Meh Car Monday: The Ford Windstar Proves Meh-ness Is Like Entropy

Illustration for article titled Meh Car Monday: The Ford Windstar Proves Meh-ness Is Like Entropy

 I know there’s probably a lot of you out there that believe that choosing a minivan as a meh car is, somehow, unfair, like it’s punching down. I disagree, because I actually like minivans, and believe there’s no reason they have to succumb to the clammy, overly warm cloak of meh-ness. Unfortunately, it seems that meh-ness, like entropy, is a state that all vehicular systems can decay into, if no action is taken. A perfect example of this is the path from the Ford Aerostar to the Ford Windstar.

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First, let’s take a moment to remember the Ford Aerostar. This was Ford’s first real attempt at a true minivan, something to compete with the Chrysler minivans (Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager, etc.) and was available in passenger and cargo versions.

Illustration for article titled Meh Car Monday: The Ford Windstar Proves Meh-ness Is Like Entropy
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It was an interesting vehicle; unlike the Chryslers, Ford stuck with a front-engine/rear drive setup (all-wheel drive was also available), so as to be able to share parts with light trucks like the Ford Ranger, but did develop a new and unique to the Aerostar unibody platform. The overall design of the Aerostar, with its highly streamlined one-box design with the wheels at the corners was novel, advanced, and very practical.

The Aerostar was a decidedly un-Meh vehicle because it was a fairly advanced design that did its job quite well, and got a dedicated following of admirers. Ford built the Aerostar for over ten years, 1986 to 1997, and then replaced it with an all-new minivan called the Windstar.

And that’s when the entropic power of meh-ness became clear.

See, when Ford decided to replace the Aerostar, instead of taking the novel platform that served them so well for over a decade, they took the safe path and, essentially, built an uninspired copy of what everyone else was doing.

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Unless a company is willing to put in the effort, their designs will all slide toward a safe and easy state of mehntropy. This is exactly what happened here; no effort was spent to combat the mehntropy, and so it took over the vehicle.

Illustration for article titled Meh Car Monday: The Ford Windstar Proves Meh-ness Is Like Entropy
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When the Windstar came out in 1995 (the Aerostar stuck around for two extra years because people still wanted them) it was a very safe design: front-engine/front drive, with the same mid-’90s jellybean aero-focused design, and a reasonably well-thought out interior. It was fine.

It was also basically indistinguishable from almost any other minivan of the era, from the Nissan Quest to the (unrelated) Mercury Villager, to the Normie Normalvan DX. I think the most exciting thing you could say about it was that it fit right in.

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The Windstar was a minivan you could lose track of even if you parked it in an empty parking lot. It was so anonymous that today it’d probably wear one of those Guy Fawkes masks. It was adequate and unremarkable, an unnoticed lump that flowed through our nation’s asphalt arteries undetected and unremarkable.

If you’re looking for something mechanically interesting about the Windstar, the best I can do for you is to let you know that the 3.8-liter V6 Ford shoved into many of them had a bunch of head gasket issues.

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Illustration for article titled Meh Car Monday: The Ford Windstar Proves Meh-ness Is Like Entropy

That’s about it, really. Oh, it also had to have some recalls for rear axles that failed, mostly in states that used a lot of road salt in the winter.

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Marketing-wise, the most interesting thing about the Windstar was that they did make one commercial that featured noted Muppet and oversized avian Big Bird, who presumably needed the money to start up his now-defunct chain of adult-themed chicken bar-restaurants, Big Bird’s Big Bazongas Bar and Bird Bastery:

Other Windstar ads were so generic and bland that the footage could be re-used for almost anything: a timeshare video, a commercial for adult diapers, some sort of religious recruitment video, pretty much anything that involves humans and their offspring:

Oh, in 2004 Ford changed the name to “Freestar,” so the name would begin with an “F” like all their other cars: Focus, Fiesta, Flex, Fustang, and so on. No one gave a shit.

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Illustration for article titled Meh Car Monday: The Ford Windstar Proves Meh-ness Is Like Entropy

Just to give an example of how little a shit anyone seemed able to donate about the Windstar, look at this brochure to the right there. Look at the background image.

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What is that? An office park on a Sunday afternoon? The back buildings of some Presbyterian church? A carpet sample book maker’s main offices? I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more depressingly boring image on a car brochure before, and I sure as hell hope I never do. It might kill me.

Look, I’m sure the Windstar generally did its family-hauling job just fine, but I simply cannot envision a universe where people are actually interested in these things. I tried to give it my meh-litmus test to determine how meh it is: can I imagine any human being actually desiring this vehicle?

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No. No, I can’t.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

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DISCUSSION

kyree-s-williams
Kyree S. Williams

A good friend of mine’s mother had a 2002 Windstar while I was in middle and high school. We’ll call the friend “V”. We actually did call V’s mother “Bob” because someone once said “Mom” with a head cold, and it came out as “Bob”. And the name stuck. Anyway, Bob and her husband—V’s father—bought the 2002 Windstar new and it was pretty decked out: leather, sliding doors, CD changer, and all that.

As I recall hearing, not long after they’d bought it, Bob’s husband went on a manic spending spree, and tried to trade the Windstar in on a then-new 2003 Expedition, and she had to hide it to prevent him from doing so.

That Windstar saw V, Bob and our friend group through quite a bit. V lost her father and Bob lost her husband in the middle of our 7th-grade year, and then Bob developed breast cancer when we were in 9th-grade. Still, Bob continued to be a superstar Mom and shuttle our motley nerd crew around to various middle/high-school clubs and meetings between cancer treatments, even while she was trying to keep her family together. A couple of those were road trips out of state for tech-club tournaments. Quite a few tender conversations took place in that Windstar. Someone came out as gay. Someone else turned out to have a drug problem. Someone else was being abused at home.

Between the loss of one income, the cost of the cancer treatments, and the fact that Bob couldn’t work during said cancer treatments...their income and savings quickly dwindled from top-10% in our area to near-poverty. Bob and V often used the Windstar to haul things they recovered from commercial dumpsters to sell—or eat, if it was still edible—just to make ends meet. And of course, this was right during the 2008-2009 recession.

Bob did beat the cancer and was able to return to work..

Not long after that, and shortly after we graduated, a tornado struck the family house and damaged it so completely that it basically had to be redone from the inside out, which took from about 2011 to 2014 due to shady contractors and insurance issues. They lost a lot of irreplaceable items and memoirs.

Through that time, Bob still had the Windstar, which sported an odometer figure somewhere in the 200K range. Bob had planned on passing it down to V, but it finally gave up the ghost when they moved back into the house. Almost as if it stuck around exactly as long as it needed to. I can say with all certainty that it would’ve been seriously stressful for Bob if she’d had to deal with buying a new vehicle during that time, on top of everything else.

I have a soft spot for the Windstar, but not because of its merits...of which there were precious few.