In Minneapolis, Minnesota sits a minivan so rare, I have no choice but to refer to it as The Holy Grail. Yes, it looks like a normal Ford Aerostar, but trust me: It is more akin to a chalice filled with the elixir of life. I recently had a chance to see the glorious machine up close, and now I am a changed man. Here’s why.
(We’re taking today to celebrate Juneteenth, a day on which we celebrate the emancipation of Black people who were held as slaves in the United States. We will be celebrating, but we will also be taking time to reflect on the history and legacy of slavery, as well as the ongoing structural, institutional and systemic anti-Black racism that continues to be a defining characteristic of the United States today.)
I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur of rare, manual-transmission versions of common cars. Take the Holy Grail Jeep Grand Cherokee that I just can’t seem to stop writing about; Jeep only built roughly 1,500, and I’m about to own four of them (more on that later). I also used to drive a manual Saturn Vue, plus I own the Holy Grail of Chrysler minivans, a 1995 diesel manual Chrysler Voyager. I also nearly bought the Holy Grail of GM Minivans, a manual Pontiac Trans Sport with the beloved Quad-4 four-cylinder engine.
After my articles about Chrysler and GM minivans, you may be wondering if Ford had a minivan Grail of its own. The answer is yes, and for the first time in my life, I actually saw it with my own eyes.
It belongs to a man named CJ, a Union Pacific employee living in the Minneapolis area. “If you happen to have time to visit, or break down, near Minneapolis, MN let me know,” he emailed me last month upon hearing about my trip out west in my Land Cruiser.
At the end of the email, he listed his cars:
In Year descending order:
2015 VW Golf TDI Manual
2001 Ford F250 7.3 Diesel
1997 Hyundai Tiburon Manual
1996 Ford Aerostar
1995 Pontiac Grand Prix (In need of some work)
1994 Chrysler Town and Country (In need of a lot of work, wish you were here to help lol)
1992 Ford Aerostar MANUAL
1992 Infiniti M30 Convertible
1992 Infiniti M30 Convertible (supposed to be a parts car...)
Upon reading the seventh line, my eyes grew to the size of hot air balloons, I spit coffee all over my monitor (I don’t actually drink coffee, so I had to go out and buy some solely for this task), and grabbed a paper bag to breathe into as I gathered myself. This man had a manual Ford Aerostar? I thought those were just urban myths communicated in secret codes at car shows around America. Rumor has it that if you decode the official flier for the 1992 Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance, you will find the message: “MTX AEROSTAR EXISTS.”
Despite this, I’ve never been convinced that such a magnificent machine exists. Aside from some Craigslist listings that may or may not have been photoshopped, and aside from official Ford brochures and the EPA’s website (neither of which can be trusted, let’s be honest) evidence has eluded me. Until now.
On my return trip through Minnesota, I sent CJ an email asking if he wanted to meet. He showed up in his 1992 Ford Aerostar powered by a 3.0-liter V6 engine bolted to a magnificent five-speed manual transmission. Behold the grail, the real, actually-existing, true, intact Ford minivan grail:
That bulletproof 3.0-liter Vulcan V6 only made about 135 horsepower and 160 lb-ft of torque. And moving probably somewhere around 3,500 pounds of van, I bet that feels rather slow, even with the manual transmission robbing less power than the automatic. You’ll hear CJ struggle to answer when I asked him if the van was quick. “It’s not a ball of fire. It’s an early ’90s minivan,” he admits before reassuring me that, despite its lack of speed, the van is fun to drive thanks to the stick.
That manual is the five-speed Mazda-designed M5OD found in lots of 1990s Ford products like the Ranger and Explorer. It’s a light-duty manual known for its so-so reliability based on what I’ve read on online forums. If properly maintained it will last, and even if it doesn’t, rebuilding it is a lot simpler and cheaper than fixing a four-speed automatic.
That’s one of the benefits of the five-speed Aerostar: This thing has potential to continue driving until the end of time. The fact that the stick makes it more fun, and the fact that this is the extended version and can basically act as a covered pickup truck just makes this machine even more grail-y.
Add fantastic two-tone paint, the Aerostar’s futuristic styling, and the rear-wheel drive layout, and what you’ve got is a reliable, fun-to-drive, practical, handsome little drift-van. Asking for more in this life would just be greedy. This van is all you need. This van is all any of us needs.
So for all of you folks out there in your underground bunkers staring at pinned-up pages of old car show brochures, decoding books to try to solve this mystery: It’s over. Go back out into the world and re-acclimatize to society knowing that indeed, the manual Ford Aerostar exists, and it is glorious.
Correction: I previously described the extended model as the “long wheelbase” variant. Turns out, all of the additional length was behind the rear axle. The wheelbase on all Aerostars is the same!