The Ford Aerostar is a minivan that was manufactured and marketed by Ford for the 1986 to 1997 model years in the United States and Canada; a limited number were exported outside North America. The Aerostar was produced in both passenger and cargo van bodies in two body lengths and it was available with both rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive powertrains.
For the 1995 model year, the passenger version was replaced by the Windstar; Ford sold both minivans until the Aerostar was discontinued after the 1997 model year. The role of the cargo version has been most directly replaced by the Transit Connect, sold since 2010.
Introduced shortly before the Ford Taurus, the name of the Aerostar was inspired by its distinctive slope-nosed design; in spite of being over six feet tall, its body had a drag coefficient of Cd=0.37, making it one of the most aerodynamically sleek vehicles sold by the company at the time. For much of its later life, the Aerostar would be marketed as part of Ford's light-truck lineup.
A total of 2,029,577 Aerostars were produced from 1985 to 1997. All production was sourced from the St. Louis Assembly Plant in Hazelwood, Missouri; this facility was closed in 2006.
Carousel: the garageable van
At Ford, development of a minivan began life in the early 1970s as a companion model to the Econoline full-size van. As the company was readying the third-generation Econoline for a 1975 introduction, company product planners sought to develop the concept of a "garageable van" that could easily fit inside a standard 7-foot tall garage door opening. Dubbed Carousel, the vehicle was given a lower roofline and a rear body surrounded by glass (similar to the Chevrolet Nomad). Sharing its chassis with the standard-wheelbase van, the Carousel prototype was powered by a 460 V8 and an automatic transmission. In a key indication of its target market, the Carousel wore a rear tailgate with a drop-down rear window with simulated exterior woodgrain trim. Inside, it was fitted with two rear bench seats with interior trim similar to the Ford Country Squire/Mercury Colony Park.
While the Carousel received a positive response by many Ford executives for a potential 1976 introduction, it ultimately would not reach production. While financial constraints forced the company to divert funds towards towards critical projects (such as the Fox platform and Panther platform), the 1973 energy crisis played a major role as well. In 1978, Lee Iaccoca and Hal Sperlich left Ford and were hired by Chrysler, leading to the eventual development of the Chrysler minivans. While sharing the "garageable van" concept of the Ford Carousel, the 1984 Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager would become far different vehicles in terms of layout and engineering.
Aerostar: all-new design
During the early 1980s, as information became known about the development of the Chrysler minivans, Ford began development of its own minivan in response. The energy crises of the late 1970s made fuel economy a high priority of vehicle design; as such, simply downsizing the Econoline was not a competitive option for Ford. To lower weight, the new minivan would use plastic in the bumpers, fuel tank, rear door, and hood with aluminum used for the driveshafts, axles, and wheels. While the new Ford minivan would be built on a dedicated chassis (unlike Chrysler or GM), the launch of the Ranger for 1983 allowed for the use of shared chassis, suspension, and powertrain components to cut development costs. The use of Ranger/Bronco II parts would also make for major fuel economy gains over a vehicle based upon the F-Series/E-Series trucks. Unique to the chassis was the rear suspension, a 3-link coil spring suspension with a live rear axle; it was designed specifically for the minivan (4-wheel coil springs were only seen in the Renault Espace at the time).
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 engines. With a drag coefficient of Cd=0.37, the Aerostar was one of the sleekest vehicles in the Ford vehicle lineup, 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. In contrast to Chrysler, Ford also chose a rear-wheel drive layout for the Aerostar; this provided it with the same 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) tow rating as the GM minivans, 2½ times the capacity of the Chrysler vans.
1995 Ford Explorer Fuse Box Diagram Video
First generation (1986-1991)
The first-generation Aerostar was introduced in July 1985 as a 1986 model. In comparison to the 1984 concept, production models differed little except for detail changes to the grille, headlights, and side glass. At its launch in 1985, the Aerostar was available in a single body length as a cargo van (Aerostar Van) and a 7-passenger van (Aerostar Wagon). In keeping with the rest of the Ford truck line, two trim levels were available: base-trim XL and deluxe-trim XLT (cargo vans were available in base and XL trims).
Inside, the Aerostar was designed in line with the Chrysler minivans, featuring a 2-2-3 seating layout. The Aerostar also borrowed some features seen from full-size conversion vans as well. On XLT-trim models, the second row could be specified with bucket seats; additionally, the third row could fold down to make a bed as an option. Unlike other American minivans of the time, the second-row windows slid open, in a way similar to the Volkswagen Vanagon. While cupholders were relegated to an optional armrest in the third-row seats, the Aerostar could be specified with up to six ashtrays and two cigar lighters; the interior may have been designed with a smoker in mind. Regardless of transmission choice, every Aerostar was fitted with a floor shifter and a handbrake (the latter becoming a feature in all Ford minivans).
