to handle the abuse of Costa Rican roads and weather. On more than one occasion I hit a pothole that caused the sliding door to be stuck. The only way to unstick it was to go hit another pothole. It was frequently in the shop, which was an even bigger problem because there were not parts available locally. It groaned in misery whenever you hit the accelerator. Even though we treated it gingerly, it always felt like it was one bad bump away from complete disassembly. In contrast, the two Toyota vans performed flawlessly, always, in spite of having significantly more miles and being driven without any pretense of caution. There is a reason these things were not often exported.

    1. Bsphillips Avatar

      Funny that parts were not available as the Aerostar is a Ford Ranger with a van body… My experience in Costa Rica, the MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE ON THE PLANET, was every third or fourth vehicle was a Ford Ranger! Why don't we have the "global" Ranger here in the states? Especially the turbo diesel which gets nearly 40 mpg whilst pulling a house up Mt Everest?

      1. guest Avatar

        The Aerostar is NOT a Ford Ranger with a van body. The Aerostar had a 3 link rear with coil springs. The Ranger had a leaf sprung rear. The Aerostar had a double A-arm front end. The Ranger of that era used twin-I-beams. The 4-cyl Ranger was quite the robust work horse. The Aerostar, unfortunately, wasn't.

  11. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    I never saw the great benefit of the Aerostar. It was smaller than the current generation of of Econoline by at least a third. And it had a good assortment of creature comforts. But it wasn't all that more capable than my FC Econoline, which IIRC was shorter, but had more cargo capacity and equal gas mileage.
    I did think the Aerostar was was a worthy effort for the time, and certainly better than their Dustbuster GM competition. Unfortunately, Chrysler owned the minivan market at that point
    Lovely writing, Rusty. I like to think of Eddie Bauer as an L.L. Bean for folks who will never venture past the suburbs and resort compounds. In auto terms, it means you get a slathering of green and tan I doubt it kept Jeep or Land Rover up at night..

  12. johnf1979 Avatar

    Growing up in Dearborn these things were EVERYWHERE in the late eighties/early nineties. I still live in the western suburbs of Detroit, where Ford still controls over half of the market, so you think I'd see the occasional Aerostar around right? But it's actually been years since I've seen one of these. A combination of being extremely hard to work on, combined with poor rust resistance seems to have killed them off early. I do however see Astros/Safaris of this era on the road pretty frequently still though.

  13. Jim Avatar

    In mid-June of 1994, my wife's extended family assembled in Squaw Valley for a wedding. I was assigned the task of renting something that could haul a few people around, and an Aerostar is what I ended up with. The experience of driving that slow, tippy beast from Reno to Squaw, with a side trip to South Lake Tahoe, is not something I wish to experience again. (On the other hand, the wedding was great. Heavy drinking, the OJ Simpson slow-motion Bronco chase on the TV, three generations of people acting foolish, what more could you want?)
    Random thought: Eddie Bauer's descent from "reasonably good outdoor clothing provider" to "crappy mall store" kind of coincided with allowing Ford to slap their name all over various Aerostars, Broncos, and Explorers.

  14. PotbellyJoe ★★★★☆ Avatar

    My family owned one. White with beige lowers. Extended (believe me you wanted it) XLT with the 4.0L and Electronic AWD (Again you wanted it. In the snow these things were death traps without AWD) It lasted 223,000 miles. When the seats were out it was absolutely cavernous. On one trip from the east coast to the midwest, a mattress making the trip was a bed while flat on the floor.
    The van got me and my siblings off to college, back from college and out into the real world. It could swallow an entire apartment worth of stuff without breaking a sweat.
    When going mountain biking, I could take 6 friends, have three bikes in the cargo area and hang 4 on a hitch mounted rack out of the CLASS IV hitch.
    It was never pretty, but in the function over form equation, you'd be hard pressed to beat the utility.
    Sorry, I'm a fan.

    1. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

      Don't ever EVER apologize for being an Aerostar fan!

  15. Kris_01 Avatar

    To copy and paste from an earlier post…
    In '96 we got a 2 year old Aerostar extended version. IIRC it was a 2 year lease that had just been taken back with excessive KMs (I think it was around 60K which was bad for just 2 years), so Dad got a pretty good deal on it. Next to the GMC (which we kept as a second vehicle for a good three years afterwards), it was a pure luxury vehicle. Real seats! A real heater/A/C unit! No more freezing in winter and boiling in summer! What was funny was that the van came with the factory child seat option – 2 built in child seats in the middle row. By this time my two youngest brothers were 10 and 9 respectively – so the child seats were never used.
    It had actual sliding windows, rear heater/AC controls that you could work from the middle seat, and headphone jacks which were frequently used. Dad would load up the tape deck and then kill the sound to the front speakers; end result a rather peaceful trip.
    I can remember that according to more than a few Ford techs, Dad;'s van technically should never have been built. It was an extended version RWD XL model with the 4.0 V6 and the heavy-duty trailer package. Apparently, you could get the 4.0 V6 in any level trim if you had AWD, but if it was a RWD van you had to select the XLT or Eddie Bauer trim levels (as the XL trim was the intermediate trim level).
    Neighbours of ours had the very same van except with the 3.0 V6 (the Taurus engine which was the base for Aerostars by '94). Ours was like a hotrod next to theirs. That thing had lots of power and never once left us stranded. It had 445,000 kms on it in the summer of 2003 when my 17 year old brother decided to see if it could fly, and took a 90 degree dirt road turn at better than 100 KPH. He took out four solid trees, flipped a good three times, and busted every pane of glass. The airbags went off but I'm not sure3 why; the front end wasn't impacted too badly. The engine was apparently still running when he came to rest. Walked away with three broken ribs (God looks after the fools I guess, and I'm not a religious man).
    Dad was bummed about the loss; said he wanted to get 500K out of it. It was a terrific van and had a Toyota level of quality – it never had a wrench on the engine except spark plugs, one thermostat and regular oil changes. We had been worried about the transmission when we got the van; we'd heard that Aerostars had trans issues, but by '94 those demons must have been exorcised – after the van went to the scrapyard, someone actually salvaged the trans out of it.

