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|Also called||GMC Safari|
|Assembly||Baltimore Assembly in Baltimore, Maryland, USA|
|Body style||3-door van|
|Layout||Front engine, Rear-wheel drive / All-wheel drive|
The Chevrolet Astro was 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.
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) 
|Engine||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 (2,819 mm)|
|Length||STD: 176.8 in (4,491 mm)
EXT: 186.8 in (4,745 mm)
1992–94 Astro Cargo Van STD: 177.9 in (4,519 mm)
1992–94 Astro Cargo Van EXT: 187.9 in (4,773 mm)
|Width||77.0 in (1,956 mm)
1992–94 Safari & Astro Cargo Van: 77.5 in (1,969 mm)
|Height||1985–89: 73.7 in (1,872 mm)
1985–89 Cargo Van STD: 74.5 in (1,892 mm)
1990–91 STD: 74.9 in (1,902 mm)
1990–91 STD: 74.1 in (1,882 mm)
1992–94 Astro: 76.2 in (1,935 mm)
1992–94 Safari Cargo Van: 76.1 in (1,933 mm)
1992–94 Safari SLX: 76.4 in (1,941 mm)
1992–94 Safari 2WD EXT: 76.6 in (1,946 mm)
1992–94 Safari Cargo Van AWD STD: 75.7 in (1,923 mm)
1992–94 Safari Cargo Van AWD EXT: 76.0 in (1,930 mm)
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 pickups and utility vehicles.
As mentioned above, the Astro and Safari were rear-wheel drive vehicles, but in 1990 a new all-wheel drive (AWD) system (the first U.S.-built minivan to do so), designed and developed by FF Developments (FFD), was made optional. The AWD models had a lower fuel economy: 17 miles per gallon highway versus 20 to 21 miles per gallon for rear-wheel drive vans.
In 1990, a new dashboard was introduced along with the availability of an extended body option, but 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 and a flip-up window on the top. Prior to this, all Astro and Safari vans were exclusively equipped with barn doors. An optional 4.3L (RPO L35) with central port injection and a balance shaft was phased in.
In 1993, an electronically-controlled 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive became standard as the sole transmission offering. As with many other 1993 model year GM vehicles, Scotchgard fabric protection also became a standard feature on Astro vans equipped with cloth seats. 1993 also saw the addition of three new exterior paint colors. These colors were Indigo Blue Metallic (#39), Light Quasar Blue Metallic (#20), and Medium Quasar Blue Metallic (#80).
For the 1994 model year, GM started manufacturing most of their vehicles, including the Astro and Safari, with CFC-free air-conditioning systems. Some early 1994 model year vehicles produced in mid- to late-1993 may still have come from the factory with R-12 Freon, but most probably had R134a.
Second generation (1995-2005) 
|Engine||4.3 L 190 hp (140 kW) V6|
|Wheelbase||1995–96: 111.0 in (2,819 mm)
1997–2005: 111.2 in (2,824 mm)
|Length||189.8 in (4,821 mm)|
|Width||77.5 in (1,969 mm)|
|Height||1995–96 Astro: 75.9 in (1,928 mm)
1997–98 Astro: 76.0 in (1,930 mm)
1995–96 Safari: 76.2 in (1,935 mm)
1997–98/2002–03 Safari Cargo Van & 1999–2001 Astro Cargo Van 2WD: 75.3 in (1,913 mm)
1997–2005 Safari & 2002–05 Astro: 75.0 in (1,905 mm)
1999–2001 Astro 2WD: 74.9 in (1,902 mm)
1999–2001 Astro Cargo Van AWD: 75.2 in (1,910 mm)
1999–2001 Astro AWD: 74.8 in (1,900 mm)
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 2003, 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 handling and braking of the vans.
The last Astro and Safari rolled off the assembly line on May 13, 2005.
Safety and crash testing 
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."
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.
Despite these safety ratings, 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.
Popularity with modifiers 
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.
See also 
- Chevrolet Astro I Concept car at www.ultimatecarpage.com Retrieved on 24/7/08
- Gunnell, John (1993). Standard Catalog of 4x4's 1945-1993. Krause Publications, Inc.
- "No giant here — FF Developments Ltd. — company profile". Ward's Auto World. December 1999.[dead link]
- http://www.iihs.org/ratings/rating.aspx?id=66 Detailed crash test information, including photos illustrating the Astro's structural collapse.
- Drivers deaths by make and model: fatality risk in one vehicle versus another Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Status Report, Vol. 42, No. 4, April 19, 2007.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Chevrolet Astro|
- Iasc.jp Japanese Astro/Safari Club (Japan)
- Astro-Van.de German Astro/Safari Site (Germany)
- AstroSafari.co.uk United Kingdom Astro/Safari site (UK)
- Norwegian Astro/Safari site (Norway)
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