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The Ford Aerostar is a range of vans that was manufactured by Ford from the 1986 to the 1997 model years. The first minivan produced by Ford, the model line was marketed against the Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari and the first two generations of the Chrysler minivans. Introduced shortly before the Ford Taurus, the Aerostar derived its name from its slope-nosed “one-box” exterior (although over six feet tall, the body of the Aerostar retained a drag coefficient of Cd=0.37, besting the Lincoln Mark VII). The first minivan powered exclusively by V6 engines, the Aerostar was also one of the first vehicles to introduce all-wheel drive to the segment in North America. The model line was sold in multiple configurations, including passenger and cargo vans, along with an extended-length body. Sold primarily in the United States and Canada, a limited number of vehicles were exported outside of North America. The Aerostar was replaced for the 1995 model year by the front-wheel drive Ford Windstar; Ford sold both model lines concurrently through the 1997 model year. The role of the Aerostar cargo van was left unfilled, with the Ford Transit Connect serving as the closest successor (in terms of size and capability). For its entire production, the model line was assembled by the St. Louis Assembly Plant in Hazelwood, Missouri. In total, 2,029,577 vehicles were produced across a single generation.


Carousel: the garageable van

For Ford Motor Company, the development of the minivan began life in the early 1970s as a companion model to the third-generation Ford Econoline/Club Wagon, under development for the 1975 model year. As the full-size van was slated to grow in size, Ford explored the concept of a “garageable van”, designed with a roofline to easily fit through a typical garage door opening. Additional objectives for the “garageable van” included increased interior space (over station wagons) and more desirable styling (over full-size vans). Dubbed the Ford Carousel, a prototype was tested from 1972 to 1974, using the 124-inch wheelbase chassis of the Club Wagon.To achieve its “garageable” status, the roofline of the Carousel was lowered approximately 12 inches in comparison to a standard-wheelbase Ford Club Wagon (placing its height close to that of the later Ford Windstar/Freestar). The Carousel also received a more steeply raked windshield, a new (longer) front fascia, and a wagon-style roofline (with wraparound window glass). In a key indication of its future as a family-oriented vehicle, the Carousel wore a rear tailgate with a drop-down rear window; like the LTD station wagon, it was fitted with simulated exterior woodgrain trim. The interior of the prototype was fitted two rear bench seats trimmed similar to the Ford Country Squire and Mercury Colony Park. While the prototype would receive a positive response by many Ford executives (for a potential 1976 introduction), the Carousel ultimately would not reach production (under any model name). At the time of its development, financial constraints forced the company to divert funds towards critical projects (such as the development of the Fox platform, Panther platform, and 1980 Ford F-Series). Along with it not replacing an existing Ford model line, the Carousel did not compete against an existing GM or Chrysler vehicle. Developed during the 1973 energy crisis, the Carousel was fitted with a 460 V8, shared with full-size Ford vehicles and one-ton Ford trucks.In 1978, Lee Iaccoca and Hal Sperlich both departed Ford and were hired by Chrysler. At the time, the company had worked on its own “garageable van” project for a year, leading to its approval for development for 1979. While Chrysler would adopt the basic concept of the Ford Carousel prototype (in terms of its height and seat configuration), the resulting 1984 Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager would be far different vehicles from the Carousel in terms of layout and engineering.

