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The Ford Aerostar was Ford's first minivan and was introduced in the summer of 1985 as a 1986 model. It was available in passenger van (Wagon) and cargo van (Van) versions. In 1989, an extended-length model was introduced with an all-wheel drive option following in 1990. The Aerostar was produced only under the Ford brand, while Mercury's first minivan was the Mercury Villager which debuted for the 1993 model year.

The Aerostar was dropped after the 1997 model year after being replaced by the Windstar in the 1995 model year and being sold alongside it from 1995 to 1997. The 2010 Transit Connect is the closest replacement to the Aerostar cargo van.

Overview

The Ford Aerostar was Ford's first minivan, and was introduced as a 1986 model in summer 1985. The Aerostar was unique since it combined the trucklike rear-wheel drive and towing capacity of the Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari with car-like user-friendliness of the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager. The Aerostar is often referred to as a "midivan" along with the RWD GM vans, due to its being larger than Chrysler's minvans but smaller than a traditional full-size van. Like Chrysler's minivans, the Aerostar was exported to Europe in small numbers, which is why the rear license surround is sized to accommodate European number plates in addition to American ones. The aerodynamic sloped-nosed styling resembled the Ford Taurus introduced alongside it for 1986. An early commercial ad campaign compared the side profile of the Aerostar to that of the NASA Space Shuttle. For much of its later life, the Aerostar would be marketed as part of Ford's light-truck lineup.

The Aerostar differed from other minivans of its time because it was built on a dedicated platform of its own. The official platform designation for the Aerostar is VN1, which was also the first American Ford to use an alphanumeric platform designation (as opposed to "Fox" or "Panther") This design was developed because the designers in Ford's truck office were unfamiliar and uncomfortable with unibody construction. As a result, the frame rails were integrated into the unibody (this construction was also used on the General Motors G-Series vans, the second-generation Jeep Cherokee), and today's Honda Ridgeline pickup. Unlike the front-wheel drive Chrysler minivans and their later clones, the Aerostar was designed as a rear-wheel drive vehicle. This compromised interior space somewhat (the interior floor was higher) but provided superior towing ability as well as increased traction when loaded.

Since the Aerostar used truck parts (the brake rotors, axle bearings, wheels, etc. were all interchangeable with the Ford Ranger, Bronco II, and Explorer), essentially any interchangeable truck option for power and suspension was available. Many Aerostar owners upgraded to 15- or 16-inch wheels from an Explorer or Ranger. One noted difference is that the Aerostar had a 3-link coil spring rear suspension with a live axle, similar to the Ford Crown Victoria and Fox-body Mustang.

First generation (1986-1991)

At its launch, the Aerostar was available in a single body length and as a base-model cargo van, XL base-model wagon, and XLT deluxe-trim wagon. The base engine was a 2.3 L four-cylinder, while the 2.8 L Cologne V6 was optional. The Cologne V6 was replaced for 1987 with the 3.0 L Vulcan V6.

For 1988, the 4-cylinder engine was dropped. As the V6 was now standard, the V6 emblem on the front fenders was removed. Two-tone paint was dropped from the XLT model, and the Aerostar script was moved from the front fenders to the left side of the rear hatch; the box beneath it showing the trim level changed from a red background to a gray one.

The Eddie Bauer model was introduced as an upscale model for 1988. It shared most of its features with XLT models (most XLT options were included as standard equipment), but with unique outdoors-themed trim. Two-tone paint schemes were used, but instead of the side panel being an accent between the upper and lower body, the rocker panels and wheel well trim are painted tan as the accent. Aluminum wheels (of the same 14" diameter) were standard on the Eddie Bauer, but are available on XLT wagons as an option. Inside, 2nd-row "quad" bucket seats are an option on both Eddie Bauer and XLT trim.

