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The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome

Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy

Saturday was magical. It was the day that I arrived in Erlangen, Germany and first laid eyes on the Austria-built, Italy-sold, U.S.A.-designed, $600, 250,000 mile, diesel, manual, Chrysler Voyager minivan of my dreams. The van is even more glorious than I hoped it would be, and I didn’t think that was possible. Come on this tour with me, and you’ll understand why. Okay, you probably won’t, but join me anyway.

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I’ll pick up where I left off in my last update. I’d just flown from Detroit to Munich, where I’d immediately taken a COVID test, quarantined at an airport hotel while waiting for my results, and within six hours, been told I was free to run around Germany as I pleased. The following day, Friday, I took a train to Nürnberg, where I checked into an awesome shared apartment on the fifth floor (or fourth floor for Germans, who start counting once they reach the top of the first set of steps) of a building located in the beautiful “old town” part of the city.

I met up with my friend Andreas on Saturday, and rendezvoused with my other friend Andreas—proud owner of a first-generation VW Touareg—at a trailer rental location. Using the Touareg, “other friend” Andreas pulled the trailer to “friend” Andreas’s girlfriend Josi’s parent’s house, where my European Chrysler Voyager has sat for months awaiting my triumphant arrival.

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When we rolled up to the van, and I first saw a vehicle I’d been dreaming about for over six months (I’ve been dreaming about diesel Voyagers in general for many years), my heart raced. This was it. Everything had looked great in the pictures, but how would the vehicle be in-person?

The answer: Absolutely phenomenal.

I won’t discuss what’s wrong with the non-running van quite yet, since I didn’t have a lift at the time of my introduction (a full deep-dive into the minivan’s ailments is imminent), but I will give some first impressions and a tour of some of the van’s quirky features. First off, the thing looks to be in great shape. The interior is extremely clean, and the body panels are all solid and covered in a pretty blue paint.

Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy

What became obvious immediately upon seeing the van, is that, though this thing can hold seven passengers in total, it is tiny. Well, for a van.

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It’s only about 178 inches long, which is over two feet shorter than the modern reincarnation of the Voyager, the Chrysler Pacifica. It’s even shorter than a number of compact cars.

Take the Dodge Dart for example—it’s five inches longer than my van, and it’s the same width. That’s absurd! The Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan? Also roughly five inches longer than a seven-passenger family van, and only about an inch and a half narrower. Again, that’s just nuts, and if anything, it highlights this second-generation Chrysler minivan’s packaging efficiency (and of course, its rather spartan nature and lack of safety features).

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Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy

In addition to the tiny size and excellent aesthetic condition, let’s take a peek at some of this machine’s quirks. One of my favorites is the rear vent windows. They don’t roll down, they simply pop out at the rear edge, and while that may not seem exciting, get this: These are power pop-out rear windows! Check out the switches in the overhead console!:

Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy
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Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy

Not exactly the most useful feature, but I dig it!

Another great feature is all the fun storage. There’s no Stow ’N Go like in a modern Chrysler minivan, but there are some cool cubbies, with my favorite one being the lockable, slide-out drawer under the front passenger’s seat. Here’s a look at that, and more bins at the front of the cabin:

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Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy

In the second row on the driver’s side, there’s an ashtray (I find this strange, given that this is a family van), a storage bin, a little shelf, and two cupholders:

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Photo: David Tracy
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Plus, there’s a pouch on the back of the the front passenger’s seat:

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Photo: David Tracy
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In the third row, above the rear wheel-wells, are a couple of bins, with the one on the driver’s side sitting adjacent to two cupholders, giving the vehicle a total of six beverage container-containers:

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Photo: David Tracy
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While we’re talking about the third row, there’s lots of room under it:

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Photo: David Tracy
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Unfortunately, the two bucket seats in the middle row don’t allow for much under-seat storage, but that’s okay, because both seats pop out easily, and the one on the passenger’s side leans with the pull of a lever to allow occupants to easily enter the rearmost row:

Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy
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Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy
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The rear bench also comes out quite easily by simply lifting two levers at the base of each of the two legs. The seat also leans, and it slides fore-aft, so you can trade rear legroom for cargo room. It’s quite clever. I also dig the little hangers on the back of the bench for hanging things.

This van really makes the most of its tiny footprint.

Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy
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Other fun features include a turn signal repeater on each front fender—a little orange oval that’s missing from U.S.-market second-generation Chrysler vans.

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Photo: David Tracy
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Another difference between this Graz, Austria-built van and North American “AS”-generation Chrysler minivans that most Americans are probably used to is that there is no upright Pentastar hood-ornament. Instead, the Pentastar sits flat:

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Photo: David Tracy
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But don’t think it’s just a stick-on badge. Nope, to save on cost and to act as a locating feature, this is a common hood with U.S.-market vans, meaning there is a hole, which could—and frankly, probably should—be used to install the glorious upright hood ornament found in North American Chrysler vans. I’ve got one on order.

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Photo: David Tracy
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While I’m on the topic of Euro-specific features, check out the taillights:

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Photo: David Tracy
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Those look quite a bit different than the taillights offered on the U.S.-spec versions of this van:

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Because Jalopnik has a taillight expert on staff (and because he’d be livid if I didn’t get his input), I got Jason Torchinsky’s take on the two taillight designs. Here’s what he has to say:

This Euro-spec Voyager has some interesting taillight changes compared to what we got in America. In the US, the Voyager had kind of lame-ass taillights, with a single dual-filament bulb sitting all lonely in the red section of the lamp, even though it was divided into three sections. That one bulb was brake, tail, and turn indicator, which is not a great solution. The Euro version is more sophisticated, with separate chambers and bulbs for brake/tail, turn, reverse, and, I believe, a lower rear foglamp, though it’s possible the lower red section is the tail and the upper one is the brake.


