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Pop In A Cassette And Celebrate? Chrysler's Minivans Are 30

It was radical in its day: Chrysler's minivans first rolled off assembly lines in November 1983. This is one of those original model year 1984 editions.
It was radical in its day: Chrysler's minivans first rolled off assembly lines in November 1983. This is one of those original model year 1984 editions.

Depending on how many hours you spent in the backseat being tortured by a sibling or how many hours you spent in the driver's seat being forced by your kids to listen to Beat It, this may not be an anniversary you wish to celebrate.

And the honoree has many critics who say it was just darn ugly when it debuted in 1983.

But there are those who seem to be looking back with fondness on the now 30-year-old life of the Chrysler minivan. After all, it's a vehicle that basically created a market that didn't exist, was imitated by others and became a cultural icon.

What's more, for some people there's nostalgia because the minivan was their ticket to ride into adulthood. "I learned to drive in the family Dodge Caravan, and when I got my first job, it became mine," tweets reader Jude Burgoyne.

For others, there are just cherished memories. "Was 8 years old, family driving to Florida vacation in a Plymouth minivan, stuck in a traffic jam," Daniel Atwater wrote on NPR's Facebook page. "We were able to open that amazing sliding door and let some fresh air in so we didn't all burst into flames."

According to the car company, "the first Chrysler Group minivan rolled off the Windsor [Ontario] Assembly line on Nov. 2, 1983."

Thirteen million Chrysler minivans later "the Rodney Dangerfield of the automotive world" is still going, as The New York Times says.

True, minivan sales (by all manufacturers, not just Chrysler) aren't what they used to be — about 3.5 percent of the market, vs. the 8 percent peak in the year 2000, according to the Times. But, analyst analyst Jessica Caldwell tells the newspaper, "sales seem to have bottomed out, and it looks like [the minivan] has found its niche as an enduring option in the marketplace."

So they're here to stay for the foreseeable future.

We see there are plenty of stories and packages this month about the Chrysler minivan and what it has meant to that company. Smithsonian magazine, for example, notes that the vehicle helped save Chrysler, which in 1983 "was on the brink of collapse":

"Chrysler couldn't make them fast enough, and drivers waited weeks for the minivan. It was a practical car that the baby boomers needed. The success of the minivan helped bring the company back from the edge of bankruptcy."

To go beyond the usual anniversary stories about sales and revenue, we used NPR's Facebook page to ask for pictures and memories of the Chrysler minivan. Along with those from Burgoyne and Atwater, we got hundreds of other messages and a good selection of photos.

We've taken some of the best pictures and used Storify to gather them together. Feel free to add to the tales in our comments thread.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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