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Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari
1995 Chevrolet Astro -- 03-31-2011
Manufacturer General Motors
Also called GMC Safari
Production 1985–2005
Assembly Baltimore Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Class Minivan
Body style(s) 3-door van
Layout Front engine, Rear-wheel drive / All-wheel drive
Platform M-body
Transmission(s) 4-speed Automatic
4-speed manual
5-speed Manual

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 was 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.[1]

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 5,500 lb (2,500 kg) with proper equipment. AWD models could tow up to 5,000 lb (2,300 kg) when properly equipped. This is opposed to front-wheel drive minivans; most of which are limited to a 3,500 pound towing capacity.

First generation (1985-1994)Edit

First generation
[[File:1st Chevrolet Astro|frameless|upright=1.25|alt=]]
Production 1985–1994
Engine(s) 2.5L Tech IV 98 hp (73 kW)I4
4.3L 4300 165 hp (123 kW) V6
4.3L 4300 200 hp (150 kW) V6
Wheelbase 111.0 in (2819 mm)
Length STD: 176.8 in (4491 mm)
EXT: 186.8 in (4745 mm)
1992–94 Astro Cargo Van STD: 177.9 in (4519 mm)
1992–94 Astro Cargo Van EXT: 187.9 in (4773 mm)
Width 77.0 in (1956 mm)
1992–94 Safari & Astro Cargo Van: 77.5 in (1969 mm)
Height 1985–89: 73.7 in (1872 mm)
1985–89 Cargo Van STD: 74.5 in (1892 mm)
1990–91 STD: 74.9 in (1902 mm)
1990–91 STD: 74.1 in (1882 mm)
1992–94 Astro: 76.2 in (1935 mm)
1992–94 Safari Cargo Van: 76.1 in (1933 mm)
1992–94 Safari SLX: 76.4 in (1941 mm)
1992–94 Safari 2WD EXT: 76.6 in (1946 mm)
1992–94 Safari Cargo Van AWD STD: 75.7 in (1923 mm)
1992–94 Safari Cargo Van AWD EXT: 76.0 in (1930 mm)
Related Chevrolet S-10
1st-GMC-Safari

1st-gen GMC Safari

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 200 hp.

The van seated up to 8 passengers.

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),[2] 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.

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.

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 1992, a new optional feature was introduced known as "Dutch Doors". these series featured to two half barn doors on the bottom row and a flip-up window on the top row, Prior to this, all Astro & Safari vans were exclusively equipped with barn doors.

Second generation (1995-2005)Edit

Second generation
[[File:Chevrolet-Astro-cargo|frameless|upright=1.25|alt=]]
Production 1995–2005
Engine(s) 4.3 L 190 hp (140 kW) V6
Wheelbase 1995–96: 111.0 in (2819 mm)
1997–2005: 111.2 in (2824 mm)
Length 189.8 in (4821 mm)
Width 77.5 in (1969 mm)
Height 1995–96 Astro: 75.9 in (1928 mm)
1997–98 Astro: 76.0 in (1930 mm)
1995–96 Safari: 76.2 in (1935 mm)
1997–98/2002–03 Safari Cargo Van & 1999–2001 Astro Cargo Van 2WD: 75.3 in (1913 mm)
1997–2005 Safari & 2002–05 Astro: 75.0 in (1905 mm)
1999–2001 Astro 2WD: 74.9 in (1902 mm)
1999–2001 Astro Cargo Van AWD: 75.2 in (1910 mm)
1999–2001 Astro AWD: 74.8 in (1900 mm)
GMC Safari

1996-2005 GMC Safari

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 improved the poor handling and braking of the vans.

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 40 mph (64 km/h) 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.[3]

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.

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.

ReferencesEdit

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