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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

The Ford Aerostar, overshadowed by Chrysler's minivans, has faded into undeserving obscurity | Hagerty Media

The humble minivan was one of the greatest automotive success stories of the 1980s. Affordable, efficient family transportation was a massively untapped market in America, and Lee Iacocca's brilliant 1984 Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan are often credited for saving the automaker from insolvency.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/car-profiles/ford-aerostar-history-obscurity/
45 REPLIES 45
FatBabyDriver
Intermediate Driver

I see a lot of the Flex in that 1972 sketch.
OldRoad
Instructor

Thank goodness I see very few if any more of those on the road. Ford sold a load of those to USPS w/ 2.3 power. They didn't last long. I also remember a recall issue that had to do with floor pan weak spots and body separation from what was supposed to be a unitized frame. Rivet stock sky rocketed when these vans had to be recalled to rivet the floor back onto the body and frame. No, these minis are obscure and for good reason. They were garbage.
hyperv6
Gearhead

What killed the Aerostar was two things. Rust and the marketing all around the Space Shuttle. Once the Challenger blew up the marketing went away and never really came back.

The one today that is still often seen and running is the Chevy Astro Van. I still see a number of these here in the rust belt.

They are very popular in Japan too. I have several customers buying parts for these.
tproveau
New Driver

I owned one brand new I bought from a high school friend who runs a local Ford dealership. Like the commenter OldRoad says, they were garbage! Rusted floor panel through the side on both sides, shifter cable rusted through the seals and would no longer shift and Ford wanted a fortune for a new one, that would have done the same thing! I repaired my shifter cable with hose clamps and silicone sealant! The dealer finally relented and repaired the rusted through panel/floor seam after I complained to the friend/owner however it rusted further down, where they did not repair it all the way down the seam, in just a few months!
It lasted long enough to trade away this junk and buy a Pontiac Montana as we still needed an family sized minivan. The Montana wasn't perfect but was much better than the Aerostar! Oh and I have not bought a Ford since and I grew up with family that always bought Fords!
My Honda's, Subaru's and especially Toyota's have been far better and less expensive to own since I started buying them instead.

Sajeev
Community Manager

Wow, I had no idea they rusted!  I always wanted a 'star and they lived a long, long time down here as work trucks because of the Ranger bones.  

spoom
Technician

Friend of mine said, "Every time I close the side door it weighs 5 lbs. less".
Rider79
Instructor

They were one of the few vehicles made in the 1980's, that somewhat routinely got big holes in the side here in the Midwest, as if they were 1960's sedans.
Patrician
Intermediate Driver

The Aerostar was a terror to work on and the first few years of production you replaced transmissions like they were spark plugs.
Flashman
Instructor

..."140 cubic inches"?
DaveG
New Driver

The Aerostar base configuration designed for sale to small business owners and fleets was equipped with a variable-ratio manual rack and pinion steering gear. Based on the concept developed by Arthur Bishop and manufactured by Jidosha-Kiki (JKC) in Japan, it was by far the most technologically advanced steering gear in the US when introduced. The gear provided excellent response and feedback on center as well as significantly reduced steering efforts near lock. Similar designs were being developed for cars in Europe by ZF but I don't know if any ever went into production. Unfortunately, Ford never promoted this feature and Aerostar went to 100% power steering in its third year of production. Only a small fraction of commercial van drivers who previously struggled with the high efforts of the Econoline manual steering gear ever got to enjoy the lighter steering efforts and responsive feel of the Aerostar.
Rider79
Instructor

Very interesting.
drhino
Instructor

These things always reminded me of the old Black and Decker Dustbuster.
JSievers
Detailer

The Aerostar styling gave rise to use of the term "dustbuster" to describe certain minivans.
4wdave
Pit Crew