  16. P161911 Avatar

    Fun fact, I believe the front doors interchange with the later Windstar. At least they use the same vent visors. Don't see quite as many of these on the road as the GM Astro/Safari twins.
    Also, this IS a mini-van compared to an Econoline.

    1. Devin Avatar

      The Windstar doors are pretty different, it's way curvier and I believe it's also significantly shorter.

      1. P161911 Avatar

        Must just be the same window then. I know that they used the same vent visor.

  17. Macko Avatar

    My father was a Ford man, who tended to buy Chevys just as often so that he would have something new to complain about each day. In 1987, I went with him to test drive minivans. The only ones he would consider were the Astro and the Aerostar. Initially he wanted an Aerostar, but determined it wasn't as well designed as it looked. he bought a slightly higher than base model Astro instead. The fit and finish was typical 80s GM, as in nothing fit, and it looked unfinished. However, that was a heck of a van. He put 300,000 miles on in in four years and sold it for an extremely good price when he bought a 1990 Grand Marquis with no tape deck. Cheap bastard.

  18. boxdin Avatar

    I owned a rare version of Aerostars, a swb, rear barn door, manual 5sp trans Aerostar with no back window.
    Only seen that one like that.

  19. guest Avatar

    I had a 97 Aerostar for about 5 years. I figured it was a RWD platform truck that had gone 12 years without a model change, all the bugs must have been ironed out by. I thought wrong. The car was plagued with problems all over. Interior panels were flimsy. The sliding door wore out its little wheels easily. Brake light switch was stupidly mounted on the brake pedal, and motion would fatigue the wire. Cooling junction blocks were made of cheap plastic that decided to crack have way up the mountain headed to Santa Cruz. Power window switches wore out regularly. Seat belt receptacles wore out (!). The sliding window weather seals self destructed in the sun. The sliding windows themselves were easy to force open. Ceiling light falls out of the ceiling. Transmission had to be rebuilt way before 90k. Front suspension bushing wore out around the same time. HVAC controls died. washer jets died (common problem with Fords). Eventually the head cracked around 140k. The front seats were comfortable, but the bench seats in the back, while super practical for changing diapers, were rather uncomfortable for long trips.
    In its defense though, the narrow width meant it was easy to park. The dual AC was superb, and the AWD was great in the snow. Our LWB version had an enormous trunk that was great for families. But on balance, the quality was just horribly bad.

  20. Age_of_Aerostar Avatar

    I miss having the time at work to regularly check Hooniverse, but I appreciate this article!!!!
    I have brochures for the Aerostar mostly from the earlier years. The 86 book (first year of production) is fun to look at, because the pictures were taken before the van was for sale (obviously), but more fun is finding the errors in what was published, and what actually became available. I don't think you can find a picture in the 86 book of one with a roof rack, but most of them had one… the stamped steel wheels were all chrome plated, there were other errors in interior trim and the like, but I may be one of only a handful who actually noticed.
    thank you for this article… it made my day!

  21. Iverman Avatar

    I owned three Aerostars, a '94 (wrecked), a '96 (bad tranny and bad rot), and a '95. We kept the 95 for about 8 years. Yes, the 4.0 was impossible to work on, and the interior panels had a bad habit of working loose, it only got 19 MPG on the highway, the airbag system was broken, and the ABS was broken (it only worked on the rear wheels anyway?!?!) but it ALWAYS ran when we needed it to, it could haul a buttload of stuff whith the seats removed, and my 6 year old cried when it left our yard for the last time. It was finally finished after a day which saw it hit a deer on the way to work and a fallen tree on the way home. I'd own one again in a heartbeat, but the last year on production was 1997, and that's just too old now.

  22. Alison Avatar

    i just bought an extended 94 Aerostar mini van, its a V6 4ltr xl with 4 bucket seats and a rear bench I took the back 2 rows out for space for sleeping on my air mattress . Yes it has alot of kms 300000 and counting. I paid $500, put $500 in repairs to a broken wheel tie rod ,bushing and new tire etc. I just did 800km + camping trip with her (her name is Fanny) and I'm in love with my van . Im a single parent on a budget and she is my new best friend. She lugged a dirt bike too and tomorow will try to get a quad in the back.

  23. Bill Avatar

    I have a near new 1997 Aerostar that I would like to put the pop top, penthouse top or whatever its called on the conversion van models. I have installed them from one VW Eurovan to another and I would like to change this 1997 over. I would like to buy the whole roof with all the trim pieces, but might take the whole van. Does anybody out there know of one somewhere that might be for sale?

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