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1972 Ford Carousel Minivan Concept Car


1972 Ford Carousel Minivan Concept Car Aftermath
Lee Iacocca and Dick Nesbitt took their minivan plans with them to Chrysler after Ford nixed the concept. The rest is automotive history.
Lee Iacocca and Dick Nesbitt took their minivan plans with them to Chrysler after Ford nixed the concept. The rest is automotive history.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.

After several years of development, Ford planned to launch the Carousel minivan alongside the new 1975 Econoline full-size van. But it didn't happen, and the 1972 Ford Carousel minivan concept car aftermath is the stuff of legends.

When OPEC turned off America's oil tap in late 1973, gas supplies dwindled, prices soared, and people lined up to buy small economy cars, shunning bigger vehicles as never before -- cars and trucks alike. With that, Ford decided the Carousel had no future, and abruptly canceled it.

What happened next is that Lee Iacocca, fired by Henry Ford II in 1978 from the position of president, took fellow executive Hal Sperlich along to rescue faltering Chrysler. He sealed its recovery by reviving the Carousel concept for the T115 Caravan/Voyager, thus uncovering the huge minivan market that Chrysler still dominates today. Ironically, the T115 was much like what the Carousel would have been except for being based on a front-drive passenger car (Chrysler's life-saving 1981 K-body compact).

In retrospect, then, Ford was unwise to throw out its baby-van idea with the energy-crisis bathwater. Though RV sales remained sluggish, the overall market was again healthy when the 1975 Econoline appeared.

Considering how Chrysler later fared with minivans, it's likely Carousel would have been another sales blockbuster a la Mustang -- and another big feather in Iacocca's fedora. While it probably wouldn't have prevented his firing, it would have given Dearborn a big competitive edge in the light-truck field for the second energy crisis that hit in 1979.

And there's the greatest irony of all, for the Carousel promised to be far more fuel-efficient than any full-size van would be for a long time to come. Though its likely powertrains remain unclear, lower weight implied a nice performance/economy balance with a modest six, and better than adequate performance with Ford's 302-cubic-inch small-block V-8, which certainly would have fit.

But Dearborn missed its chance to define the modern minivan and has had to play catch-up ever since -- first with the trucky rear-drive Aerostar, then the Chrysler-like front-drive Ford Windstar. By 2006, Ford was out of the minivan business altogether, and had cast its family-hauler lot with "crossover" wagons such as the Taurus X and Flex.

If there's a moral to this story, it is that a good idea remains a good idea no matter who takes advantage of it first.

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