We bought a new Aerostar because it was the only minivan rated to tow a small travel trailer. However, when towing the trailer up a moderately steep hill, the engine would howl, and the exhaust headers got so hot that my right foot was burning hot. That was OK, but...
New Year's Eve, I (and the family) were returning home around 1AM on a dark country road. (My wife was driving as I had too much champagne.). At a stop sign, the Aerostar engine locked up. This was before cell phones, at 1AM, on a dark country road. After a few minutes, a car came up behind us and the driver asked what was wrong. I told him and he offered to give me a ride to the nearest service station/pay phone. So I left my wife and kids in the van, while I rode off with a total stranger. I had the tow truck driver tow the van straight to a repair shop.
It turned out the a freeze plug at the back of the engine (under the bell housing) had rusted through and dumped all the coolant -- ruining the crank bearings.
Paid $600 to have bearings replaced, and immediately traded it in on a Toyota Previa van -- which was totally reliable!
That was the first, and only, time I'd ever been left stranded by a vehicle. That left such a bad taste in my mouth that I've never owned an American vehicle since.
And just seeing an Aerostar still gives me the creeps...
edddurst-gmail
Intermediate Driver

I owned an Aerostar for a short time. After the third transmission I went to a Chevy Astro, which was a great van. I then went on to a Windstar. After the third transmission, they kept cracking the front pump, I gave up on Ford vans. But, I will say, the absolute best vehicle ever is the F150. I have one now and it has spoiled me so much that I sold my 1970 Dodge D100.
Geok86
Advanced Driver

Funny that the story says these were so much better than the Astro van, but I still see Astros on the road daily...I don’t think I’ve seen an Aero in over 2 decades. Everyone I knew who owned one, said it was a total POS.
Geok86
Advanced Driver

After more thought, I don’t even remember seeing any Windstars on the road in the last 10-15 years, and can’t remember the last time I saw a Flex...yet since moving to the south, I’ve seen several 1st gen Chrysler mininvans!!
Rider79
Instructor

First-gen Chrysler minivans are nearly extinct here in the Midwest. Lots and lots of Flexes here, though.
edddurst-gmail
Intermediate Driver

In fact, I just saw an Aerostar on my way to work this morning.

 

MattK
Detailer

One reason you see more Chevy Astros on the road is that they continued making them until 2005. Ford stopped producing the Aero Star in 1997.
ThumperUSMC
Intermediate Driver

Personally speaking, and no, I never owned one, but they did not "fade" into obscurity, They were put that way by the people that owned one. A good friend had one and I occasionally rode in it. The damned thing scared me, and it wasn't my buddies driving that scared me, but the van. It handled like crap, always needed repairs of one kind or another and it definitely kept me from wanting to buy one.
That's just my opinion of those things, so with that and a couple bucks, you can buy a cup of coffee...LOL
RetroRock
Intermediate Driver

With 2 newly arrived kids, I sold my Jeep (smaller XJ) Wagoneer in 1990 and purchased the Eddie Bauer Extended Version Aerostar at a sizable discount because the dealer couldn't move it off his lot at end of year. Metallic Raven Black & Gold on the lower panels it had 4 captain chairs in a tan plush with embroidered pine tree accents. Also included with the purchase was a matching canvas and leather luggage set...a set I still have and use to this day.
I loved it and with the third row seat folding down into a bed, it was great for trips to Florida or a guy's only fishing trip to Canada!
After a few years though and the kids getting a bit older, the van had become my daily go-to-work driver, and although very comfortable, I felt like a grasshopper with that big body swinging behind me on turns.
I finally traded it in on a newer 4-door XJ Jeep Cherokee and never looked back. The wife was really PO'ed with me moving back to a Jeep, but it was the quintessential station wagon/utility vehicle of the day and served us well, all the way up to the time when my, now a bit older, driving daughter used and abused it as a high school driver.
Great article and trip down memory lane.
VicW
Pit Crew

In 1989 I bought a new Aerostar. Test drove several and all felt very different. I drove mine from new to 214,000 miles and was about to take it in for rust work when the trans went out. It did surprisingly well in Michigan bad winters. FWD would not have kept up.
spoom
Technician

Love the Carrousel concept. I owned 1967, '68 & '66 Ford wagons (in that order, run what ya can afford) right out of High School, two 289s & a 390. I easily could have transitioned to a used Carrousel back in those days if it had been a "thing". The Aerostar & Astro were the choice for a lot of folks pulling modest boats and/or campers, but the Aerostar truly was a rust & maint. nightmare for the two couples I knew that owned them. Up here in snow country, folks loved the 4wd "Fastro" vans, a concept ahead of it's time? Now you can get just about anything in AWD.

tproveau
New Driver

Yes we had a FAstro van AWD. It was well used when we bought it and used it for a couple years. Unfortunately it got rolled down the grass median south of Charlotte just in SC. Insurance wrote it off and did not give us enough, in my opinion, for the great shape it was in being AWD with brand new rubber and one month old custom stainless exhaust installed. They just looked at the year and mileage pretty much. We liked it, unlike our Aerostar which we did not like.

