Plymouth Voyager III

Say what you will about the Chrysler-made minivans but man, do they haul. They're as ubiquitous as snowflakes in winter and as sexy as an oiled up Rob Ford, but they're incredibly practical transportation for those that need the space.

(Still, birth control is cheaper than a minivan, just saying…)

The big problem with vans is that once Kid A has been dropped off at the dentist and Kid B, dressed as Zordon, delivered to the local Comic Con, they're reasonably inefficient for their size. With just one or two occupants they're not truck levels of inefficient, mind you, but they still guzzle more fuel than a sedan or compact car would use.

If only there was a solution!

Chrysler…er, Plymouth, purveyor of the minivan, had a solution. Thirty years ago in 1984, they'd started producing the modern passenger car-based van, and had been raking in the cash as people bought the Voyager like they buy iPhones today. Filled with intelligent designers, I'm sure internally the company knew that the vehicle was gradually earning a stigma for being un-cool—and hoped to find a solution.

Six-wheeled vehicles, like the Citroën CX "Loadrunner" and Hustler Highlander 6, have an extra set of wheels in order to carry heavier loads. For six-wheel military vehicles and heavy trucks like the crazy Mercedes-Benz G-Class 6x6, they often feature six wheel drive to power through rough terrain and over obstacles. They're brutes.

We went to the Detroit Auto Show every year, and some of my earliest memories are of gleaming concept cars bathed in hot white lights, the slightly metallic smell mixing with the aroma from Cobo Hall's caramel corn and fudge vendors.

As a six year old in 1990, I remember the Voyager III. It looked like the Space Shuttle on wheels. With Bob Lutz on stage, Plymouth presented a new use for the extra set of wheels: storage. What if you didn't have to lug the entire van around when you just needed to pop out to the shops? What if you had a city car for shopping and a van for family road trips—all in one vehicle?

The front of the Voyager III was a subcompact hatchback with a three-cylinder propane engine driving the front wheels. I doubt it would have been quick—but with its three across bench seating there was ample room for the typical short trip to the bank or grocery store.

When you needed more space, the car linked up with an 8-passenger module, self-supported on its four wheels, powered by a 2.2-litre 4-cylinder engine. Yes, Plymouth showed a concept with a total of two engines, seven cylinders, and eight wheels…with room for 11 passengers.

Mechanical complexity be damned, when linked up the compact's rearmost wheels lifted up into the body, covered by aerodynamic skirts. The two engines were linked by computer and, if you're counting, power to both the front and rear sections means this puppy was all-wheel-drive. 

But get this: the whole Voyager III would still be about an inch shorter than the current Toyota Sienna. Even though the photos make it look as long as Noah's Ark, it wasn't that big.

Hemmings writes that Bob Lutz agreed with the approach—at least in concept form. "You see people going into downtown areas in full-size vans wasting fuel and clogging up space. It seemed to us like a neat idea to to be able to leave two-thirds of your vehicle at home," the popular auto executive said.

It is neat. And you know what? With driverless technology to aid the docking process and modern battery technology, having an electrically-powered rear section that makes a compact car more useful is probably not as far-fetched as it sounds. Hell, I could see renting a rear section for a long road trip.

Bring on Voyager IV.

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