Dodge had always been a pioneer in the passenger van niche. It was the first to offer an extended-rear 15-passenger van and produced a popular RV conversion. They came with such innovations as the sliding side door and the side-swinging tail door. But all of its early passenger van models had one 'big' problem. They were too big to fit into a garage and too big on fuel consumption.
One of Dodge's more popular examples was the B-Series Ram Van that went into production in 1979. However, the passenger wagon market would end up being taken over by Lee Iacocoa's revolutionary new mini-van. Then, in 1984, one of those new mini-van models with Plymouth's nameplate came to be called the Voyager.
Chrysler's new mini-van offered a number of improvements for customers. The platform used for the Voyager was Chrysler's S platform that had been derived from the K-platform used on the Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries. In addition to the platform, the Voyager shared many similar components, which gave the mini-van more of a car environment than a traditional full-size van environment. But what really made the mini-van popular was its reasonable ride height that made it rather easy for passengers to get in and out of, and yet, short enough to fit in garages. In addition, its low, flat floor provided customers more interior room for passengers and cargo than any other automobile at that time.
Handling of the new mini-van was also a strong selling point. The transversely-mounted engine and platform made for a low center of gravity, and therefore, offered good handling compared to the larger, taller vans. Originally promoted as the Voyager 'Magic Wagon', the company emphasized the minivan's versatility, cargo space, passenger volume, low step-in height and handling in commercials to promote the innovative new automobile.
Between 1984 and 1986, seating arrangements varied between five and eight passenger arrangements. These seating arrangements were dependent upon the placement and types of seats used during manufacturing. Models ranged between bucket seats for the driver and front passenger, with an intermediate seat for three, all the way up to a three-passenger bench seat in the back and intermediate positions in order to seat eight. In order to provide extra cargo room, the bench seats in both the aft and intermediate positions could be removed in order to provide different mission possibilities dependent upon cargo and people to be carried.
The interior in Plymouth's Voyager was another hold-over from the K-platform Reliant and Aries. The instrument panel and interior features, including fabrics used, were all the same from the K-cars. Three trim levels were offered with the Voyager; the base model, which came with plain cloth or vinyl low-back bucket seats; the SE, which had the option of deluxe cloth low-back buckets or high-back buckets in an upgraded vinyl; and the LE, which came standard with high-back front bucket seats in cloth or luxury vinyl.
Despite the number of trim options offered, the Voyager came with only two different engine options. One of the engines offered was an inline four-cylinder engine with 2 barrel carburetors, or, a 2.6-liter Mitsubishi engine. Neither one of the engine options provided a lot of power considering the weight of the minivan. The 2.2-liter inline four-cylinder was only capable of 96 hp. The 2.6-liter Mitsubishi provided only 8 extra horses. This made the van as sluggish as the Volkswagon Vanagon and Toyota Van. Despite its lacking performance, the Voyager was listed as one of Car and Driver magazine's ten best for 1985.
In 1987, the Voyager received a number of important updates. New for 1987, the Grand Voyager was more of a luxurious model that came with a longer wheelbase and only available in SE or LE trim packages. The longer wheelbase offered in the Grand Voyager meant more cargo room. Competition in the mini-van market had begun to heat up, but Chrysler's competitors were offering models with greater horsepower engines. Recognizing the need to offer better performance Plymouth replaced the 2.2-liter engine with a fuel-injected 2.5-liter engine capable of producing 100 hp. Another popular engine option offered in 1987 was the new Mitsubishi fuel-injected 3.0-liter V-6 able to produce 136 hp.
All of the Voyagers that had been produced in inline four-cylinder engines used either a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. The same transmission continued to be used even when Plymouth offered the V-6 engine option in 1987.
In 1989 more engine and transmission revisions were made to the Voyager line-up. The horsepower of the Mitsubishi V-6 was increased to 142 hp. Then, in 1990, a 3.3-liter 150 hp V-6 engine was included as a possible option. In addition to the increased horsepower of the available engines, Plymouth also switched from the TorqueFlite transmission to the computer controlled Ultradrive four-speed. While it suffered from reliability problems such as 'gear hunting', the transmission offered better fuel economy and responsiveness. The problems with the Ultradrive plagued mostly only the first generation Voyagers.
