By on February 8, 2021

Rare Rides has featured a Chevy Astro van once before, in Provan Tiger GT guise where it had all-wheel drive and an onboard bathroom.

Today’s Astro version does not have a bathroom but instead focuses on the tinsel important to sports van driving enthusiasts of the Eighties and Nineties.

The Chevrolet Astro and its twin the GMC Safari were van staples at General Motors for 21 years. Initially an attempt to compete with the instant success of Chrysler’s minivan offerings, the Astro and Safari were later trumped in GM’s lineup by more consumer-friendly front-drive vans like the Oldsmobile Silhouette. But they remained popular enough with customers and commercial users alike, who hauled cargo, made them conversion vans, and RVs as seen above.

The first generation Astro twins were around for 10 full model years, from introduction in 1985 through 1994. Vans were available in two different lengths, both based on the same 111-inch wheelbase. Shorter (STD) vans were 176.8 inches long, and EXT versions had an additional 10 inches. There were cargo versions available in both lengths, and overall height varied a bit depending on the model year and configuration. In passenger Astros, seating configurations for five, seven, and eight people were available.

Along with size and function flexibility, rear-wheel drive was supplemented by an optional all-wheel-drive system for 1990, which was a first for an American van. There were three engines available in the first-gen Astro: the 2.5-liter Iron Duke from the Celebrity, and two different versions of the 4.3-liter V6 mill donated by the S-10. Initially manual and automatic transmissions were available, though by 1993 a four-speed auto became the only choice.

Among the obscure variations of Astro and Safari lost to time is the GT Sport Package. Called RS on Astro and GT on Safari, it was an option coded by GM as BYP. The RS/GT upgrade changed the personality of the van for its enthusiast buyers. BYP added a front air dam, integrated fog lamps, a sport-tuned suspension, color-match front and rear bumpers, black side window moldings, lower trim with a red stripe, a unique red-striped grille, and a sports steering wheel. In 1990 the package was available only in white, silver, blue, gold, or red paint, and only with two-tone. The secondary color was always black. Interiors could be blue, red, brown, or gray, and there were two wheel options in the package. The more often selected rally wheels could be color-matched as well.

The BYP option was available through at least 1992 on the Astro and Safari, though your author can’t find any evidence it extended beyond that point. There’s no press photo of an RS or GT, so the brown van with rally-wheels above is as close as we get. Today’s Rare Ride is white and black and in need of some care. Located in Missouri, Astro RS asks $2,650.

[Image: GM]

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24 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1990 Chevrolet Astro RS, Maximum Sports Van...”

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I prepped a ton of these at my summer job in HS.Maybe the one for sale, I grew up in SW MO. They’re surprisingly agile .I still see a surprising amount soldiering on as handyman/painter WTs. That and Ford Rangers.

    • 0 avatar

      It was my preferred whip when I worked for the county transit authority. It could jump a curb like nobody’s business, which I had to do frequently to get out of traffic to inspect bus stops, bays, stations and terminals. I really appreciated it when I was forced to “upgrade” to a GM T900 that had the handling of a soft marshmallow. :-/
      Though it needed a delicate touch in winter traction conditions.

  • avatar

    The first van with AWD? Maybe the first minivan, but surely there were AWD ‘fuller size’ vans before.

  • avatar

    Astro vans in general were incredibly reliable for the time. I knew a lot of contractors who loved them (as rugged as a small pickup except your tools stay dry and locked) and we had 4 or 5 of them in the fleet at work as recently as when I started there 7 years ago. The only reason we got rid of them was because the rust was to the point where it was starting to return them to Mother Earth. Of course, the biggest downside was that safety wasn’t even on GM’s radar when they designed these (look up Chevy Astro crash tests if you can stand the sight of crash test dummies facing a crushing death).

    • 0 avatar

      These were reliable in the same way a lot of GM products were reliable. As in they ran like crap, but they ran longer than their Ford/Chrysler counterparts. But these things burned through A/C units and brakes on a semi-annual basis. That top photo is a stunner, though.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    This van needs funky cutout rear side windows and a paint job that evokes the cover of the Rush album “Fly By Night”.
    Yes, the one with the owl.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Not a weekday goes by when I do not see at least one Astro or Safari. Usually driven by contractors, couriers, similarly self-employed individuals or delivering parts. Some still look to be in remarkably good ‘nick’.

    My friends who owned Astros/Safaris all comment wistfully on how ‘robust’ they were, despite some ergonomic shortcomings.

    When was the last time I saw an Aerostar, a Windstar or even a Freestar? Can’t remember.

    At least with these and the J-Body featured by Murilee, GM cornered the market on simple, long lasting, but ‘primitive’ vehicles which were relatively cheap to own and maintain.

    • 0 avatar

      They have a Jr. version of the tough 700R4 trans, overbuilt or oversize for midsize trucks. It’s basically the same internals in a smaller case.

      The Ford competitors had glass transmissions. The trans is the downfall of {all other) minivans put to actual work.

    • 0 avatar
      Mr. Monte

      This is true, I see several of these roaming around the DFW and HOU area’s daily when there. Waaaay more numerous still than Aerostar’s, Caravan’s of the same vintage.

  • avatar

    Hey, it comes with a set of bald spare tires!

  • avatar

    I always thought that these had the best proportions out of all the first generation minivans. They looked like real vans, just a little smaller.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      The refreshed versions, with the up=package flush headlights were slick looking little vans. With the right wheels and tires, they look great, and since it’s based on the S10, the hot rodding parts, like V8 conversions, work on the Astros, too.

      Now that some time has gone by I really appreciate the rounded original model. That top pic is great.

  • avatar
    Matt Posky

    Should have warned me with an NSFW tag that this one has a diiiiiigital display.

  • avatar
    Rick T.

    For those of a certain age, although an older model:

    ‘Cause like a picture she was laying there
    And moonlight dancing off her hair
    She woke up and took me by the hand
    She’s gonna love me in my Chevy van
    And that’s alright with me

  • avatar

    I bought one of these shorties new in ’86. 4.3 w/5-MT, one of only two I was told that had this powertrain combo in SoCal at the time. Another of the rejected special order deals I’ve purchased over the years with strange options – the 5-MT, base model w/ up-level interior (whorehouse red, of course), cruise but no tilt wheel, deep tint windows, heavy duty cooling for pulling trailers, 7-passenger. Nice vehicle, I really liked it (didn’t realize what a deathtrap it could be in a crash, though) and the only issues were the position of the shift lever which resided way back near the plane of the seatback of the drivers seat – it would ache the sh*t out of my arm reaching back behind my shoulder to shift. Build quality was good except that someone back at the Baltimore assembly plant neglected to attach the connector for engine temp to the sensor on the engine (that’s when I found the cute safety cables bolted to the firewall draped over the back of the engine and bolted to the cross member to keep it from kicking up into the passenger compartment in case of a crash).

  • avatar

    Astro & Safari seeing many of these recently. Do they appear every 17 years like a locust?

    RIP Baltimore Assembly.

    I’m of the opinion M-body is the best effort GM has fielded in the smaller than full size van segment.

  • avatar

    Rented one of these–not an RS– to take my daughter and her stuff to college, liked it more than I expected. One of my in-laws had one for hauling his 4 kids around, he got at least 10 years out of it. Just a solid little hauler.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    One of my brother’s had a Safari and then an Astro for years. His Safari lasted until someone ran a traffic light and totaled it and then he bought a used an Astro. It was good for hauling things and for picking up his kids at the airport. These vans were very reliable and handled well for a van.

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