The Chevy Astrovan arrived on the scene in 1985, ready to compete with minivan versions from Dodge, Plymouth and Toyota. The Astrovan is the “Goldilocks” of vans, and it’s just the thing if you need versatility and the ability to tow a big load. No wonder Astrovan was produced for twenty years almost identically and earned a cult following. This no-frills ride is more than meets the eye and still stands out as something bigger and better than the rest. Different in a good way, there are many reasons why you should remember the Chevy Astrovan.



Side profile view of the first generation Chevy Astrovan

The M-van was a one-of-a-kind vehicle design. However, the Chevy Astrovan had a counterpart in the GM Safari, and they were identical. That is, except for the branded badges. And this right-sized M-van skyrocketed in popularity, remaining on the market from 1985 to 2005. With a lifespan of 20 years, Chevrolet sold 3.2 million units in the United States. Two-wheel rear-wheel drive characterized the M-van, not to be confused with its cousin, the four-wheel drive L-van. The L-van arrived a bit later in one of the few significant changes to the Astro.

Designed to last

This is a front view of the model that was produced from 1995 to 1998 and saw the two-tone bumper on a van for the first time.

The Astro used a one-piece design bolted to the subframe in the same manner as trucks of the era. This structural integrity gave the van a tremendous towing capacity of over 5,000 pounds and a strong frame. It shares the same specifications as the S/T pickups and trucks that Chevy produced at the time, giving the van tremendous durability and the ability to easily cover 200,000 miles.

On the topic: The history of the GM Electrovan – the first ever fuel cell vehicle – is made in America

The not-so-small engine that could

Front view of a 2003-2005 Chevy Astrovan complete with truck.

The engine was an important aspect of the Astrovan’s ability to operate reliably. Originally offered with two options, the smaller four-cylinder was quickly phased out for the 1988 version, and the 4.3-liter RPO LB1 V-6 engine was the only option. Chevy was smart about the engine selection and the engine was made in the image of the Iron Duke and was built to last. Frequent starts and stops have never been a problem here. This engine can run all day. Astro’s identity as a cargo van it made it necessary. So this beast of an engine might not have been the biggest, but the 190-horsepower V-6 would have been reliable for a long time. This is one of my favorite aspects of this dark van. Also, this engine is what makes her a favorite even today. There are still many Astros on the way, some in excellent condition.

A series of firsts

This is a side profile of a 1998 Chevrolet Astrovan, just as they were becoming popular again for soccer moms.

Astrovan was a pioneer and implemented certain aspects in a way that paved the way for more to come. Perhaps this can be considered subtle, but first, they were. The Astro was the first rear-wheel drive van. This transmission was standard, and four-wheel drive was available. At the time, no other minivan offered this choice, and it set the Astrovan apart. It also added the ability to tow large loads well. Also, none of the other minivans in the late 80’s or early 90’s had any of these options.

Another interesting aspect of the Astrovan is its versatility. It originally came with two seats in the back and could carry eight passengers. Both benches could be completely removed from the van. Then you will have a huge cargo space that can be filled with the latest addition to the Ikea furniture collection already at home. The removable seats made the van especially popular with families. Sports gear, camping and more can easily fit in the cargo area.

On the topic: This lifted GMC Vandura off-roader would satisfy all your 1980s dreams

The back door of the Astrovan was also something new and unusual. Characterized as barn doors or dutch doors, they made it easier to load cargo into and out of the van. Both doors could be opened and the hinges had a catch to unhook them, so the doors opened all the way and didn’t accidentally close while loading. A little known important fact that made this van much more versatile.

Astrovan is also one of the first to use TBI, or Throttle Injector. This system delivered fuel to a central location inside the engine manifold. It sounds like nothing new now, but in 1989 it was pretty revolutionary stuff. It started the transition to multi-port fuel injection from the use of simple carburetion in many cars.

Island in years

This is one of the original Astrovan iterations from 1988, the same year I saw the TBI intro

The first generation changed a little after 1985. A TBI was added, Chevy dropped the four-cylinder option, and all-wheel drive was implemented. The manual gearbox was also discontinued by the manufacturers in 1989. After that, the Astrovan was only available with a four-speed automatic, arranged as a truck with a steering wheel shifter. There were also serious safety issues with the first generation. It was given only one crash star because there was no passenger side airbag until 1995.

In 1995, Astrovan changed significantly. The extended version became standard, side curtain airbags were introduced soon after, and the side impact rating received five stars annually. The last major change came in 2003, when the Astro received four-wheel disc brakes, standard 16-inch wheels, and a larger suspension that made it very cool in its final years of production. Then, in May 2005, the last Astrovan rolled off the assembly line and the Baltimore plant closed its doors for good. The Astro was the last car produced in the Assembly plant in Baltimore, Maryland. This plant opened in 1935 and produced some of Chevrolet’s most iconic vehicles.

On the topic:The GMC Canyon AT4 OVRLANDX Concept is a truck that will enhance your camping experience

The plant was originally called the Chevrolet and Fisher Body Assembly Plant, but changed to GMC Baltimore Assembly. The assembly lasted long enough to produce the last Astro/Safari vans before they were discontinued in 2005. It’s impressive to say the least. The Astrovan was the same van originally produced in 1985 as the Astrovan, which Chevrolet discontinued 20 years later. Production of the van was supposed to be discontinued in 2002, but the popularity required three more years from the GMC factory. The only changes made from the first generation to the second generation were small but improvements.

Astrodimensional conclusions

This Astrovan was the tour van of Rage Against the Machine, the only Astrovan in a museum anywhere in the world.

The Chevy Astrovan and its GMC compatriot are memorable and much-loved, even to this day. Lots of people are buying used Astros and turning them into beautiful examples of a practical van, as well as the coolest van a soccer mom could have owned two decades ago. Astrovan is remembered for its mechanics and structure. It is also the centerpiece of memories for generations of families, ensuring that the Astrovan will live on forever.