How This Young German Became A World Expert On Chrysler Minivans

Gif: Jason Torchnisky

His name is Tizian, and there is nobody else like him in the world. As a young German who also happens to be the world’s foremost expert on Chrysler Voyager minivans, he is a true anomaly. His shop, located in a former textile mill in Aachen, Germany, is cluttered with rare parts for the American-engineered family hauler. A few months back, I drove to this minivan safe-haven in my own Chrysler Voyager, Project Krassler.

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What I saw blew my mind, and it will blow yours, too.

It’s been three months since I’ve written about Project Krassler, the $600, 250,000-mile, diesel, manual Chrysler Voyager that I road tripped through Europe last fall. I have no good excuse for my tardiness, but I do know that at this point, I owe you all a refresher: I bought a cheap, broken van last summer, with plans to live in it as I toured Europe, exploring the continent’s car culture. I spent a month fixing the machine before failing Germany’s ridiculously strict inspection more times than I’d expected; I learned to bake some amazing German dishes with some awesome people; and I hit the road to Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Ghent, spotting fascinating cars along the way.

After drinking some seriously heavy beer in Belgium, and after taking a drunken tour of Ghent’s enormous, labyrinthian former labor party headquarters, I departed my new friend Pieter’s house and headed back toward Germany. I had to avoid entering the Netherlands, since the country was a Risikogebiet, a risk area, meaning entry would require me to quarantine on arriving into Germany. I didn’t want that.

The Chrysler Voyager King’s Castle In Aachen, Germany

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Photo: Google Maps

Once in Aachen, which sits where Germany, Netherlands and Belgium meet, I was allowed through a gate and into a compound of buildings that once belonged to a textile business. In one of those buildings — a rather dilapidated one at least a century old, with pools of stagnant water dotting the floors, crumbling brick walls holding up industrial concrete roof beams that gave off very Soviet vibes, and dust filling the air — stood two young German men dressed in black shop clothes, surrounded by a collection of automobiles.

There was a BMW, a Volvo and an Alfa Romeo, but the majority of the cars in this old textile building were Chrysler minivans, many in states of disrepair. Voyager parts littered shelves, hung from the ceiling and covered the floors. This soulful old building, it was immediately obvious to me, was a magical space, a spot where a passion was being exercised to its fullest.

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Photo: David Tracy

Building Van Culture In Germany

The young men’s names are Tizian and Leander, brothers from the rural area of Sauerland, roughly 50 miles east of Cologne and 100 miles east of Aachen, where they both now study (and wrench on vans). After driving my diesel Voyager around the block and commenting on the strange placement of the shifter on the floor between the front seats (it is odd), the older brother, Tizian, gave me a tour of this sacred workplace.

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He started by explaining the purple van you see above. It belongs to his friend, a member of a broad network of Chrysler Voyager owners that Tizian has cultivated over the years, especially as co-founder and operator of the only German Chrysler Voyager forum on the internet, Classic-Voyager.de.

Tizian’s involvement in Germany’s Voyager community is multifaceted. He connects with other van owners through WhatsApp groups and through eBay, plus he plans Chrysler Voyager car shows like this one in Edersee last summer:

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Photo: Tizian
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Here he is with a brother and a friend yanking a V6 motor out of a Voyager:

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Photo: Tizian
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Tizian Knows Everything About These Vans

Tizian sent me the two pictures above in early September after reading one of my articles on Project Krassler. “I stumbled across your Euro Minivan stuff...and am quite delighted you are writing about those cars,” he wrote. He then told me about how the German Chrysler minivan scene has been growing in the past few years, and he talked about the car show last summer.

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“I’d be glad to get in contact, for helping each other out or for whatever reason!” he offered, before saying he might be able to snag me some rare 2.5-liter diesel parts if I needed. In mid-September he kindly emailed me a full parts catalogue:

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In October, he sent me the service document showing fluid capacities and various useful part numbers for regular service items:

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Tizian also emailed me the official Chrysler service manual for repairing the manual transmission, which I feared had a bad throwout bearing.

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That service manual is pretty great. Check this out:

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By now, you should understand that Tizian is not only extremely knowledgeable about Chrysler Voyagers, but he’s also kind and helpful.

The Workshop Filled With Voyagers And Voyager Parts

Anyway, let’s get back to the workshop. Here’s Tizian pointing out how his friend had to adapt U.S.-spec headlights purchased from RockAuto to work in his Euro-spec Voyager, since Euro lights are so hard to find (I had to epoxy one of my broken headlights). Tizian is also noting that the vehicle is having its cylinder heads serviced:

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Then Tizian’s brother Leander showed off his beautiful, black, long-wheelbase Voyager, which had also recently undergone a cylinder-head service after the gasket sprung a leak during a long road trip to Scotland:

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The car had cost Leander only 350 Euros, or about $425, though it had a broken transmission. To demonstrate what had been wrong with his brother’s automatic, Tizian pulled some Chrysler guts out of a Deutsche Post bin:

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Leander told the story of how the duo had yanked out the transmission at an industrial site using a forklift and swapped in Tizian’s old four-speed:

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As Tizian talked about his brother’s transmission fix, in the background stood a shelf absolutely overrun with Chrysler Voyager parts. You can see Tizian going through his extensive parts reserve in the video towards the top of this article.

