Photos courtesy of the General Motors Archives and The Old Car Manual Project.
While the Chevrolet Astro van and its cousin GMC Safari came into existence in 1985, it always takes a few years for the good stuff to coalesce into the model run. The first generation Astros and Safaris were built until 1994, but by 1987 things were getting interesting. The Chevrolet Astro brochure from 1987 listed the usual desirable van attributes of cargo, towing, and loading – along with maneuvering, garageability, and partying.
In an effort to combine the markets of utilitarian fleet van buyers with those who wanted a van they could park in the garage and still take to symphony hall or up to the slopes, GM sold the truck-based Astro van in everything from stripper versions to the Luxury Touring edition, which with ultra plush interior and alloy wheels was well suited for family excursions or the aforementioned partying – even if the brochure defined partying as being able to haul a buffet of food.
While the rest of the world’s automakers scrambled to manufacture minivans in the wake and mold of the front-wheel-drive Chrysler Corporation Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, GM steadfastly held onto to the rear-drive van configuration, and found a market for the Chevrolet Safari and GMC Safari van wagons. Engine choices were the throttle body-injected Tech Four Iron Duke or or V-6. Intrepid Astro/Safari converts have been known to swap in V-8 engines for further capability.
A surprising number of these stalwart vehicles are still on the road in any number of standard to luxury or even elusive all-wheel-drive configurations. Ironically, the Chevrolet Astro van was a hit in Japan, where as far as we can determine, the original van craze that arose from Seventies America has yet to stop. The Chevrolet Astro van is not to be confused with the NASA Astronaut transporting Astrovan, or the sci-fi surf band Man or Astroman? In any case, we’re still Astro van fans around here, and we hope there are a few of you still out there on a space van safari.