Star Trek: The Motion Picture--Plymouth Voyager
On the rare and unfortunate occasion that one thinks of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, one usually tends to think of the slow, ponderous pace of the film, the drawn out periods showing nothing but blue clouds, the soundtrack periodically intruding with the mechanical whine of a power drill. Of course, all of this was meant to frame the riveting conflict between V'Ger the Nomadic Space Probe and the intrepid disco-tastic spandex-clad crew of the USS Enterprise.
But what was V'Ger? Of course, we had to sit through hour after interminable hour of slow-motion special effects and stilted dialog, revealing at the end of the movie that it was some hokey 20th century space probe called "Voyager 6," followed by a highly uncomfortable make-out scene involving a bald woman and a guy who would eventually play a reverend on TV--precisely the sort of predictable plot development you would expect out of a movie like this. But happily there's one quote that sums the whole thing up:
V'Ger is that which seeks the creator.
In all seriousness, though, what could be more ponderous and produce more blue smoke than Star Trek: The Motion Picture? Well, in the spirit of the original movie, let's take an extended, unnecessary, and highly unwelcome diversion, shall we?
Now that you have a picture in your mind, let's talk about minivans. When it came time to introduce the first American minivan (as opposed to the first French minivan, or the first Japanese minivan, or the first German minivan, or the first American minivan... now wait a damned minute...), Chrysler was rather strapped financially. However, it had an ace in the hole, a new car platform that it could use to make just about anything - and when I say anything, I mean anything. It also had knowledge of everything that Rootes was working on before Chrysler sold the company to Peugeot, including a strange, boxy, roughly van-shaped thing that was undergoing development.
Why is any object we don't understand always called "a thing"?
As luck would have it, Iacocca understood what that thing was quite thoroughly, even if he didn't have a particularly strong appreciation for Chrysler Europe. He understood that the van must evolve. Its utility had reached the limits of this universe and it must evolve. Iacocca wanted it to merge with a station wagon, if such a thing were possible, combining the head room and utility of a van with the economy and driving ease of a station wagon. The goal was to leverage Chrysler's strong presence in the van market (it had nearly 50% of the market at the time) to edge into the station market, where it was heavily underrepresented.
To understand why the minivan was so revolutionary, it's helpful to compare the Plymouth Voyager minivan to, oddly enough, the previous generation Plymouth Voyager. Like most vans, the B-series Voyager van was a large, rear-wheel drive, truck-based vehicle. This meant high ground clearance, which made entry and exit awkward for smaller children, and a longitudinally mounted engine that wandered into the passenger cabin. It also meant a definite truck-like driving feel at a time when "truck-like" really meant something. On the other hand, it had cargo space that station wagons could only dream of, as well as a walkable passenger compartment, which was quite handy for small, injury prone heads.
The new K-car derived minivans fixed many of these issues. Instead of rear wheel drive, the Voyager and its ilk received front wheel drive. To keep the engine up front and away from the passenger compartment, the 2.2 liter four cylinder was mounted transversely; not only did this reduce engine noise in the passenger compartment, it also freed up considerable room between the driver and the front passenger. Ground clearance was lowered, making it easy to get in and out of and also making the vehicle an easy fit in the car-oriented garages of the time. Impressively, the Voyager was significantly shorter than most full-sized station wagons of the time, yet offered more storage space. Furthermore, since it was possible to walk around inside a Voyager like a van, the storage space was far more accessible than any station wagon.
The public loved it. In less than a year after its introduction, more than 200,000 Voyagers and Caravans were sold; meanwhile Car and Driver included the Voyager in its "10 Best" list in 1985. Sales and profits from the Voyager and the Caravan would allow Chrysler to pay back its government loan years ahead of schedule.
None of this meant the first Voyagers were without fault. For better or worse, the Voyager was, in fact, based on the K-car, which meant that it also received the K-car engine. It would take three years before Chrysler offered a Mitsubishi-sourced V-6; until then, minivan buyers could choose between the same sub-100-horsepower, 2.2-liter four cylinder used in every other K-car or a slightly larger and (don't ask me how) far less reliable Mitsubishi four cylinder. The transmission options of the time certainly didn't help--most customers foolishly opted for the three-speed Torqueflite over the five speed manual, which made a bad performance situation so much worse.
In short, the Voyager was slow, ponderous, and prone to expelling blue clouds of oil at inopportune times. Even so, it was far more powerful than a Vanagon, far more practical than a van, and, at least for a little while, that was all that mattered.
As with any other Chrysler-related article, many thanks go to Allpar for much of the source material. The V'Ger badge up top is an altered version of jessica@flickr's Voyager; the Voyager lurking behind the bushes, meanwhile, came from Flickr's jenskramer78. The Star Trek: The Motion Picture clip came from mouseclick2's YouTube channel.