The standard engine was a 2.3 L four-cylinder sourced from the Fox platform while the 2.8 L Cologne V6 (equipped with a serpentine belt) sourced from the Ranger was an option; a 4-cylinder turbodiesel engine was cancelled during the development phase. A 5-speed manual transmission (Mazda TK5) was standard with an optional 4-speed automatic (Ford A4LD).
Like the Chrysler minivans, the Aerostar was exported to Europe in small numbers, which is why the rear license surround is sized to accommodate European number plates in addition to American ones, which was the case throughout its production run.
- 1986: Aerostar released in July 1985
- 1987: The 2.8 L Cologne V6 was replaced with the 3.0 L Vulcan V6 from the Ford Taurus/Mercury Sable.
- 1988: 4-cylinder engine discontinued; the Aerostar became the first minivan with a standard V6 engine (V6 engine emblems deleted from front fenders). Dual Aerostar fender scripts replaced by single script on left of tailgate; the box beneath it showing the trim level changed from red background to gray. Eddie Bauer trim option introduced for Wagon, slotted above XLT. FM146 manual transmission replaced with M5OD manual transmission.
- 1989: Front end facelift; new dark-gray grille and full alloy wheels (XLT/Eddie Bauer). Bracketed sideview mirrors sourced from Ranger replaced by larger, integrated design. Extended-length model added (both Van and Wagon).
- 1990: 160-hp 4.0 L Cologne V6 becomes an option for all non-XL models. E-4WD all-wheel drive system becomes an option for non-XL models with the 4.0 L V6. Rear-wheel ABS becomes an option. Two-tone paint schemes are revised, with the side panel color wrapping over the hood instead of following the accent line on the front fender (quarter panel) seen previously.
- 1991: Carryover, no major changes.
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 4-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.
Eddie Bauer Wagon (1988-1996)
The Aerostar was one of the first Fords (as of 2015, the only van) to be branded in Eddie Bauer trim. Introduced in 1988, the Aerostar Eddie Bauer was the first minivan to be offered in luxury trim; at the time, the Chrysler Town & Country nameplate referred to either a station wagon or convertible.
Eddie Bauer trim combined the features of the XLT with two-tone exterior paint (tan as the accent color on the rocker panels and wheel trim) and a tan outdoors-themed interior. As on the XLT, cloth seating surfaces were standard, but after 1992, leather seats became an option. One usually overlooked feature of the option package is that the middle and rear bench seats would fold out flat converting the two bench seats into a bed, though quad seats ("captain's chairs") were often ordered as an option.
The Eddie Bauer was available in either body length; the extended-length version was far more popular. It was offered only with the largest engine, so only the 1988-1989 versions came with a 3.0L V6. Like the XLT, there was choice of rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, with the latter proving very popular.
All-Wheel Drive (E-4WD) Aerostar (1990-1997)
Introduced in 1990 and offered until the end of production in 1997, Ford offered an electronically controlled four-wheel drive option on XLT and Eddie Bauer models. The option, called E-4WD, standing for Electronic 4-Wheel Drive, was more specifically an all-wheel drive system. With all-wheel drive, the 160 hp (119 kW) 4.0L Cologne V6 was standard equipment.
This system differed from other four-wheel-drive Ford vehicles of the time in that it engaged when it detected rear wheel spin, powering the front wheels automatically with no driver input required. Another difference is that the Aerostar's unique Dana TC28 transfer case employed a true center differential, though this center differential was regulated by an electronically controlled electro-magnetic clutch; this means that all four wheels are essentially powered at all times. As the system was not designed for off-road driving, there is no low-range gearing.
Second generation (1992-1997)
After six years on the market with only minor revisions, Ford gave the Aerostar its first major update for the 1992 model year. While no exterior sheetmetal would be changed, revisions to the front trim would bring it closer in line with the styling of other Ford truck products. The most noticeable change would be the replacement of the sealed-beam headlamps with replaceable-bulb composite units; the front turn signal lenses changed from all-amber to mostly clear units. To match the newly introduced Explorer and redesigned Econoline, the Ford Blue Oval was moved from the center of the grille to the top third of the grille insert. To distinguish 1992 models from their predecessors, the distinctive A-pillar windows were slightly blacked out to look smaller in size.
