August 1983

Old News - Battle WagonIt’s been a while since I’ve presented a mystery. While searching for information on an unrelated car, I stumbled upon this article in one of Motor Trend’s Detroit Reports.

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.

1985 Chevrolet Astro mule spy picture reported by MT 1983-08GM 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.

1987 Chevrolet Astro front leftMoreover, 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.

1991 Chevrolet Astro EXT profile right1990 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.

2004 Chevrolet Astro LS frontMotor 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.

1985 Chevrolet Astro mule spy picture reported by MT 1983-08