Aerostar: all-new design

In 1974, Ford management ended development of the Carousel prototype; through the rest of the 1970s, the company continued to see potential in “garageable vans”, pursuing further design and market research on the subject. By 1980, Ford committed to a smaller vehicle, partially as the American automotive industry learned of the development of the Chrysler minivans; following the 1979 gas crisis, the company felt a 1980s release of the Carousel (a rebodied E-Series) could be an uncompetitive decision.Along with potential fuel economy increases, in its marketplace research, Ford discovered a smaller all-new design could accommodate several design features desired in the marketplace. Garageability 7-passenger seating, walk-around interior space Fuel economy comparable to compact cars; trailer towing/payload comparable to full-size station wagons Modern exterior design and vehicle featuresThe new van project adopted a rear-wheel drive layout for two primary reasons. While the new van was to given a car-like ride (its 119-inch wheelbase largely placed the wheels at all four corners), another key objective for the design to tow 5000 pounds (matching the Ford Ranger, then also in design). To lower production and engineering costs, the rear-wheel drive configuration allowed shared mechanical components with multiple Ford light trucks. While Chrysler and GM small vans shared chassis commonality with other model lines (to varying degrees), the Ford small van received a model-distinct chassis (with model-specific front and rear suspension).The design of the Aerostar carried over two primary design features of the 1972 Carousel prototype, including its approximate 6-foot “garageable” height and long wheelbase; a large B-pillar also allowed for large window area. Beyond the drawing board, the design of the Aerostar progressed further by the introduction of two Ghia-designed 7-passenger concept vehicles, the 1982 Ford Aerovan and the 1984 Ford APV. Both derived from the Ford Escort, the Aerovan was a two-door wagon; the APV was a three-door MPV/van. While smaller than the American van project, the 1982 Ford Aerovan previewed the sloped-nose front fascia of both the Aerostar and the larger 1986 Ford Transit. While designed by its European-owned styling firm, the design of the Aerovan received a positive response from the public, leading Ford to progress with a highly advanced design for the exterior. Though the company would ultimately trail the Chrysler minivans by nearly two years in its introduction, Ford considered innovative design and features as a key selling point of the vehicle.To further live up to the first half of its name, the Aerostar adopted integrated plastic bumpers (also previewed by the Aerovan), in contrast to the attached metal bumpers of the E-series. To further improve fuel economy, Ford used multiple lightweight materials for the body, including plastic fuel tanks, liftgate doors, and hoods; aluminum was used for the driveshaft, axles, and wheels.In 1984, Ford debuted the Aerostar nameplate on a concept vehicle. Nearly identical to the production vehicle, the 1984 concept was styled with a two-slot grille and composite-lens headlamps; along with skirted rear fenders, the concept differed in detail changes related to the taillamps, windows, and door handles. Intended for an early 1986 model-year introduction (prior to the Taurus), the production Aerostar was intended to have a three-engine lineup, adopted from the Ranger/Bronco II. A 2.3L inline-4 was to be standard, along with a 2.8L V6; as a first for an American-produced minivan, a 2.3L turbodiesel inline-4 was to be offered as a second option.To officially launch the model line in the summer of 1985, Ford used the “Ford Aerostar Airlift”, using eight Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to simultaneously airlift Aerostars into eight cities across the United States. In total, the entire development of the model line would cost Ford over $300 million; though lower in cost than the development of the Chrysler minivans, the Ford Aerostar was developed at the same time as the Ford Taurus (costing Ford $3.5 billion)



The Ford Aerostar (developed under Ford model code VN1, the first Ford chassis given an alphanumeric designation) uses a rear-wheel drive chassis configuration. Developed specifically for the model line, the chassis combines unibody chassis construction with full-length frame rails. While using unibody chassis construction to reduce weight, the hybrid frame design provided the Aerostar with a 5,000-pound tow rating (2+1⁄2 times the Caravan/Voyager, and matching that of the Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari. The design has been utilized by other widely-produced designs in the automotive industry, including the 1971-1996 Chevrolet Van and 1984-2001 Jeep Cherokee XJ. In a break from Ford light-truck precedent, the Aerostar did not use Twin I-Beam front suspension, instead using unequal-length A-arms and coil springs for the front suspension. The rear suspension was a coil-sprung live rear axle fitted with a three-link configuration (similar to the Ford Panther-platform chassis of the time, though not sharing commonality). During its production, the Aerostar was the only minivan sold in North America with coil springs at all four wheels. Through its production, the model line was fitted with front disc brakes and rear drum brakes.

Body design

Distinguished by its sloped-nosed design, the Ford Aerostar utilized a “one-box” design similar to the Ford Transit and Renault Espace; in contrast to its European counterparts, the long wheelbase of the Aerostar placed the wheels near the corners, minimizing body overhangs. In an effort to further improve its fuel efficiency and aerodynamics (and lower its curb weight), multiple plastic body parts from the 1984 concept car were adopted by the production vehicle, including the bumper covers, fuel tank, and rear hatch.


