By on May 1, 2020

Much like our recently presented Tempo, today’s Ford is a well-kept oddity that’s already considered a classic due to its age. A ho-hum family van, the Aerostar was the sort of vehicle that got well-used and (usually) rusted by its eighth birthday.

Today’s short-wheelbase beauty, however, made it to 26.

In 1984 Chrysler introduced the Dodge Caravan, which simultaneously doomed the large family station wagon, created the minivan segment, secured Chrysler’s financial future, and put General Motors and Ford on their ear. But it didn’t have to be that way. You see, Ford goofed.

In the early Seventies, Ford was working on a derivative of the Econoline van that was smaller and could be parked in a garage (the key component for suburban family buyers). Called the Carousel, in 1976 the rear-drive van was shown to Ford execs and received applause from around the table. But Ford had too many irons in the fire, namely more sexy projects like new Fox and Panther platforms. The project was killed, which increased tensions between Lee Iacocca, engineer Hal Sperlich, and their boss Henry Ford II. In 1978 both men were fired, and found greener pastures with Chrysler. More open to minivan time, Chrysler approved the project in 1979, and the Caravan was underway.

After word broke of a green light on the Caravan, Ford sighed and began its own development of a new minivan. They took the tall, six-foot height of the Carousel as a starting point, and started over. Mini Econoline ideas were scrapped in favor a smaller unibody platform, VN1. Fuel economy was top of buyers’ minds at the time, so plastics were used to reduce weight, while aluminum was used in some places instead of steel. The parts-sharing with Ranger sped up development, and the Aerostar debuted in near-final “concept” form in 1984. It went into production in June of 1985 for the ’86 model year.

Initially all Aerostars were rear-drive, though all-wheel drive became an option in 1990. Standard-length vans measured 174.9 inches, while long-wheelbase versions were 190.3 inches. The base engine was a 2.3-liter inline-four, though this was discontinued after 1987. For 1986 only, Aerostar buyers who desired a middling engine could opt for the 2.8-liter Cologne V6. Two other V6 engines were offered for a longer time: the Vulcan 3.0-liter from ’86 through ’97, and the 4.0-liter Cologne V6 from ’90 to ’97. Transmissions included a five-speed Mazda manual for the first two model years, with a four-speed automatic offered through 1996. For Aerostar’s final model year in ’97, all versions received a five-speed automatic.

While Ford’s first minivan was successful, it couldn’t touch the Chrysler offerings. In a big announcement on March 17, 1997, Ford discontinued a group of its products: the Aspire, Thunderbird, Cougar, Probe, and Aerostar. Only the Aerostar had a successor, replaced in 1998 by the more family-friendly Windstar. The new offering was based on the front-drive Taurus, which secured its future until crossovers came along.

Today’s well-kept and low-mileage Rare Ride is for sale presently in California. In bronze over beige, it asks $2,275.

[Images: seller]

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33 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1994 Ford Aerostar – Better in Brown...”

  • avatar

    Were these the ones with the totally crap brakes?

    • 0 avatar

      It could be. Some friends of ours owned a silver LWB one (they previously owned an early Tempo when first married) that suffered from a stuck throttle, and rolled on its side going down an exit ramp. The insurance company spent a ridiculous amount to have it repaired.

      These later ones have the bumpers that turn brittle and disintegrate over time, and the “ready or not, here I come” driver’s airbag. A Ford dealer body shop manager told me one time that an airbag deployment in one of these with all the windows rolled up usually resulted in one or both of the tiny front side windows blowing out.

  • avatar

    I knew someone that worked at Ford dealers when the Aerostar and Windstar were new. He told me that all the techs hated these vans. The Aerostar hard a very tight engine compartment and some of the engines required periodic valve adjustments. That was a difficult procedure.
    The Windstar was, at least initially, plagued with electrical/electronic problems.
    I see more Aerostars on the road now than Windstars, but even the Aerostars are a rare sight.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I had all manner of products with both the Lima 2.3 and and Cologne V6’s to include the 2.8 and 4.0 and never had to adjust the valves…they were all hydraulic lifter motors. Vulcans were too, but I have little experience with those.

      I do recall some of the 4.0’s having lifter issues however so maybe that was it. I can see that being a difficult fix in an Aerostar for sure. Still I was at dealers back then and they had a very loyal following.

  • avatar

    I had a ’89 LWB Aerostar that I absolutely loved, took two cross-country trips in it with 3 boys (2 mine, 1 borrowed) who remained peaceful the entire trip due to state-of-art electronics, including DVD players and individual headphone jacks for each kid. Pretty heady stuff at that time.

