Before continuing, try to identify this mule caught testing in late 1983. It’ll be difficult because this cobbling job is extensive.
Could it be a testbed for a four-door Blazer? Would I have asked that if it was? Or did I ask that second question just to make you think it wasn’t? Hmm.
Out of this world
That’s one of the meaning’s of this vehicle’s name which would be Astro. I suppose it could be a GMC Safari mule, I don’t have much more than the picture to offer.
While Chrysler was months away from releasing their front-wheel-drive Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager minivans, General Motors was working on a different approach: rear-wheel-drive.
GM took a more truck-like route with their new-size vans which, by the way, GM apparently preferred to call “mid-size” vans. Appropriate, since they were larger, more rugged and capable of towing much heavier loads than the car-based Caravan and Voyager.
However, as a result of those benefits there were a number of trade-offs that many people decided they couldn’t do without. For example, a car-like ride, improved fuel economy and, in many circumstances, better handling.
Moreover, FWD was still sweeping through the domestics’ lineups and many consumers felt safer driving a vehicle that pulls rather than pushes. (All-wheel-drive was added to Astro as an option for 1990, countering that difference.)
I read in a couple places that GM’s M-body van was a stopgap measure until they could get their FWD minivans ready. Stopgap or not, the Astro was a survivor. Towards the end the vans were largely sold for commercial use, but it continued to sell; for two decades and with minimal changes. But it wasn’t neglected.
1990 brought an extended (EXT) model. It was 10 inches longer but rode on the same wheelbase. And I believe that was the same year the interior was redesigned.
1995 brought a substantial redesign to the front, bringing it in line with the rest of their trucks, but little else changed. I never could choose which design I liked more, the original or update.
Motor Trend didn’t mention the name “Astro” in the short blurb. That’s not surprising since in a subsequent issue they call it a Chevy “Nomad” van, in reference to a nearly finished-looking Astro mule. (The exact issue isn’t coming to mind.)
Anyway, I thought it was a neat picture and it’s sort of hard to imagine a time when Astros weren’t prolific, even today, more than a dozen years after the last was sold.
Click on the thumbnail below to see a larger version.