Yarn – Nobody Ever Talks About Ford's Carrousel Concept

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Chrysler was the first manufacturer to launch a truly competitive Minivan in the US market. Of course, Volkswagen had been around for years with its Microbus and Toyota beat Chrysler to the market by a few months with its forward control Toyota Van, but Chrysler launched the first “real” Minivan. But Chrysler was not first with the concept.
Ford Minivan Concepts Were Precursors to Chrysler’s Extremely Successful Minivans
The concepts leading up to the Chrysler Minivan were done at Ford Motor Company. Two groups developed competing Minivan concepts. Hal Sperlich’s Advanced Vehicle Engineering Team developed a Minivan concept based on a front wheel drive platform. It was called the “MiniMax”. Hal Sperlich was later to take this basic concept to Chrysler where the K-Car based Minivans were developed and launched in early 1980s. The second Minivan concept… one that has never really seen the light of day, was the Carrousel. Carrousel was developed by Alex Galaniuk’s Light Truck Advanced Engineering team in 1974 running parallel with the MiniMax.
Carrousel 1974 Blog.jpg
Carrousel was a relatively simple concept – take a short wheelbase Econoline Van and make an extremely luxurious wagon/family hauler out of it. The Carrousel had a 460 CID V8 (tucked under the instrument panel in the style of full size vans those days), Thunderbird interior, woodgrain sides, whitewall tires and full wheel covers. It was fully driveable and the prototype was produced by Carron & Company in Inkster, Michigan. The interior had a full flat rear load floor and folding second row seat developed by Lear for the concept. Carrousel was a 5-passenger van.
Inexpensive Program Killed Because it Threatened Country Squire
In those days, Carrousel was a $67 million dollar program. Petty cash to a big car company like GM or Ford or Chrysler. But Carrousel was never to see the light of day. It died when Ford’s research showed it would cannibalize heavily from the Country Squire station wagon then a Ford family jewel. Threatening the Country Squire was verboten and Carrousel (and MiniMax – not so much of a threat) was shelved only to be seen a decade later behind Ford’s Truck Engineering building resting on four flat tires with its paint peeling.
While Carrousel was based on a rear wheel drive platform that was not as package-efficient as a front wheel drive Minivan, its styling and utility would have establlished a quick and low investment program. Another nail in the coffin… General Motors had nothing like Carrousel. In the days when Ford followed GM’s lead in almost everything, that was a definite vote against the innovative new idea.

This article has 4 comments

  1. Sark 02/20/2006, 2:42 pm:

    All this needs is a sliding door on the driver’s side and it is a winner. Imagine. A 1974 minivan that would have been fully competitive with those days’ fuel economy and would not have even turned off the Country Squire traditionalists. Wow.

  2. Dick Nesbitt 06/29/2007, 6:49 am:

    –My background as Carrousel (Carousel?) designer and the Carrousel development story was covered in great detail in the April,1988 Volume 4 Number 6 issue of Collectible Automobile Magazine…………
    Hi Dick:
    Missed that issue. I’ll look for it.
    Thanks,
    ED

  3. Dick Nesbitt 07/03/2007, 10:28 pm:

    The Carousel significantly influenced the Chrysler Minivan success story.
    –Hal Sperlich And Lee Iacocca have often referred to the MinMax as being the inspiration for the Voyager/Caravan–Although it was a very small urban vehicle created as a possible solution to overcrowded city traffic problems.
    The MiniMax was a four passenger front wheel drive commuter concept with almost no storage capacity and no real future.
    The significance of the Carousel proposal was that it offered a dramatically improved alternative to the interior-space-restricted station wagons of the 1970′s.
    The interior plans for the Carousel included everything from conventional front facing bench seats or captain’s chair variations to some very unusual layouts.
    One of the most interesting versions incorporated a combined rear and side facing “U” shaped rear seat proposal.
    The instrument panel was all-new and specific to the Carousel to further enhance it’s unique character and the proposed upholstery trim levels were all very high grade materials similar to Ford’s LTD Brougham in quality.
    The key “Nantucket” variation design and marketing directive was to create a lower “garagable” overall height compared to the Econoline van range from which it was derived,combined with more automotive-like styling.
    The non-garagable height and truck-like styling of the Econoline Club Wagon series were seen as major obstacles to realize any kind of high volume sales typical of contemporary station wagons–but the interior room available in a van had obvious advantages.
    –The Carousel was intended to represent the best of both worlds,and was seen by Ford as a major marketing breakthrough opportunity.
    Chrysler’s Minivans were and are not really “mini” at all–and achieved monumental success as a more space efficient alternative to contemporary station wagons combined with “garagable” height and automotive-like styling as a direct extension of the original Carousel idea from 1972.
    –It was an honor and a privilage to have been selected as the designer responsible for the Carousel styling effort.
    During the time of it’s creation and development,HF II himself thought the Carousel was going to be as significant and as successful as the Mustang was in 1964.
    It was a top prioity at the Ford Boca Raton,Florida New Product Strategy Review Meeting in 1973.
    The OPEC oil restrictions beginning in late 1973 brought about drastic changes dramatically effecting Ford’s future product planning.
    Henry Ford II was most enthusiastic about the modest development costs and the market share increases the Carousel would have achieved,but he pulled the plug on anything that wasn’t a direct replacement for an existing product line during the deep recession of 1974.
    The launch was intended for 1975–and no doubt would have been a spectacular success for 1976-1977-1978.

  4. Dick Nesbitt 07/12/2007, 4:01 pm:

    Hi George
    – Could you tell me where you got the great color pic of the Carron & Company Carousel and info about the Carron & Company participation on the Carousel??
    I would like to have a high-quality print of this pic for my files………….
    Thanks for your help.
    Dick Nesbitt

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