    The RWD V6 made for powerful and comfortable trip through mountains and deserts. It was also one of the few mini-vans available with AWD at the time

  • avatar

    My first job involved driving an Aerostar cargo van. Surprisingly fun to drive –probably because it was just an empty steel shell– and the Vulcan V6 could move the thing. Only one big problem: the transmission froze while reversing.

  • avatar

    I had one briefly as a first car. Bought from my friend’s dad for $700. At the time it was 11 years old and had about 180k. Its only real demerit was the horsepucky fuel economy, about 10-12 no matter what. Otherwise, it was my first car; I didn’t have to ask permission to use it.

    It was uglier than sin: Eddie Bauer turqouise over beige. The digital speedo was pretty cool though.

  • avatar

    I really like Ford dashes from the 80s. Plasticky, sure, but they just seem to flow into the rest of the interior, and none of that tacky fake-chrome GM was so fond of. We had an Aerostar at work, drove a lot nicer than our Econoline. And on the weekends we could put quad inside of it and drive to the dunes.

    • 0 avatar

      The Aerostar also had a real solid feel to it and the panoramic, up-high view from the front was great with big western vistas. The mousehair interior held-up really well, too. I put a lot of miles on mine and never had any trouble with it

  • avatar

    I’ll never forget the day I rented an Aerostar in either 1987 or 1988 for a day trip with friends. On the approach to the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey, the engine unexpectedly caught fire. We started smelling smoke through the ventilation system and hobbled the vehicle over to a motel parking lot. One of us lifted the hood and saw flames. The front desk clerk ran out with a fire extinguisher. Needless to say, it was not a successful trip. From then on, we all called Aerostars, “Toast A Van”. I’m shocked this one is still on the road.

  • avatar

    So avg condition old vehicles are worth a minimum of $2,300 now? (2300 = 2 really because 300 is room for basic haggling and crappy trades).

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, easily worth double that amount!


    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      @ 28-cars; good to see ya again. I live in VA. Perhaps $2,000 is accepted minimum price for anything that runs and will pass state inspection this year?

      • 0 avatar

        Thanks, nice to see you el scotto. That simply may be the case. I look at this and think, well if its super clean and museum worthy maybe it commands a premium. But I wouldn’t bet on it, this looks like a $500 estate/old person trade the dealer is looking to soak someone on who has kids. Saw it all the time. This time though in the country, I don’t think the buyers at this level really have the cash to be soaked… assuming honest livings and all.

        Sometimes weird stuff like this is simply pricey. I’d love an SC300 or SC400, but those rarely exist and when they do, cha-ching. Ditto any small truck. This I feel shouldn’t do that in terms of valuation.

  • avatar

    “The project was killed, which made Lee Iacocca and engineer Hal Sperlich very angry. So in 1978 they departed for greener pastures at Chrysler.”

    Iacocca was fired from Ford–he didn’t leave because the minivan project was shelved.

  • avatar

    I bought a 93 XL “shorty” around 2005 to use as a work vehicle. Paid about 3500 for it with 67k miles. Great little van, wonderful on the highway even with the 3.0 . Drove it 10k in 4 months and killed the transmission. Had it rebuilt, but it was never the same and never trustworthy after that. Used it as a down payment on a lease for the wife after a year.

    Had a childhood friend whose dad worked for Ford when they were new in 86. He had one as a demo with the digital dash. With that and the “extra radio” in the middle for the passengers, I thought it was the coolest thing. Way cooler than the 84 Econoline conversion my folks bought.

    I enjoyed my brief Aerostar experience as an adult, transmission faiIure notwithstanding ( a notable problem in these and most Fords of the time) but I wouldn’t mind seeing them reappear (or VW Eurovan) but our 2020 Odyssey EX-L has also been pretty awesome so far.

    This thing would be great for 2k. Just don’t hit anything head on or offset and you’ll be fine.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh yeah, having the extra radio controls for the rear was cool! And the digital dash felt a bit zoomy at that time. It had a nice bright solid green illumination, as I recall.

      These also came with “captain’s chairs” in the second row instead of the bench. That made for a rather comfortable minivan.

  • avatar

    Ford blew it – twice. The Chrysler minivans were car-based, and focused on replacing the station wagon with a roomier, space-efficient design that had the same step-in height and driving characteristics as a car. Ford and GM decided that the key consumer driver would be towing capacity, so they built trucks. They both missed the mark, and Caravan/Voyager captured the market.

