The Chevrolet Astro is a rear-wheel drive mid-sized van introduced by Chevrolet in 1985 to rival domestic (American) competitors the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager twins and the Japanese Toyota Van. Also sharing the Astro's platform was its sibling, the GMC Safari. In addition to standard passenger uses, the vans were also available as cargo vans, and converters used them as the basis for small conversion vans. Both Pontiac and GMC have used the Safari nameplate (GMC is part of the Pontiac/GMC division); Pontiac used the nameplate on several of its station wagon models from 1955 through 1989. The two Safaris, both Pontiac and GMC, were on the market together (often sold by the same dealerships) from 1985 through 1989. The Astro model name had been used previously for the unrelated Chevrolet Astro 1 Concept car, first shown at the New York Auto Show of 1967. While the Astro was referred to as a minivan, it was sized between the Chevrolet Venture/Lumina APV unibody minivan and the full-size Chevy Van/Express. Similar to the Ford Aerostar, it utilized powertrain components common to GM's other light trucks, yet unlike the trucks the chassis was unibody in structure with a front sub-frame to support the engine and front suspension. Due to the truck-based powertrain, the Astro and Safari could pull Template:Convert with proper equipment. AWD models could tow up to Template:Convert when properly equipped. This is opposed to front-wheel drive minivans; most of which are limited to a 3,500 pound towing capacity. Template:Fact Initial advertising boasted that it was a vehicle that will "make you realize that life is too big for a minivan", referring to the Chrysler minivans. Engines options ranged from 145 to 190 hp (108 to 142) kW 4.3L V6 engine, depending on options and/or model year.It was also fitted with the 'W' engine which produces 200hp. The van seated up to 7 passengers. In addition to being sold in North America, the Chevrolet Astro was exported to Japan, where the van enjoys a cult following. In 2005, to celebrate the last year of Astro production, Chevrolet of Japan offered a limited edition run of the final production models. The Astro's popularity in Japan comes even though it was only offered in left-hand drive.
Much like the second-generation GM F-body 1970-1981 and X-body vehicles, the GM M-van (Astro/Safari) had a bolt-on subframe incorporating the front suspension from a GM B-body station wagon (Chevrolet Caprice, Cadillac Brougham) with a leaf-spring rear suspension. The lower ball joints were larger than their B-body counterparts (similar to 1977-96 Cadillac D platform vehicles e.g. Fleetwood limousines). These ball joints were later used in the final Chevrolet Caprice 9C1 (police package) cars manufactured in 1995 and 1996. They also shared many mechanical similarities to the GMT 325/330 midsize S/T Pickup/Utilities. As mentioned above, the Astro and Safari were rear-wheel drive vehicles, but in 1990 a new all-wheel drive (AWD) system, designed and developed by FF Developments (FFD), was made optional. The AWD models had a lower fuel economy: 17 miles per gallon highway versus 20-21 for rear-drive vans. Premature idler arm wear on the AWD front suspension is a common problem.Template:Fact Hundreds of instances of front torsion bar failure in the AWD suspension were reported to the NHTSA. The torsion bars failed without warning, resulting in bottoming of the suspension. Repair required replacement of both torsion bar assemblies with upgraded designs at a cost of about $1000. No fatalities were reported.Template:Fact In 1989, a new dash was introduced along with the availability of an extended body option, however actual wheelbase is identical for all Astros. The 1990 model year also introduced the hydroboost braking system, a system using the same accessory belt driven pump to supply the power steering and brakes. In 1995, the model was face lifted with an extended nose that resembled the then-new full-size Express vans. Also for 1995, the shorter length body was dropped. In 1996, a redesigned dash received a passenger side air-bag. The vans remained mostly unchanged until canceled in 2005. In 2002, GM upgraded the chassis of both the Astro and Safari with certain suspension components, larger brakes, and six-lug, 16 inch wheels from the full-size Chevrolet and GMC half-ton pickup trucks. The modifications improvedTemplate:Fact the poor handling and braking of the vans.
