Minivan – How It All Began
Minivans… you must have heard about them. Back in 1983 — when Ronald Reagan was president — the economy was far from robust and Chrysler was on death’s doorstep (talk about déjà vu). Chrysler needed a home run, and Lee Iacocca, who was running the company at the time, gambled that the first wave of baby boomers who were starting families would likely want something roomier and far more practical than the traditional family hauler, the station wagon.
Mentioning “family car” in 1983 would have conjured up a station wagon. I remember getting carsick while sitting in the rear-facing third row torture chamber, cut off from the rest of the family and their forward-looking vantage point. The tail-gunner position, however, was a great way to test out new hand gestures and making silly faces on following motorists. Do you have any idea how impossible it is to win the alphabet license plate or billboard game when you’re the last one to see everything? I spent many a family car trips never once seeing where we were going, only where we’d been. “Oh, look, there WAS the Bay Bridge. There WAS a bear. There WAS the most incredible thing ever except … whoops, now it’s gone. Too bad.” Indeed, how soon we forget that the minivan, when it debuted 30 years ago, was such a welcome replacement for the station wagon.
Iacocca practically bet the company on the fact that a new automotive segment dubbed “the minivan” — a front wheel drive small van built on the K-car platform — would catch on with the boomers. It was a $660-million gamble, only made possible by money acquired earlier from Washington’s $1.5-billion bailout of Chrysler.
It soon turned out that Iacocca’s gambit wasn’t merely a home run — the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager turned out to be a bases-loaded grand slam.
On November 2, 1983, the first minivan rolled down the assembly line in Windsor. These 1984 model-year Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager models quickly appeared in dealerships alongside the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant K-cars.Along the way, Chrysler has developed countless minivan firsts and toppled countless competitors that imitated them — and it remains just about the last one standing — as Chrysler just passed its 30th anniversary in the minivan market.
Now that I think about it, maybe facing backward so much during my formative years is why I tend to look backward too much in life and get nostalgic for silly things like rear-facing station wagon seats and minivans.