    The Windstar was designed to outclass the Caravan/Voyager of the early ’90s, but offered nothing really innovative. Six months after the Windstar was launched, Chrysler introduced its next-gen minivans, with the 4th door option, and thereafter Ford couldn’t give Windstars away.

    Brock Yates wrote a great book about the parallel development of the Windstar and the Chrysler products. One of the most interesting aspects was that the Chrysler was receiving regular progress reports about the Windstar program from a source in GM. Go figure.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford could have based the Aerostar on the then-developing Taurus platform, but that likely would have cost the company even more time. From a development standpoint, using the Ranger as a base made sense.

      I recently picked up “CAR”, “On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors” and “Comeback”. Loved reading all three and I wouldn’t mind adding Brock Yates’ book as a fourth.

      • 0 avatar

        Those are all excellent books. Good choices for car people.

      • 0 avatar

        The Ranger is not the base for the Aerostar. One is a Body on frame vehicle and the other is a unibody.

        • 0 avatar

          Yes and no…

          As with its Chrysler and General Motors minivan counterparts, the chassis of the Ford Aerostar derived a number of suspension and powertrain components from existing vehicles to lower development costs. Although it would become the first Ford truck to make use of a unibody chassis, the Aerostar shared most of its components with the Ford Ranger/Bronco II light trucks. To reinforce the chassis for towing and overall rigidity, the dedicated platform (codenamed VN1, the first alphanumeric designation for a Ford platform) was designed with full-length integrated frame rails. The addition provided the Aerostar with the same 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) tow rating as the Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari, and 2½ times the capacity of the Chrysler minivans.”

          VN1 Platform
          “The VN1 platform is a platform that was developed by Ford for use for mid-size vans, specifically the Ford Aerostar. The first Ford vehicle to use an alphanumeric platform designation, the VN1 platform architecture is mechanically unrelated to the E-Series van, sharing only its rear-wheel drive layout.

          While using a dedicated chassis, the Aerostar was designed with a high degree of parts commonality with other Ford light-truck products of the time (initially, the Ford Ranger/Bronco II and the later Ford Explorer/Mazda Navajo), sharing major components including the brakes, front suspension, wheels, and powertrain. One notable exception is the rear suspension layout; the coil-sprung live rear axle uses a 3-link configuration, similar to the Ford LTD Crown Victoria and Fox-body Mustang.

          In contrast to the E-Series van, the unibody chassis of the Aerostar was designed with additional full-length frame rails; this construction was also used on the Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari vans, the Jeep Cherokee XJ, and the Honda Ridgeline pickup truck.”

          It’s similar to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, A reinforce unibody hybrid

          • 0 avatar

            Full length frame rails are nothing unique, the original Econoline had them, so did the majority of the early Chrysler cars.

            Wiki is incorrect that they shared front suspension with the Ranger of its day. They did share rotors, pads and calipers and that is it. Later the Explorer did adopt a SLA front suspension but it wasn’t from the Aerostar.

          • 0 avatar

            Ok, but to say it’s a car-based unibody like other minivans isn’t really fair either

            The Aerostar was rather stout and had most of the capabilities of the Ranger. I wish such a vehicle existed now other then the Suburban

          • 0 avatar

            I never said it was car based, just that it wasn’t Ranger based. It was unique, hence the VN1 platform designation. The rest was just standard parts sharing that goes on in most mfgs.

    • 0 avatar

      They sure sold a lot of Aerostars and Astros for “blowing it”. Astros are still everywhere and have a cult following. Contemporary Voyager/Caravans died long ago.

      A large segment of consumers wouldn’t touch anything K-car based, and truck-based was a positive. The Aerostar’s big problem was the transmission.

      Car-based minivans are still a bad idea and don’t have the longevity of cars or trucks.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah Ford really blew it with the Aerostar making what was the best selling van for a number of years. Yes Voyager+Caravan outsold the Aerostar in the early years, but Ford was #1. Later once the Aerostar, Villager and Windstar were all on sale Ford sold more minivans that Chrysler.

  • avatar

    This vehicle has *two* external key cylinders on the passenger side alone! (An incredible extravagance by 2020 standards.)

  • avatar

    The Aerostar is not based on the Ranger platform. One has a full frame, the other is a unibody. One had a twin I (or traction) beam front suspension, he other had an SLA set up. One had leaf springs holding up and locating the rear, the other a 3 link and coils.

    Yes they shared engines and transmissions, but chassis wise it was some brake pieces and the wheels.

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