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Photo: David Tracy

Hanging from the ceiling was an all-wheel-drive rear axle, a fascinating component of the very first generation of all-wheel-drive Chrysler minivans:

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The tour continued with Tizian showing off his coveted DRB II, a rare scan tool used to diagnose Chrysler vehicles from the 1980s and 1990s:

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From there, things got nerdier and nerdier, with the two brothers teaching me about the Chrysler Voyager LE Competition, an absurdly uncommon, tricked-out minivan that Chrysler offered for roughly 60,000 Deutschmarks, or around $35,000, in the mid-1990s. A lot of money back then, but it bought easily the coolest van on the market. Check out the fender flares and BBS wheels:

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“This is the shit! This is the absolute coolest Voyager that drives around,” Tizian exclaimed while describing the LE Competition he had managed to buy for only a few hundred Euros:

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The vehicle had been outfitted with an even-wider-than-stock body kit from the German tuning company RSV. As cool as it looked, though, the kit had apparently trapped dirt and moisture, causing major rust in the rocker panel area:

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Here’s an RSW brochure that Tizian later sent me:

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The company, based out of a town called Sankt Augustin, just about 60 miles from Aachen, offered a surprising variety of parts for first and second-generation Chrysler minivans:

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To fix the purple LE Competition’s rust, Tizian and Leander plan to graft in pieces from another LE Competition that they hacked up. Here’s a look at one of the donor car’s Michigan-designed body-side-outer panels just sitting against a crumbling brick wall in this old mill building in Germany:

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The other body-side-outer, and an entire front-end module, sits elsewhere in the dark mill, as does a huge pallet of engines and all-wheel-drive system parts:

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In this photo you can see another spare engine and an all-wheel-drive rear axle:

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And here are some doors:

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By now, you get the idea that Tizian and Leander’s workshop is filled with loads of random Chrysler Voyager parts that only truly obsessed diehards would collect.

The brothers showed me another van that they’d bought sight-unseen for 300 Euros. The black machine has an exquisite red interior and had apparently been mistakenly registered as a Euro 3 vehicle (an emissions classification), meaning taxes are a bit lower than they perhaps should be.

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Photo: David Tracy

Looking under the hood revealed a dismantled engine that had suffered a cylinder head gasket Undichtung, or leak, something that I gather is a common issue on these 3.3-liter V6 engines.

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While looking at the mess underhood, Tizian took the opportunity to enlighten me about how the Chrysler Voyager cooling module had changed over the years, first having a radiator next to a condenser, then moving to a wide radiator with a wide condenser mounted in front of it. It’s a random tidbit, but Tizian knows it — because he is the King.

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Tizian then showed me his pride and joy: This purple 1994 Chrysler Voyager 3.3-liter.

The Van That Started It All

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It’s the car that started it all.

Tizian and Leander fell in love with Chrysler vans as teenagers, with Tizian recently telling me over a phone call that his affinity for the vehicles began during a high school tradition called Bäumchensetzen.

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Translating to “tree setting,” Bäumchensetzen is a series of parties that take place at people’s homes and in a field in rural areas near Tizian’s old high school. To get to those homes and to the field, students buy crappy old cars and sometimes decorate them. The partying revolves around students planting trees, though really, as Tizian told me, it’s more about just drinking and partying and less about actually exercising green thumbs.

Here’s a look at the teenage madness:

Tizian bought his first Chrysler van in 2012 after having seen students drive one at the prior year’s Bäumchensetzen. “[The van is] just a cool thing...when you’re around this Bäumchensetzen, you need a lot of space,” he told me about why he decided to buy a van. “It costs quite a lot of money, and everybody’s poor...if you fit eight people or seven people into a car, that’s better than having, say three people or four people in a car,” he noted, saying fuel prices can get steep.

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“In the evening there’s a big party on a big grass field. Since it’s a big country — it’s not a town where I come from — you just need a car, otherwise you cannot move around,” he explained.

With all of this in mind, the soon-to-be Chrysler Voyager king headed to southern Germany on a train with some friends to look at a Dodge Grand Caravan.

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“When we saw it...all of us thought ‘God we hope this is not the car’...it was bad.” Though they spent only 390 Euros, it still wasn’t a great deal. “We had no clue...I think I was in the 12th grade...we didn’t even realize that the front right wheel bearing was completely useless...we had absolutely no idea what we were buying.”

“We bought it for Bäumchensetzen, that’s a tradition in our home town,” he went on, saying that the German inspection authority, TUV, told him and his friends to forget about getting this van to pass. “So we just stretched TUV by three months and sold [the Caravan] for 400 Euros or something,” Tizian said.