Along with a cargo van (distinguished by its available double rear doors and lack of side windows), the Aerostar passenger van (called the Wagon) came in two trim levels: base-trim XL and deluxe-trim XLT (in keeping with the Ford truck line). Many features standard on the XLT were available as extra-cost options on the XL, such as power windows, mirrors, and locks, air conditioning, and privacy glass. XLT-trim Wagons also included the following features as extra-cost options: Overhead trip computer with auto-dimming rearview mirror (featuring: Distance to Empty (English/Metric), Trip Mileage, Average Fuel Economy, Instant Fuel Economy, Average Speed (English/Metric), along with dual map lights) Rear climate control Second-row Captain’s chairs (quad seats) Fold-flat second and third-row bench seatbacks 8-speaker AM/FM stereo with cassette player Premium AM/FM/cassette sound system with 7-band equalizer and rear-seat headphone jacks Rear-wheel anti-lock brakes Electronic four-wheel drive (see section) Two-tone paint 14″ aluminum wheels

Concept vehicles

Ford Aerostar (1984)

The Aerostar name was first revealed as a concept vehicle was shown in 1984, with Ford predicting up to 40 mpg in production versions with four-cylinder diesel engines. With a drag coefficient of Cd=0.37, the Aerostar was one of the sleekest vehicles designed by Ford, besting the Ford Mustang SVO and the Lincoln Continental Mark VII. Ford engineers chose the front-engine layout for a variety of reasons. In terms of safety and engine access (in comparison to German and Japanese imports), the company found that potential buyers preferred the configuration over rear and mid-engine vehicles. Ford also chose a rear-wheel drive layout for the Aerostar; this provided it with a 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) tow rating, 2½ times the capacity of the Chrysler vans.In the change from concept to production, very little of the exterior design would change, except for the window glass, headlights, and grille.

HFX Aerostar Ghia (1987)

Introduced at the 1987 Frankfurt Auto Show, the HFX (High Feature Experimental) Aerostar Ghia was a prototype of future minivan design. Two running prototypes were built from the collaboration of Ford and Ghia; both used the stock 3.0L Vulcan V6 and A4LD automatic transmission. The HFX concept borrowed some features used in other Ford vehicles, such as four-wheel air suspension and electronic climate control. From there, some of the technologies showcased in the HFX had never before been seen in a minivan; this included run-flat tires, adjustable pedals, power-sliding side doors, electric power steering, ABS, traction control, seatbelt pretensioners, and movable grille shutters. On the rear, an LCD display was installed for the use of displaying 12 pre-programmed warning messages.Link to HFX Aerostar Ghia images.


While the Ford Aerostar had proven successful in the minivan segment, by the end of the 1980s, Ford sought to gain a part of the significant market share held by the Chrysler minivans. In 1988, the company commenced design work on a successor to the Aerostar for a planned 1993 introduction. To compete more directly against Chrysler, in its new minivan, Ford adopted the form factor of the long-wheelbase Chrysler minivans. To further match Chrysler, what was to become the 1995 Ford Windstar adopted front-wheel drive sedan underpinnings, developed alongside the 1996 Ford Taurus. As the Ford Windstar was being readied for a 1995 model-year introduction, 1994 was set to be the final year for the Aerostar. In a fashion similar to the planned replacement of the Fox-platform Ford Mustang with a Mazda-based coupe in the late 1980s, Ford received a negative reaction from its dealers and the public. In response, Ford announced it would sell both the Aerostar and Windstar vans for the upcoming future. On March 17, 1997, Ford announced the discontinuation of the Ford Aerostar, alongside the Ford Aspire, Ford Probe, and Ford Thunderbird/Mercury Cougar. The final vehicle rolled off the St. Louis assembly line on August 22, 1997; a total of 2,029,577 were produced over 12 years. Alongside the production of the Ford Windstar, a primary factor leading to the cancellation of the Ford Aerostar was an impending requirement for the addition of dual airbags, which would have required a complete (and costly) redesign of the front dashboard and front crash structure. The Ford Windstar (and later Ford Freestar) was offered in a cargo van configuration, but the first direct successor to the Aerostar Van, in terms of size and capability, is the Ford Transit Connect. Imported into North America since 2010, the front-wheel drive Transit Connect is also offered in passenger configurations; a 2014 redesign led to the first seven-seat Ford minivan since 2007.