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In bid to interest millennials, Historic Vehicle Association chooses first Chrysler minivan for Cars at the Capital

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Photos by Preston Rose, courtesy Historic Vehicle Association, unless otherwise noted.

If automotive appreciation can be reduced to generational preferences, then Mark Gessler at the Historic Vehicle Association has selected what he believes to be two sure-fire lures to attract Millennials to this year’s Cars at the Capital display of historic vehicles, one of them a minivan.

“If you grew up in that era, then it’s definitely something you’ll recognize,” he said.

Specifically, Gessler and the HVA have chosen a 1984 Plymouth Voyager LE, the first production Voyager and the very minivan placed behind Lee Iaccoca as the then-president of Chrysler introduced the front-wheel-drive K-car-derived people mover in November 1983 at the company’s Windsor, Ontario, assembly plant.

Photo courtesy FCA Media.

As Terry Shea told the story on the 30th anniversary of the Chrysler minivan, its origins actually lie with Ford in the mid-Seventies when Hal Sperlich, one of the men behind the development of the Mustang, was in charge of truck development there. He proposed a sub-Econoline van, one that would fit in a standard garage, but when he proposed it to Henry Ford II with the name MiniMax, Ford fired him. Not long after he took a job with Chrysler as chief product planner and, when Iaccoca followed him, he again brought up the idea. This time, with a struggling Chrysler looking to maximize the potential of Sperlich’s K-car front-wheel-drive chassis, it found a more receptive audience.

Of course, other minivans preceded the Plymouth Voyager and its Dodge Caravan twin. Volkswagen’s Type 2 fit the definition of a small people mover; Chrysler had its own downsized van, the A-100, in the Sixties (as did Ford its Econoline/Falcon Club Wagon, Chevrolet its Corvan, and Chevrolet/GMC its G-series/Handi-Van); and a number of prototype and experimental vehicles, from GMC’s L’Universelle to Brooks Stevens’s FC-170 vans to William Bushnell Stout’s Scarabs, proposed something along the same lines.

Yet it was the Chrysler minivans of the Eighties that sold in the hundreds of thousands, that convinced families across the country to ditch their station wagons and spurred competitors to rush development of their own minivans. On the introduction of the Voyager/Caravan, Iaccoca reportedly predicted “the Voyager and Mustang Caravan will be to the ’80s what the Mustang was to the ’60s — vehicles that create extraordinary excitement and buyer interest and force other manufacturers to come up with copycat versions.”

Equipped with the 91-hp 2.2-liter base four-cylinder and optional three-speed automatic transmission (along with a special trim plate designating the minivan “Magic Wagon No. 1” and “special unit”), the first Plymouth Voyager has since resided in Chrysler’s collections, accumulating just 12,000 miles in its 34 years.

Gessler’s second youth-focused lure for this year’s Cars at the Capital, one of Mark Goyette and Neil Glassmoyer’s 1985 Modena Design Spyder Californias, served as the hero car in the 1986 John Hughes flick Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

“One thing we found out in putting together this show is that one of the top cult movies for millennials is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and we’re glad to see that this car has returned to the United States after selling at auction in the U.K.,” Gessler said.

Styled after the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California, the Modena Spyder was one of three used for the movie: the hero car; the stunt car, which went through the plate glass wall for the film and later ended up in a Planet Hollywood; and one not completed in time for the film, which Gessler said has since been completed and modified.

Other cars scheduled to appear during this year’s Cars at the Capital display include the “Bullitt” Mustang recently added to the National Historic Vehicle Register, the 1918 Cadillac Type 57 that the HVA added to the register in 2014; and the 15-millionth Ford, a 1927 Ford Model T that resides in the collections of The Henry Ford.

The event will begin March 30 with the Modena Design car in the HVA’s glass case on the National Mall through April 2. The glass case will then house the Model T from April 3 to 9, the Voyager from April 10 to 16, the Mustang from April 17 to 23, and the Cadillac from April 24 to 30. Those not already documented for the National Historic Vehicle Register will then be scanned, photographed, and researched for their own placement on the register. For more information, visit