On the inside, the Aerostar saw major updates as Ford upgraded safety features. Following the lead of the Chrysler minivans the year before, Ford added a drivers' side airbag as standard equipment and 3-point seatbelts were fitted to all outboard seats. With the addition of the airbag, Ford took the opportunity to modernize the dashboard. The design and layout of the controls was changed to improve ergonomics, while the gauge panel, climate controls, and other minor controls (wipers, headlights) were replaced with parts common to other Ford vehicles. In a major change, the floor shifter was replaced by a column-mounted transmission shifter; the space previously occupied by the floor shifter was replaced by a floor console with cup holders and a coin holder. In Aerostars with analog instruments, a digital odometer was added. The placement of the radio controls stayed the same, but the faceplate was updated from the mid-1980s design.
As with the 1986-1991 Aerostar, the second-generation Aerostar was available in Van and Wagon body styles in two lengths; the Wagon was available in three trims (XL, XLT, and Eddie Bauer). On XLT wagons, two-tone paint was an option; instead of the Eddie Bauer tan, silver was the typical accent color. On vans with two-tone paint, bumpers were now painted completely body-color; gray bumpers were still fitted to single-color Aerostars. 1992 also marked the introduction of plastic wheel covers.
The standard engine for second-generation Aerostars is the 3.0L Vulcan V6 with the option of the 4.0L Cologne V6. All-wheel drive was continued as an option through the end of production.
IIHS gave a P for poor in the frontal offset impact crash test.
- 1992: Second-generation Aerostar introduced. Drivers-side airbag introduced as standard equipment on all models
- 1993: Integrated child safety seats introduced as an option.
- 1994: Planned discontinuation date. The rear liftgate received a center brake light. Sport option package introduced for XL and XLT Wagons
- 1995: Body-color bumpers became an option on wagons without 2-tone paint. 4R44e and 4R55e introduced, replacing A4LD transmission.
- 1996: 14x6" seven-hole alloy wheels (1" wider than normal) are introduced as an option. 5-speed M5OD manual transmission discontinued
- 1997: Final year of production. XL, Sport, Eddie Bauer discontinued; only the Van and XLT Wagon are sold. The 4.0L V6 gets paired with a 5-speed automatic transmission (first minivan to do so). 1997 models are distinguished by their taillights, the amber turn signals were deleted and replaced by red ones.
Aerostar Sport (1994-1996)
From 1994 to 1996, the Sport option package was available for any non-Eddie Bauer Wagon. However, this was a cosmetic upgrade only; the 140-hp Vulcan V6 was still under the hood of XL versions with this option. Sport-package Aerostars are most easily identifiable by their 2-tone paint; these are a combination of silver with bright pastel colors (or red).
The Sport Package upgrades consisted of:
- Front Air Dam
- Integrated Running Boards with an "AEROSTAR" logo
- Full Wheel Covers (on XL-trim)
- Alloy Wheels (on XLT-trim)
- Color-keyed Rear Mud Flaps
- Aerostar XL Wagon (both lengths)
- Aerostar XLT Wagon (both lengths)
Ford called the passenger version of the Aerostar the Wagon and the cargo version the Van; the wagon came in 3 trim levels and both Wagons and Vans were available in two lengths.
Aerostar Van (1986-1997)
The cargo version of the Aerostar did not sell as well as the wagon, as the Aerostar's in-between size worked against it in comparison to the GM Astro/Safari twins. Aside from the lack of windows and trimmed interior, Aerostar cargo vans differed little from Aerostar wagons. One externally visible difference was the use of rear double doors instead of a hatch. On these, the license-plate opening was American-sized instead of the wagon's European-sized one (the cargo van was not exported). The Aerostar Van did not catch on as a base for conversion vans either.
The Van was sold with any available engine and came in both standard and extended lengths.
Extended-length Wagon/Van (1989-1997)
In 1989, to counter Chrysler's "Grand" extended-length minivans, Ford added roughly 14" behind the 3rd seat to create an extended-length model. The Aerostar's 119" wheelbase was unchanged, as it was already longer than any car that Ford sold at the time. With the additional cargo space, this version quickly overtook the standard length version in sales.