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“We bought a new [Chrysler van] for the next Bäumchensetzen season,” he told me. Tizian drove the car to Spain and then got rid of it after the summer. But 2013 was the year that changed everything.

“Then, we fall in love,” he said. “That was the moment when we thought ‘this is it,’ and we got the Voyager that I’m still driving today.”

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Here’s a photo of the van at the Arctic Circle in Norway:

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Tizian gave me a full tour of his pride-and-joy, explaining how he’d installed a Liquefied Petroleum Gas system (gasoline is expensive in Germany), and pointing out the helper coil springs that allow him to carry entire engines and transmissions without the rear end sagging:

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Later, we hopped into Tizian’s friend’s Chrysler Town & Country, which had a special grille and a fancy tan interior.

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Tizian gave me a ride, showing off the machine’s incredible digital dashboard:

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Eventually, the three of us left the old textile building, and headed to a parking garage, where Tizian stored even more Chrysler vans. This one is a U.S.-spec Plymouth Voyager that Tizian bought for 200 Euros:

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Also in the garage was a U.S.-spec 1995 Plymouth Grand Voyager that had been turned into a conversion van (as was popular in the 1990s for some reason) by the Indiana-based company Glaval.

On the side of the white van is lettering: Cross Country by Glaval.

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Inside, there is a cathode-ray-tube television and plenty of wood trim, as is normal in a conversion van of this era:

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The King Of Chrysler Voyagers Is An Incredibly Interesting Man

I spent at least six hours with Tizian on that day in early October. After giving me an epic tour of his shop and taking me to the parking garage to see some more vans (and a weird Jeep lookalike!), he and I headed to a local Döneria and picked up some Donor Kebabs and some cans of Coke. We then jumped into the front seats of my van and had dinner together in this dark, old workshop.

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We talked about my time as an engineer at Chrysler in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and he told me some fascinating things about these old vans — and about how he’s a student working on a degree in business administration.

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There’s something that I love about being around people like Tizian — people with true passions. There’s a certain purity to it, a joy for something that doesn’t center on money or fame or status — something that, really, not very many others are interested in. And Tizian knows this. When I asked him what his favorite car is, he answered with: “I think the holy grail would be a Braun Ability...wheelchair Dodge Caravan with the air ride system and the [automatic] ramps, which I don’t need, but that is something very, very cool.”

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Yes, Tizian’s favorite car is a wheelchair ramp-equipped Chrysler van. When I asked him how many other people share this favorite vehicle with him, he acknowledged: “I think nobody thinks that.”

I find Tizian’s focus admirable. This man knows what he loves, and he pursues it to his fullest. Most people in this world aren’t this devoted to anything, but in my travels to other car-lovers like Tizian, I have found that the people who are are some of the most interesting, intellectually captivating folks I’ve ever meet.

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Tizian and I have been in contact since our meeting in October, discussing Voyager-related nerdiness. Look at this random question about the silicone oil found in the Voyager all-wheel drive system’s viscous coupling unit:

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Here’s an amazing Voyager-related Christmas card that Tizian received from a friend:

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In December, someone tried to steal this man’s cherished van. How messed up is that?!:

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Tizian also shared this incredible Ram Van, a cargo version of the second-gen Chrysler minivan. It’s awesome:

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Then yesterday, Tizian and I had a video chat, and my god was it epic:

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Tizian had scored the grail. It was something that the young wrencher and I had discussed when I was in Aachen: the Converta-Bed, a hyper-rare option on first and second-generation Voyagers that turned the second and third row benches into a bed. Here’s an ad for it from Chrysler’s brochure:

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Tizian had told me back in October that he had an eBay alert set for Converta-Beds, but that there was “no chance” he’d ever get one. Well, he drove from Aachen to the Stuttgart area yesterday, over 350 miles, solely to pick up the holy grail of Chrysler minivan seating options.

He was absolutely thrilled, and I have to be honest, so was I. The Converta-Bed is so cool! I’d been dreaming about owning one myself!

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Tizian is in the process of documenting how the folding mechanism works, as there’s essentially no information about it on the internet. From Tizian:

Illustration for article titled How This Young German Became A World Expert On Chrysler Minivans
Photo: Tizian
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Tizian is one of the greatest ambassadors of van culture this world has, and the car community should treasure him. (Also, to Tizian’s Mom: I know you think your son has gone off the deep end, but even if it may not seem this way, you should know that what he is doing has real cultural value. I had to say that, because it’s true, and because Tizian told me he hopes this article will get you to cut him a little slack).

Sr. Tech Editor, Jalopnik. Owner of far too many Jeeps (Including a Jeep Comanche). Follow my instagram (@davidntracy). Always interested in hearing from engineers—email me.

DISCUSSION

bigsexydaniel
Dan's Dance Revolution

I didn’t think a 4,000-word essay on obscure vans would make me nostalgic for Germany, and then you just HAD to sneak döner kebab in there. Now I’m sitting here lusting for food that’s an ocean and a pandemic away.