1989 facelift

1989-91 Aerostar XLT Wagon
For 1989, Ford made minor but noticeable detail changes to the exterior. The grille changed from a chrome egg-crate style to dark gray with 3 horizontal slats. An extended-length variant that added 14" to the cargo area was introduced for both van and wagon bodies. New wheel covers were introduced to differentiate the Aerostar's wheels from those on the Ranger/Bronco II. One style was shared with the Tempo, while the other (5 triangular holes, with slotted spokes) was unique to the Aerostar. Optional side mirrors integrated onto the door pillar replaced less-aerodynamic "trailer-towing mirrors" shared with the Ranger and Bronco II.

In 1990 the Aerostar overtook the Astro and Safari twins in sales to move from 3rd to 2nd behind Chrysler. The 4.0L Cologne V6 was added, and E-4WD (Electronic 4-Wheel Drive) all-wheel drive became an option. The Aerostar was Motor Trend magazine's Truck of the Year for 1990.

Powertrain
4-cylinder engines
Engine Name Displacement Horsepower Years Available Notes
Lima SOHC inline-4 2.3L 100 hp 1986-1987

V6 engines
Engine Name Displacement Horsepower Years Available Notes

Cologne OHV V6 2.8L 115 hp 1986 The Aerostar was the last North American Ford to use this variant of the Cologne V6.

Vulcan OHV V6 3.0L 145 hp 1987-1991 The Vulcan was the only engine available for 1988 and 1989.

Cologne OHV V6 4.0L 155 hp 1990-1991 The 4.0L V6 was mandatory with the E-4WD option.

Transmissions

Name Manufacturer Type Years Available Notes
TK5 Toyo-Kogyo (Mazda) 5-speed manual 1986-1987
M5OD Mazda 5-speed manual 1988-1991

A4LD Ford 4-speed automatic 1986-1991


Second generation (1992-97)

For 1992, the Aerostar received minor design changes on the exterior to improve its aerodynamics. The interior received a major redesign as Ford added a driver airbag as standard equipment; 3-point seatbelts on all outboard seats were also added.

Exterior

Although no sheetmetal was changed, the Aerostar now had a much different look up front (certainly when compared to the 1986 model). To live up to the "aero" part of its name, the old-style sealed-beam headlights were replaced with the flush-lens composite type being integrated into all Ford cars and trucks. The front turn signal lenses changed from all-amber to mostly clear in color to match the headlights. The grille insert was changed yet again, although this time, the Ford logo was moved from the center to the top third of the grille. This was done to match the similarly-redesigned Econoline and the then-new Explorer. The Aerostar's distinctive A-pillar windows were blacked out further to look slightly smaller.

  • Two-tone paint was re-introduced as an option on XLT wagons, but instead of the Eddie Bauer tan, silver was the typical accent color.
  • Bumpers gained a monochromatic appearance on 2-tone vans, but still were gray on single-color vans. Non-metallic wheel covers were introduced.


Interior

In response to safety trends, Ford introduced a driver-side SRS airbag for 1992. With this change, Ford took the opportunity to make somewhat major changes to the gauge panel, climate controls, and switched other controls to parts common to other Ford vehicles (such as the wipers and lights). The gear selector for the automatic moved from the floor to the steering column, yet the handbrake remained (a quirk common to all Ford minivans). The placement of the radio controls stayed the same, but the faceplate was updated from the mid-1980s design.

  • Eddie Bauer models received the option of leather seating surfaces.


1993-1996 changes

  • 1993 introduces the option of integrated child seats.
  • 1994 adds a CHMSL (center brake light) to the rear hatch.
  • 1995 Body-color bumpers become available to wagons without 2-tone paint.
  • 1996 Is carryover and is the final year for non-XLT models.


1997 changes

1997 is the final model year for the Aerostar; it is only available as the Van or the XLT Wagon. Although the Wagon only comes in XLT trim, it is still sold with or without options and features.
  • The 4.0L V6 gets paired with a 5-speed automatic transmission; this is a first for minivans.
  • On the taillights, the amber turn indicators are replaced with red ones.
    • The unique taillights are often a popular choice of pre-1997 Aerostar owners who customize their vehicles.
    • Retrofitting these to a pre-1997 Aerostar requires drilling an extra hole inside for the turn signal indicator.
  • Seven-hole 14x6" wheels (1" wider than normal) are introduced as a final-year option.