- Base (1986-1997, Van only)
- XL (1986-1996, also available on Van)
- XLT (1986-1997)
- Eddie Bauer (1988-1996)
In keeping with the rest of the Ford truck line, the Aerostar Wagon was offered with a base-trim XL and deluxe-trim XLT model. Many features standard on the XLT were available as extra-cost options, such as power windows, mirrors, and locks, air conditioning, and privacy glass. XLT-trim Wagons also had the following features as options:
- Overhead Trip Computer with Auto-Dimming Rearview Mirror
- Trip Computer features include: 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
- 2nd-row Captains Chairs (Quad Seats)
- 8-speaker stereo with cassette player
- Premium Sound System with 7-band Equalizer
- Anti-Lock Brakes (rear-wheel only, later made standard)
- Electronic 4-wheel Drive
The outdoors-themed Eddie Bauer Wagon featured the same options as the XLT with different exterior and interior trim.
Ford began to phase out the Aerostar in 1995. The Windstar was the de facto replacement for the wagon model, although Ford marketed it to a different audience (Ford marketed the Aerostar as a truck; the Windstar was considered a car). Although both the Windstar and the Freestar were offered in cargo van versions, the first direct successor to the Aerostar Van in terms of size and capability is the 2010 Transit Connect though the Transit Connect is front-wheel drive rather than rear-wheel drive.
After being sold alongside the Windstar for 3 model years, the final Aerostar was built at St. Louis Assembly on August 22, 1997; a total of 2,029,577 were produced over 12 years.
The Ford Windstar
In 1990, Ford overtook General Motors to claim the #2 spot in the minivan sales race. However, the success of the Chrysler minivan design had proven influential to a point that newer designs (the APV minivans from General Motors and the Mercury Villager/Nissan Quest) all had based their own designs on Chrysler's front-wheel drive unibody layout. Even Volkswagen had followed suit with its EuroVan.
Ford took note of this and planned for a 1994 introduction of the 1995 Windstar, a minivan designed with a Chrysler-style front-wheel drive unibody layout. In the fashion that the Aerostar was related to Ford's other light trucks of the time, the Windstar was mechanically similar to the upcoming 1996 Ford Taurus. With the upcoming introduction of the Windstar, Ford intended to discontinue the Aerostar after the 1994 model year. When word of this plan became public, Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan was bombarded with letters from the public and dealerships, insisting that the Aerostar continue production. Ford relented and announced that the Aerostar and Windstar would be sold together for the time being due to popular demand.
Also, keeping the Aerostar gave Ford Motor Company an advantage over Chrysler and General Motors. At the beginning of 1995, Ford had three distinct minivans (Aerostar, Windstar, Villager) to sell across two nameplates while Chrysler sold one minivan across three brands. GM sold two distinct minivans (the Astro/Safari and the APV minivans) across four brands (Chevrolet, GMC, Oldsmobile, Pontiac). However, by 1997, the Aerostar had been on the market for nearly 12 years; it was by far the oldest design on the market. Although some buyers purchased the Aerostar specifically because of its rear-wheel drive (and all-wheel drive) layout, minivan buyers had begun to expect features such as dual airbags and driver-side sliding doors. Adding these features would have required an expensive ground-up redesign to the Aerostar's platform.
Aerostar vs. Explorer
When the Aerostar was introduced in 1986, there were five four-door SUVs in the American marketplace. AMC had the Jeep Cherokee and Jeep Wagoneer; General Motors, the Suburban sold by Chevrolet and GMC. From Japan came the Isuzu Trooper and the Toyota Land Cruiser. Aside from the GM Suburbans, 4-door sport-utility vehicles were still marketed primarily as off-road vehicles instead of family-oriented vehicles. The 1991 replacement of the 2-door Bronco II with the 2 and 4-door Explorer proved successful, and Ford soon had the best-selling compact SUV in America. To follow on the success of the Explorer, a number of other manufacturers had introduced their own 4-door SUVs. By the mid-1990s, the sport-utility vehicle had become just as much an alternative to the station wagon as the minivan, so minivan sales began to decline. The Explorer superseded the Aerostar in the same way that the Aerostar had taken the place of the Country Squire a decade earlier.
The Aerostar and Explorer were both manufactured in the now-closed St. Louis Assembly Plant in Hazelwood, Missouri. As the 1990s progressed, this posed a problem for Ford as every Aerostar made was now becoming a missed opportunity for Ford to sell an Explorer. Ford announced in 1996 that the 1997 model year would be the final year for Aerostar production. However, the outcry over the cancellation was not as significant as it was in 1994 because as a market segment, minivans were starting to decline in popularity.
This scenario created some internal competition.
The Aerostar was named Motor Trend magazine's Truck of the Year for 1990.
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