- Written by webmin
Image courtesy oldcarbrochures.com
I can’t let the Class of 1985 go by without mention of my personal favorite vehicle from that year, the 1985 Chevrolet Astro and its twin, the GMC Safari. Full disclosure up front: My parents bought a 1985 Safari brand new – blue, poverty caps, and it had the Borg-Warner T-5 five-speed manual transmission that was only available in the Astro from 1985-1990. Then when I was moving all around the country after college, I owned not one, but two beater 1985 Astros, both equipped with the carbureted 4.3L V-6. They tirelessly and faithfully hauled all of my junk, and one even hauled around an old GMC 302 six-cylinder engine while I had no garage. They were rough on front-end parts, bearings especially, but they never once left me stranded. I ended up swapping them both for some hot rod parts to a guy who wanted to mate the two V-6s together, front-to-back, to create a modern-day GMC V-12. Never heard how that panned out.
Anyway. The M-series Astro/Safari, introduced in 1985, was originally intended by GM to be a sort of downsized G-series van, more suited to utility work than to passenger service. Yet when the Chrysler minivans became hugely successful, GM had to scramble to adapt the Astro/Safari to compete as passenger vans while they worked up the front-wheel-drive “dustbuster” U-series minivans. Drivetrains were essentially carried over from the S-series compact trucks, while chassis components were a mix of what you’d find on S-series compacts and C-series full-sizes. (There’s speculation that the Astro was originally designed to accommodate a small-block V-8 – there’s actually just enough room for one in an Astro’s engine bay – but such a configuration didn’t pass crash testing, and was thus dropped.) Over the years, as the dustbusters took up passenger minivan duties in GM’s stable, the Astro and Safari became more what they were originally intended to be, utilitarian workhorses, and the basic design of the M-series, facelifted once in 1995, soldiered on through 2005.
I know the Astro/Safari will never be considered as historically important as the Chrysler minivans, but I’ve seen plenty of customized and hot rodded versions of the M-series vans to make me think that there are just as many fans of the M-series as of the Chryslers. Will those fans begin collecting and restoring Astros and Safaris, or is it only weirdos like me who have a special place in our hearts for them?