Powertrain
Engines
Engine Name Displacement Horsepower Years Available Notes

Vulcan OHV V6 3.0L 145 hp 1992-1997

Cologne OHV V6 4.0L 160 hp 1992-1997 This engine was mandatory with the E-4WD option.

Transmissions

Name Manufacturer Type Years Available Notes

M5OD Mazda 5-speed manual 1992-1995 The manual-transmission option for the Aerostar was dropped after 1995

A4LD Ford 4-speed automatic 1992-1995 Available with both engines.

4R44E Ford 4-speed automatic 1996-1997 Available with the Vulcan V6 only.

4R55E Ford 4-speed automatic 1996 Available with the Cologne V6 only; replaced in 1997 by the 5R55E

5R55E Ford 5-speed automatic 1997 Available only with the Cologne V6; this was the first 5-speed automatic in a minivan.


Aerostar models and trim levels

Ford called the passenger version of the Aerostar the Wagon and the cargo version the Van; the wagon came in 3 trim levels and both Wagons and Vans were available in two lengths.

Aerostar Van (1986-97)

The cargo version of the Aerostar did not sell as well as the wagon, as the Aerostar's in-between size worked against it in comparison to the GM Astro/Safari twins. Aside from the lack of windows and trimmed interior, Aerostar cargo vans differed little from Aerostar wagons. One difference that was externally visible was the use of double doors on the rear instead of a hatch. On these, the license-plate opening was American-sized instead of the wagon's European-sized one (the cargo van was not exported). The Aerostar Van did not catch on as a base for conversion vans either.

The Van was sold with any available engine and came in both standard and extended lengths.

XL Wagon (1986-96)

The XL was the base model of the wagon. It also was the most popular model early on in the Aerostar's life. Most XLT features were available as extra-cost options on the XL, so not all XLs were stripped models. An "XL Plus" model featured a lot of options grouped together such as power windows and locks, rear A/C, etc but lacked the XLT's alloy wheels, upgraded cloth seats, etc.

The XL was available in both body lengths; any engine was available, but only in rear-wheel drive.

XLT Wagon (1986-97)

The XLT was the deluxe model of the Aerostar lineup and eventually overtook the XL in sales. The XLT was available in either body length and could be ordered with any engine (although few came with the smallest engine available). The XLT was available in both rear and all-wheel drive (the latter, from 1990-1997)
Standard Features
  • Power Windows and Locks
  • Power Mirrors
  • Privacy Glass
  • Rear Windshield Wiper/Defogger


Optional Features
  • Digital Instruments with Tachometer
  • Overhead Trip Computer with Auto-Dimming Rearview Mirror
    • Trip Computer features include: Distance to Empty (English/Metric), Trip Mileage, Average Fuel Economy, Instant Fuel Economy, Average Speed (English/Metric), along with dual map lights.
  • Folding center armrests in both bench seats (console in rear)
  • Rear Climate Control
  • Folding Rear Bench Seat (after mid-1989)
  • Dome light with dual map lights
  • Rear Audio Controls
  • 2nd-row Captains Chairs (Quad Seats)
  • 8-speaker stereo with cassette player
  • Anti-Lock Brakes (rear-wheel only, later made standard)
  • Electronic 4-wheel Drive
  • Aluminum Wheels
  • Two-Tone Paint (accent color on side panels)

Eddie Bauer Wagon (1988-96)

Aerostar Eddie Bauer
The Aerostar was one of the first Fords (and to date, the only van) to be branded in Eddie Bauer trim. It combined the features of the XLT with two-tone exterior paint (tan as the accent color on the rocker panels and wheel trim) and a tan interior (cloth standard, with leather as an option). One usually overlooked feature of the Eddie Bauer package is that the middle and rear bench seats would fold out flat converting the two bench seats into a bed, though quad seats ("captain's chairs") were often ordered as an option.