BNDK
New Driver

Now, from the silent majority, a positive review. I bought the long body XLT, with all options, dual air, captains chairs and 4 liter rear drive. Took it to 170,000 miles over well more than a decade. No engine, transmission, electrical or rust problems you all talk about. I chose it over the Astro van as the front foot wells were design for two legged adults. We packed it out with a family and filled up the rear to max capacity and flew up hills, even did good on curvy roads, better than expected. It was reliable, offered good visibility and did what it was designed to do. But all things wear out, and so it was replaced. Proper maintenance and good care was the key. And I drove them all before buying. Yes I’m mechanically minded and a perfectionist. I wonder how many didn’t bother to respond, allowing the usual negative crowd to fill these pages.
spoom
Technician

Please don't take it personal, I've had better luck with Ford products than any other and still have a Ford van and Lincoln sedan as my daily drivers. That said, my friends' experiences are what they are, and theirs (both in SE Wisconsin) rusted to death with under 80k miles on them. Despite the, "I got Rusty Jones with Quaker Coat sprayed OVER it." and, "I wash mine 20 times a week, especially underneath" stories, there is nothing you can do about vehicles that were prone to rust by poor design, materials, and/or manufacturing. My much beloved 1996 Celica GT would still be in my garage now if it weren't for the fact the tops of the strut towers rusted up from underneath with 86k miles of year round use (and weekly car washes). One day bubbly paint appeared,  next you know, the hood was hard to latch. After a few horror stories of how at some car washes you are washing with saltwater, and how under car washes can dissolve and drive salt up where it'd seldom get from driving, I quit using the "chassis wash" feature at car washes. Car washes re-use water, after filtering...except when they toss the cartridges and media out and even save on electricity for the pumps. I'm glad you had a great experience with yours, really. Am I part of the usual negative crowd if I mention all three of my 60's Ford wagons completely rusted out behind the passenger rear tire at the bottom of the spare tire well, and so did thousands of others?

Redawgleader
Pit Crew

I am with you. My AWD Aerostar was a champ. The 4-litre pulled hard, the AWD did a good job in winter, and the seating was flexible and comfortable. It was totally reliable and durable. It didn't help my (not so) sexy image much, though.
MoparMan
Advanced Driver

The Aerostar (IMO) had good looks, at least the short wheel base model did. When Ford extended the length by hanging the additional inches behind the rear wheel, it made for a really awkward look.
Today, they aren't nearly as plentiful as Chevy Astros. 🙂
ede2357914
New Driver

I bought a new 1990 Aerostar after looking at all of the other mini vans. Never thought I would own a Ford but didn't want a K car on steroids or a GM product. I had it for 13 years 140,000 miles. Besides normal wear and tear just a master cylinder, alternator and a set of upper control arm bushings. If it was still made in 2003 I would have bought another one. Got an Explorer instead. Again 13 years 140,000 trans went and time for another Explorer. Never thought I would own a Ford product. Still remember Ford meaning Found On Road Dead. It was a quality product. 31 years later and 5 new Ford products no complaints.
OldCarMan
Instructor

The secret sauce of the Chrysler minivans was the occupant packaging, which no one until the 3rd gen Nissan, finally got it for the front seats. GM never got it it, nor the Japanese. Towing was never that big a factor then. When Chrysler added the MMC V-6 in '88, the car finally had some guts. Not the 4 cyl. reliability, but would keep up with traffic better. Once Chrysler added dual sliding doors, and Stow 'N Go, in-floor seating, NO foreign or domestic minivan could hold a candle to the flexibility and usability, of the Dodge and Chryslers.
red-on-red
Intermediate Driver