In 1991, the second generation of the Plymouth Voyager began rolling off the production lines. Nose to tail, the Voyager was heavily redesigned. The boxy first generation was replaced with a Voyager redesigned with much more rounded corners and a more aerodynamic look. However, the S-platform was still used for the second generation.
The trim level delineation remained the same for the second generation of the Voyager. However, a high-end and sporty LX model was offered. The LXs had a shorter wheelbase but included such features as alloy wheels, fog lamps and a number of power-operated features. In 1995, the last year of the second generation, the LX trim model name was dropped in favor of the 'Rallye'.
The interior in the second generation received a total upgrade. The layout of the instruments and controls featured a more modern and ergonomic layout. In 1994, a passenger-side airbag was introduced to the Voyager which meant the dashboard was further refined. Cloth upholstery became standard for all trim models. Leather even became an option, but for only the LE and LX models. One of the more popular features found in the second generation of the Voyager was the option of the 'Quad Command' seating. This replaced the bench intermediate seat in favor of dual bucket seats. This arrangement provided better access to the back bench seat as there was an aisle between the two bucket intermediate seats. In 1994, a CD player became available on all models in addition to the cassette player that was standard on every trim model except the basic.
Externally, the Voyager was practically identical with the Dodge Caravan. With the exception of the park and turn signals, the taillights and chrome eggcrate-style grille, there was little to no difference between the two Chrysler minivan models. Besides the interior being updated and refreshed with cloth and other refinements, a number of other options for ride and safety were also offered.
All-wheel drive was offered for the first time in 1991, as was anti-lock brakes. A couple of years later, child safety seats integrated into the seating were offered. The same engine packages that came to be offered after 1987 remained for the second generation, with the exception of a 3.3 and 3.8-liter V-6 capable of producing 162 hp.
In 1996, the third generation of the Plymouth Voyager came to be offered to the public. The third generation presented the Voyager with a completely redesigned body and interior. The K-platform was gone. The design of the minivan became based upon Chrysler's ever-popular cab-forward design. Additionally, the third generation would incorporate such features that have become standard in almost all minivans, including the driver's-side sliding door and the Easy Out Roller Seats. The styling and the innovative features once again earned the Voyager a place on Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1996 and 1997.
In a new corporate strategy, Plymouth was meant to fill in the entry-level niche of the market. Therefore, only base and SE models were made available in the United States. In 1998, the Expresso model took over for the Rallye. The Expresso merely offered special trim and more standard features.
The Easy-Out Roller Seats made it possible for the intermediate and back row of seats to be unlatched without tools and could be rolled out of the van. Depressions on the van's floor made positioning much more simple. In addition to being able to be rolled out, the seatbacks were designed to be able to fold forward, thereby offering the owner another stowage and cargo-loading option.
Engine options for the third generation remained from the second with the exception of an increased 3.8-liter V-6 capable of producing 180 hp. The increased power helped to power the air conditioning system that became standard on the SE and Expresso models in 1999. Even a rear-seat video entertainment system became available in 2000.
Finally, in 2001, the fourth and final generation of the Voyager began production. Economic troubles and slipping sales for the Plymouth brand led to the Voyager being renamed the Chrysler Voyager. The Voyager was also only available in the shorter wheelbase model. In 2004, the Voyager named disappeared altogether. It instead became known as the Town and Country.
When combined with Dodge, over 15 million Chrysler minivans have been built and sold throughout its history. For twenty years, the Voyager was a name synonymous with Iaccoca's family innovation. In those twenty years, the Voyager helped to define a whole new segment in the United States automotive industry.Sources:
Wikipedia contributors, 'Plymouth Voyager', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 29 January 2011, 19:44 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Plymouth_Voyager&oldid=410811816 accessed 7 February 2011
Wikipedia contributors, 'Dodge Ram Van', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 January 2011, 19:50 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dodge_Ram_Van&oldid=410424564 accessed 7 February 2011
'1984 Plymouth Voyager', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/z19323/Plymouth-Voyager.aspx). ConceptCarz: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/z19323/Plymouth-Voyager.aspx. Retrieved 7 February 2011.By Jeremy McMullen