The Eddie Bauer was available in either body length; the extended-length version was far more popular. It was offered only with the largest engine, so only the 1988-1989 versions came with a 3.0L V6. Like the XLT, it was offered in rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, with the latter proving very popular.

Extended-length Wagon/Van (1989-97)

In 1989, to counter Chrysler's "Grand" vans, Ford added roughly 14" behind the 3rd seat to create an extended-length model; it never received a separate model designation. The 119" wheelbase was kept the same, as it was already longer than that of a Lincoln Town Car (nearly identical to the Chrysler "Grand" vans). With the added cargo space, this version quickly overtook the standard length in sales.

Available with:
  • Aerostar Van
  • Aerostar XL Wagon (Rear-wheel drive only)
  • Aerostar XLT Wagon
  • Aerostar Eddie Bauer Wagon


Sport (1991-96)

Aerostar Sport
From 1994 to 1996. the Sport option package was available for any non-Eddie Bauer Wagon (usually an XL). However, this was an cosmetic upgrade only; the 140-hp Vulcan V6 was still under the hood of XL versions with this option.

The Sport Package upgrades consisted of:
  • Two-tone paint (usually bright silver on the bottom, with another bright color as an accent)
  • Front Air Dam
  • Integrated Running Boards with an "AEROSTAR" logo
  • Full Wheel Covers on XL
  • Alloy Wheels on XLT
  • Color-keyed Rear Mud Flaps
  • Digital Speedometer
  • Road Trip Computer
  • Radio equalizer


The All-Wheel Drive (E-4WD) Aerostar

Starting in 1990 and on through 1997, Ford offered an electronically controlled all-wheel drive option on XLT and Eddie Bauer models. This was a different system than other four-wheel-drive Ford vehicles in that the system engaged when it detected rear wheel spin, powering the front wheels automatically with no driver input required. Unlike most four-wheel-drive vehicles the system used on the Aerostar is more precisely described as "All Wheel Drive". It is distinctly different from traditional four-wheel-drive systems and other modern-day versions. The difference is that the Aerostar's unique Dana TC28 transfer case employs a true center differential, though this center-differential is regulated by an electronically controlled electro-magnetic clutch, this means that all four wheels are essentially powered at all times.

All four-wheel-drive (called "E4WD" by Ford, standing for Electronic 4 Wheel Drive) Aerostars used the 4.0 L Cologne V6 rated at .

Interior details

Instruments

A digital instrument panel with full instruments was optional on all Aerostar wagons, but primarily offered on XLT and Eddie Bauer models. The analog panel had the same instruments as the digital one, but without a tachometer. 1992 changed all odometers to digital numbers.
  • The Aerostar's optional electronic digital odometer, available 1986-91, would roll over to after it registered (example pic). This oddity continued for several years, but after 1992 model year, this anomaly had been corrected. Since the kilometer output would also roll over at the 200,000.0 mark, one needed to compare the two outputs to determine the true mileage on the odometer.


Climate control

All Eddie Bauer and XLT Aerostars (and the majority of XL-trim as well) had air conditioning as standard. Rear air conditioning was optional. The 2nd-row windows on the Aerostar slid open, in a way similar to the VW Vanagon.

Other details

When the floor shifter for the automatic transmission was deleted for 1992, an optional floor console was relocated in its place. It offered 2 small cupholders and a coin holder (previously in the glovebox). An overhead trip computer didn't have the compass or thermometer of Chrysler models, but it calculated trip mileage (in addition to the trip odometer), fuel economy (average and instant), distance to empty, as well as average speed. Its two map lights were in addition to the 2 already attached to the XLT's dome light. Another quirk in early Aerostars is the six ashtrays and 2 cigar lighters; obviously, the interior was designed with a smoker in mind. Optional on the XLT and Eddie Bauer were audio controls for the rear seats; these offered twin headphone ports for the middle row seats along with a mute button for the 4 rear speakers.