Faced with falling sales across its vehicle lines, General Motors began closing plants and discontinuing slow-selling vehicle lines. With new federal standards for side impact and head injury reductions coming, GM determined that there was no use in expending money for a redesign of a vehicle line that was no longer selling well. Thus, the Safari and Astro were taken out of production on May 13, 2005, and the long-serving Baltimore, Maryland assembly plant where both were built was closed. It was the only rear-wheel drive minivan which was produced for 20 model years - a longer run than its nearest rival, the Ford Aerostar, which ceased production in 1997, and the only remaining rear-wheel drive minivan in the United States and Canada since the original Mazda MPV ceased production in 1998, as well as the Toyota Previa 1991-1997. It was also the only rear-wheel drive minivan in the United States and Canada to span two generations, and also was the only rear-wheel drive minivan in the United States and Canada since the Volkswagen Eurovan ceased production in 2003. In total, the Baltimore plant produced approximately 3,700,000 Astro and Safari vans. In the Chevrolet line, the Astro was replaced by the now discontinued Chevrolet Uplander "crossover sport van", which also replaced the Chevrolet Venture. Like the Astro, the Uplander was available in cargo and passenger versions, although its front-wheel drive unibody platform made it less suitable for heavy-duty work. Production of the Uplander discontinued in late 2008 when General Motors closed the Doraville, GA plant that produced the van. GM currently doesn't market any minivan models in the United States. GMC has replaced the Safari with their Acadia 7-passenger crossover SUV for 2007, as well Chevrolet replaced their minivans with the new Chevrolet Traverse.
Safety and crash testing Edit
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which is known for its testing of vehicles and results that are often shown on NBC's Dateline television news program, gave the Astro a "poor" rating in 1996 because of what by all appearances was a horrifying display of structural failure in the Institute's Template:Convert crash test into a fixed, offset barrier. The underbody of the test van buckled, pitching both front seats forward and shoving the crash dummy into the dashboard and steering wheel, and resulting in a broken left leg, leading the Institute to comment that "[t]he collapse of the occupant compartment left little survival space for the driver." See detailed crash test information, including photos illustrating the Astro's structural collapse In testing performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), however, the Astro and Safari fared better, improving from a single-star rating in 1991 to a three-star (driver) and four-star (passenger) rating by 2000. In side impacts, the Astro and Safari both received the highest, five-star rating in every year that the test was administered. Surprisingly, in 2007 the IIHS reported that in real life situations, the 2001-2004 Chevrolet Astro recorded during calendar years 2002-2005 the least number of killed drivers of all passenger vehicles in the United States, as calculated per every million units on the road. Driver's habits and vehicle usage might have influenced this result. 
Popularity with modifiersEdit
In addition to their popularity as conversion vans, the Astro and Safari both have popular followings with "back yard" modifiers. Modifications are both street and off-road. Some vans have the original 4.3L Vortec V6 engine replaced with a small-block V8 engine, such as the Chevrolet 350 engine. This switch is simplified because the 4.3L V6 is based on the GM small-block V8, and most of the factory drivetrain components can be reused. Because of its truck based design, the Astro also is popular with some off road and camping enthusiasts. The combination of a powerful drivetrain, large cargo and passenger space, all-wheel drive, and optional locking differential for the rear axle facilitate off road modifications. The suspension can be lifted, allowing larger tires and clearance with relatively small changes in exterior appearance.
- ↑ Chevrolet Astro I Concept car at [http://www.ultimatecarpage.com www.ultimatecarpage.com] Retrieved on 24/7/08
- ↑ Template:Cite news
- ↑ Drivers deaths by make and model: fatality risk in one vehicle versus another Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Status Report, Vol. 42, No. 4, April 19, 2007.
- Iasc.jp Japanese Astro/Safari Club (Japan)
- Astro-Van.de German Astro/Safari Site (Germany)
- AstroSafari.co.uk United Kingdom Astro/Safari site (UK)