Friday, December 13, 2013

1997 Plymouth Grand Voyager SE Extended Wheelbase

The Really Important Stuff
Engine 2.4 L I4
Transmission 4-Speed Automatic
Power 150 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque 167 ft-lbs @ 4000 rpm
Fuel Economy City/Highway 16/23
Curb Weight 3790 lbs
Base Price When New $21,335
Market Value (Excellent Condition, 100K miles) $1,721

I drove this van for a year as a campus shuttle at my Alma Mater, Colorado College. It was horrendous in every way, yet I became inexplicably attached to it. There were surely reasons enough to hate it.  Here are a few big ones:

  • The power: 150 hp just isn't enough for a vehicle this heavy. It was sluggish and unresponsive.
  • The comfort: The suspension was too bouncy half the time, and too stiff the other half.  I could never understand how this was even possible. The interior had a purely utilitarian design that constantly reminded me I was at work, and not cruising the town just for kicks.
  • The steering: The wheel would turn about 15 degrees in either direction with no response whatsoever. The steering feel reminded me of those playgrounds with a ship's helm that isn't connected to anything. On cambered roads you would have to hold the wheel at about 45 degrees off center to keep the van in a straight line.

And here are quite a few more little ones:

  • The headlights were so dim you could barely tell they were on, and the high beams were only marginally brighter.
  • The interior perpetually reeked of alcohol and vomit.
  • We referred to the heater as "the owl", because of the sound it made while it was running.
  • The dashboard lights would intermittently shut off for minutes at a time.
  • The right turn signal blinked at double speed.

There was one final flaw that cemented this car’s membership in the lemon club:  its clunky transmission.  I always found the story behind it to be quite entertaining.  Many years ago one of the drivers was a man who had lost an arm, so a knob had been installed on the steering wheel to assist with turning.  Once while he was driving, the knob fell off and, unable to control the vehicle, the man drove it over a curb leaving it high-centered on the transmission. The repair was botched, and ever since then the van would lurch violently with every gear change.

And yet, despite the van's numerous defects, I grew to love it. I began to appreciate the driving characteristics, and found the quirks and faults more endearing than frustrating. More than anything, I loved the time I spent driving it.  I remember being constantly entertained by the antics of drunk passengers.  I loved the thrill of driving in winter blizzards at night.  My coworkers and I would challenge each other to brake smoothly on the icy roads without engaging the ABS.  Occasionally we would get huge tips from passengers, even though it was a free service.  Some of our passengers would board the van dressed in bizarre costumes for themed parties.

Perhaps then, my attachment is more to that time in my life than to the van itself, but that worn-out old Plymouth Voyager will always hold a place in my heart.


  • It was the beating heart of Colorado College’s nightlife.


  • A multitude of issues made it difficult, uncomfortable, and borderline dangerous to drive.

The Bottom Line:  It was complete and utter rubbish...but I loved it.

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