Phase-out and decline

1997 Aerostar Wagon in use as a police vehicle.
Ford began to phase out the Aerostar in 1995. The Windstar was the de facto replacement for the wagon model, although Ford marketed it to a different audience (Ford marketed the Aerostar as a truck; the Windstar was considered a car). Although both the Windstar and the Freestar have been offered in cargo van versions, the most direct replacement to the Aerostar Van is the 2010 Transit Connect.

The Aerostar was sold until March 17, 1997, after overlapping with the Windstar for 3 model years.

The Ford Windstar

In 1990, Ford overtook General Motors to claim the #2 spot in the minivan sales race. However, Chrysler's minivan was so successful that newer designs (the GM APV vans and the Mercury Villager/Nissan Quest) all were influenced by its front-wheel drive unibody layout. Even Volkswagen had followed suit with its EuroVan. Ford took note of this and planned for a 1994 introduction of the 1995 Windstar, a minivan designed with a Chrysler-style front-wheel drive unibody layout. In the fashion that the Aerostar was related to Ford's other light trucks of the time, the Windstar was mechanically similar to the upcoming 1996 Ford Taurus. The original plan was that 1994 was to be the last year for the Aerostar.

When word of this plan became public, Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Michiganmarker was bombarded with letters from the public and dealerships, insisting that the Aerostar continue production. Ford relented and announced that the Aerostar and Windstar would be sold together for the time being due to popular demand. Also, that gave Ford Motor Company three distinct minivans (Aerostar, Windstar, Villager) for two nameplates compared to Chrysler Corporation's one minivan(Voyager/Caravan/Town and Country) for three nameplates.

Rise of the SUV segment

When the Aerostar was introduced in 1986, there were only three four-door SUVs in the American marketplace (AMC had the Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Wagoneer; General Motors, the Chevrolet Suburban/GM Suburban. The 1991 replacement of the 2-door Bronco II with the 2 and 4-door Explorer proved successful, and Ford soon had the best-selling compact SUV in America. By the mid-1990s, the image of minivans was less appealing than that of an SUV, so many buyers traded in their minivans to purchase SUVs. The Explorer superseded the Aerostar in the same way that the Aerostar took the place of the Country Squire a decade earlier.

The Aerostar and Explorer were both manufactured in the now-closed St. Louis, Missourimarker facility. As the 1990s progressed, this posed a problem for Ford as every Aerostar made was now becoming a missed opportunity for Ford to sell an Explorer. Ford announced in 1996 that the 1997 model year would be the final year for Aerostar production. However, the outcry over the cancellation was not as significant as it was in 1994 because minivans in general were starting to decline in popularity.

1998 crash standards

With the Windstar, Ford had started to use safety as part of its marketing campaign towards potential buyers. However, this proved a major problem for the Aerostar. Although the Aerostar had offered a driver-side airbag since 1992, Ford was faced with the challenge of integrating dual airbags if it wanted to sell an Aerostar in 1998. The majority of the unibody would have needed a ground-up redesign to pass new crash standards; potential sales increases did not justify that cost, as Ford was already designing a new generation Windstar to make up for the omission of dual sliding doors (a feature the Aerostar also lacked).

The legacy of the Aerostar

Like Ford's other groundbreaking 1986 introduction (the Taurus), the Aerostar has gone on to influence many of its competitors' designs, even today.

  • The Aerostar was the first widely-available minivan to offer all-wheel drive, predicting today's crossovers.
    • Introduced in 1990 model year.


  • The Aerostar was the first minivan to offer 6-cylinder engines exclusively.
    • The "Lima" 4-cylinder was dropped after the 1987 model year.


  • The Aerostar Eddie Bauer was the first upscale minivan.
    • Introduced in 1988 model year; the Chrysler Town and Country was introduced as a minivan in 1990.


  • The Aerostar's 2nd-row wide-opening windows were unique among American minivans.


  • The 1997 Aerostar's 5R55E transmission was the first 5-speed automatic transmission in a minivan.


References



External links




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