Overall, it’s still a much better lamp unit, with far clearer communication thanks especially to Euro requirements for amber rear indicators. Visually, it reminds me of the later Grand Cherokee lights, though the order is a bit different. I like these lamps, as they look like a lovely layer cake. In fact, I think it’d be fun to make a layer cake with red velvet, orange, vanilla, and more red velvet layers to emulate this lamp, though I can’t really bake.


The addition of little ovoid turn signal repeaters behind the front wheelarches are also interesting, and the addition of an auxiliary red side-marker light at the rear, though no additional reflector.

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Just above the wacky “layer cake” taillight on the driver’s side is a little plastic bowl, meant to be filled with washer fluid that specifically serves only the rear glass. The washer fluid fill-port for the windshield is located underhood.

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Photo: David Tracy
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Just look at this cute little wiper fill-port open up wide for some methanol-based glass cleaner:

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Photo: David Tracy
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Another feature that gives this Voyager away as a European, and not North American, model is the rather phallic Euro-style tow hitch:

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This looks quite a bit different than the square receiver and slide-in ball hitch found on American vehicles. Of course, the real giveaway that this isn’t a U.S.-model caravan will be the noise coming from the 2.5-liter VM Motori turbodiesel. I’ll talk more about it in my next article.

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Like U.S.-model second-gen Chrysler minivans, the jack is located in the engine bay, furthering this van’s main theme: Shove as much hardware as possible under the hood so that every spot rear of the dashboard can be used for storing humans and cargo.

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Photo: David Tracy
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Also under the hood is a strange sonar contraption, which I think is there to fend off Marder—ferret-like animals that cause tens of millions of Euros in damage each year in Germany chewing up wiring and hoses:

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In addition, the engine bay houses a five-speed manual transmission, whose shifter is oddly located on the floor between the two front seats. There’s an absurd amount of play in my van’s lever, but I’ll get into that in my next update, in which I’ll assess this van’s overall condition:

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Photo: David Tracy
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You’ll notice in the image above that the power seat controls for the driver’s seat are on the inside of the vehicle, which is a bit different than what I’m used to. Also, there’s a single-position seatback bolster lever just there to the left of the buckle. Pull it up, and the seatback is stiff; lower it, and it’s cushy.

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Photo: David Tracy
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In addition to power seats and those power vent windows, all the other windows are power-operated as well, as are the locks. They all seem to work on my $600 van. In fact, pretty much all the electronics work, including the cool switches located to the left and right of the gauge cluster and the “Performance Center” display atop the dash. (I do need to install a radio).

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Photo: David Tracy
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I have to admit that I don’t know what all of the switches do. On the right side of the gauge cluster is a button that looks to be a fog light switch:

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But then on the lower dash near the driver’s knee is another button with a similar symbol.

Below it is the button for aiming the headlights.

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Yes, headlight aimers! And they work. Behold!:

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The black square switch in the picture before the video just above is the power-unlatch button for the rear hatch, but the two rightmost buttons in the photo above are total mysteries to me. The lower, darker button has a label below it that reads in Italian “emergency only.”

I’m fairly certain it’s a self-destruct switch. I’m not touching it.

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Photo: David Tracy
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That “emergency only” label is one of many fun reminders of this machine’s fascinating Austrian-American-Italian heritage. Check out the Italian sticker above showing all the fluids that this van needs.

Here’s a sticker on my under-hood fuse box indicating what the mechanic serviced on a particular visit to Luciano Stevanato, an officially authorized Fiat mechanic located in Fossalta di Piave, in 2017 (the mechanic swapped the oil, oil filter, and air filter):

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On the windshield is a sticker of an Italian Chrysler Jeep dealer called Marazzato:

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Then of course, there’s the Italian owner’s manual:

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Other indications of this van’s cool Euro history include this European dealer directory:

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Did you just break down in the middle of Finland? Well, call one of these numbers, and maybe you’ll get some help! (Whether any of these dealers remain after 26 years, I’m unsure).

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Photo: David Tracy
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Incidentally, the dealer directory has some of the coolest cutaway drawings I’ve ever seen:

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Photo: David Tracy
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Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy

Anyway, by now it should be clear that I’m in love with this incredible minivan. Whether that will remain the case after I’ve toiled away in the workshop, desperately trying to get the van on the road and through Germany’s rigorous inspection is anyone’s guess.

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Illustration for article titled The Quirks That Make My European 250,000 Mile Diesel Manual Chrysler Minivan So Awesome
Photo: David Tracy

Expect lots of wrenching content soon.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

They don’t roll down, they simply pop out at the rear edge, and while that may not seem exciting, get this: These are power pop-out rear windows! Check out the switches in the overhead console!

Not exactly the most useful feature, but I dig it!

Dude, let me tell you right now that those windows are one of the greatest automotive inventions ever!

You can use them to cool down a vehicle rapidly after it’s been parked in the sun, and to just get some cooler air flow without running the A/C. That doesn’t sound that impressive until you realize that you can do all of this WITHOUT BUFFETING! That’s what makes them so useful!