I remember reading a magazine review of the new Aerostar. They quoted that the engine bay was so tight and congested that
"the Aerostar can only be repaired by specially bred Ford mechanics with eyes on their fingertips"
chrlsful
Instructor

just for 'looks' I prefer the 2nd 2 pic (and the sketch) over all others. Am into 'the smaller is better' so the ideal for me are all the 'pre-mini vans': the '80s Mitsu MPV, eagle Summit, Stanza, honda RT/ toy tercell. Delecta (more modern) and ol Subie Sam/360 van also fit in here. These would be totally 'off' for a RR crew of 8 or 12 or other slots filled by the 12 passengers now replaced w/the transit connect, etc...
DaveVan
Intermediate Driver

We owned two Aerostar vans during the time period our kids were young. Both were great workhorses that were trouble free. Wife never drove anything more than 150K miles was the only reason we traded them. I like the RWD with chassis over the other mini vans. And pop the seats out and they moved a lot of cargo.....more versatile IMHO.
The only issue I ever had was changing the serpentine belt on our first Aerostar. Ford did not have a 'map' for the belt and I removed the old belt before noting how it was routed. 3 hours later I got the new belt on....but the most aggravating repair I ever did on a vehicle!
Todd_Z
Pit Crew

It’s interesting that the article claims the Aerostar got at least some of its front suspension from the Ford Ranger. If that’s true, it would’ve had a Twin-I-Beam front end, which it most certainly did not.
BenjaminHunting
Pit Crew

Hi Todd - the Aerostar didn't use the twin i-beams, but it did share brakes and wheel bearings and other bits with the Ranger.. It was a hybrid setup that pulled from both Ranger and sedan parts bins.
charliecatsrr
New Driver

I had one of the 86 Aerostar vehicles in 1986. It was a wonderful vehicle especially for traveling on vacation with the whole family. I later had a 87 & 88. They were both the extended wheelbase models. That was before the great innovations like fold flat rear seats.
Rider79
Instructor

No, no, they DO deserve obscurity. I have driven all first-gen U.S. minivans (specifically, I drove the Aerostar, Astro, and Voyager), and the Ford Dustbuster was the loser of the group. The Safari and Astro were not much better, but at least they didn't have that big snout on them. And, FWD was definitely the way to go for minivans.
millbuna
Pit Crew

A company I worked for back in the day had an Aerostar as a delivery vehicle. It was generally pretty decent as it could carry quite a bit in back and was more fuel efficient than a full size van. It did have an unusual propensity to flop onto its side; once in a relatively minor low-speed collision and the other time in a slightly abrupt lane change in the rain. Though I never had a problem, I remember a buckling sound from the rear axle when cornering harder than normal...I always wondered if there was some less than ideal suspension design issues
ecostello
New Driver

I really liked our aerostar. Could pull our small boat easily. The only thing I hated was the undersized front brakes. It was the one reason I traded for a chevy suburban. I actually preferred the cargo space better than the suburban.
CliffRamsdell
Pit Crew

I remember these vans well. I worked as a Chrysler mechanic for a Ford/Chrysler dealer in the mid 80’s and the Ford mechanics taunted us that no one would ever drive a minivan and yet this thing shows up in ‘86.

The quality was on par with some cars of the late 70’s and my brother was the guy with the job of doing the frame recall with his tool cart of rivets, brackets and drill bits.

While the early Voyagers were not the greatest the layout was and others followed. I still drive a minivan every day.

Cliff Ramsdell
hearsedriver
Intermediate Driver

my experience with an aerostar was a good one. drove it in northern ontario winter salted roads until rockers needed attention. lots of room, not a lick of mechanical issues. replaced it with a POS fairly new safari. it ate its engine because the intake gaskets and that dexcool crap could not get along. the power windows failed, would go down but not back up. had to fight with them constantly. less room inside than the aerostar, less balls on a hill, as well. was happy to see it leave the driveway with someone else.
llawrence9
Intermediate Driver

There is an Aerostar sitting in front of a garage with one flat tire up the road from me. For at least five years.
After this read I believe it is best for me to let it rust in peace.
HHCO
Intermediate Driver

these were so poorly designed when you had to work on them suicide seemed like resonable option

hyperv6
Gearhead

It did not help Ford planned the marketing around the space shuttle. When we lost Challenger They froze marketing for a good while. 

Also the styling was just a bit edgy that just did not appeal to some while the Astro connected.