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Car of the Month, August 2011: Chris Carpenter's 2000 Chrysler Town & Country
"When Practicality Overrules Sexiness"


by Chris J. Carpenter

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Like it or not,
we are a culture of stereotypes. Putting aside whether it is morally
"wrong" or "right" we are a species who judges- everyone
must have a place. I have always firmly believed in the right to be unique- the
right to not conform.

I'm a mid-20s
American man who proudly drives a 2000 Chrysler Town & Country Limited.
It's nowhere near the most technologically-advanced
vehicle, and it's not a Formula-1 performance car. But it's an American car. Although more commonly found
laden with half-empty juice boxes, Nabisco crackers and several lost homework
assignments, not all Town & Countrys fell into the sticky fingers of
America's cherubs.
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Just ask Cuyler
Black, a brilliant young artist and youth worker from southern Connecticut.
With a heart of a compassion, Black has charmed and
inspired many with his canvas creations, as well as through his delightfully
comedic demeanor.

"I owned three
different minivans and drove them all through my twenties, into my early
thirties," Black said. "The years when you figure most young, single guys want
to be behind the wheel of a hot car. But I guess that just wasn't my concern. I
was well aware that as I sped down the highway and a cute girl in an Audi
convertible looked over at me, she was thinking, 'He's married, with three
kids', but I guess practicality over-ruled sexiness for me."

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It was a car that defined a
generation. It changed the way the modern American family moved and it became
an indelible part of today's twenty-something's past. And although its hay day
has come and gone in favor of sport utilities and crossovers, Chrysler's revolutionary minivan segment forever changed the way we
look at family transportation.

Built at the former Fenton/St.
Louis, Missouri plant, it is one of the few remaining Chrysler minivans that
saw final assembly right here in the United States. Under the hood is
Chrysler's bullet-proof 3.8 litre EGH push-rod V6,
rated at 180 hp, mated to the 4-speed automatic 41TE transmission.
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On the outside, the Town &
Country Limited models were identical to LXi models with the exception of a
body-color roof rack, chrome-clad aluminum wheels and chrome door pulls. The
Limited also added a rear Chrysler wing-badge to the tailgate
which would later become standard on fourth-generation models. It's
champagne pearl, a common color for many Chrysler's of the model year and
although it sports a white pinstripe around the windows, the light color of the
gold paint makes it nearly impossible to see.
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Affectionately named "Iago" after
the testy character in Shakespeare's "Othello," the van has not been without
problems - but the experiences and lessons learned as a result make it all
worth it. To differentiate him from the multitude of his peers, I've made a
handful of modifications to encourage "a van set apart."

After a lot of research and
fascinating discussion with the folks over at ChryslerMinivan.net, I decided to
take a risk and upgrade the exhaust system. The stock catalytic converter,
muffler and resonator were all replaced with a Magnaflow High-Flow Catalytic
Converter, Bosch Premium O2 sensors, and a Flowmaster 40 Series muffler.
(Resonator deleted.)

After several hours of hard work,
and welding on the obligatory exhaust pipe tip, it was time to start it up. I
couldn't have been happier with the results; the van cranked to life and filled
the garage bay with a sound more commonly found on higher-end sports coupes.
The van sounded deep, throaty and had a very nice growl to it both at idle and
while under load, all without being obnoxious in the volume department.
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If you've ever looked under the
hood of a 1996-2000 Chrysler minivan, you'll immediately notice a rather large,
bulky box mounted to the radiator wall above the air filter housing. This
obnoxious disturbance of space is nothing more than a resonator/air box
silencer that sits between the air filter and the throttle body assembly. I
removed it and made a direct connection to the throttle body from the air
filter assembly using cut-to-length plastic tubing and band clamps found at The
Home Depot.
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When it came time to do the plugs
and wires, I replaced the OEM dual-platinum Champion spark plugs with a set of
Bosch Iridium Fusion +4 plugs and Bosch Premium wire set. I upgraded the
battery from a 550CCA (OEM) unit to a 800CCA battery
and installed a re-useable K&N air filter. (The van's stock air intake
system is about as "cold" as you can get, so there was no functional need to
opt for an alternatively-mounted cone filter.)

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The van runs on Mobil 1
Fully-Synthetic 0W-40 motor oil only, and I keep to a 5,000 mile change interval. (It is
not necessary to maintain such a short interval with synthetic oil, it's just my
own personal preference.) With regards to filters, I use the higher-capacity
Motorcraft FL-1A oil filter which also has better
anti-drain back valve construction (makes a noticeable difference in the
"lifter tick" that these engines typically have).

The
rear tail lamp housings were replaced with aftermarket Euro-Altezza style units
with slightly better reflectors, making the lights appear brighter than stock.
The center high-mounted stop lamp was converted over to LEDs.

I replaced the
grille with a new unit, but decided to paint the grille slats jet black instead
of the stock dark grey. The original head lamp, marker lamp and fog lamp
housings were pretty weathered given their age and were all replaced.

The 1996-2000 Chrysler minivans
(U.S.) came with two different head lamp housings. All
model year Caravan, Voyager and '96-'97 Town & Country models came with
standard head lamp housings- which included a
dual-filament (high/low beam) head lamp bulb and an outboard dual-filament
(marker/turn signal) bulb.

The front fascia redesign of the
Town & Country models for 1998 saw the introduction of the "quad" head lamp housings. The 1998-2000 Town & Country models
had separate high and low beam bulbs in each head lamp housing, with the turn
signal/marker lamp moved to separate housings located beneath the head lamps on
the front fascia.
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I replaced the quad head lamp housings with black aftermarket Spyder units with
halogen projectors and halo "angel eye" LED accents. Since these are also
designed to fit the Caravan and Voyager models of the same generation, they
include an additional outboard space for a turn signal/marker lamp bulb in
addition to the traditional quad high and low beam bulbs. As I felt the head lamps looked unbalanced without the turn signal/marker
lamp sections filled, I added a bulb to the head lamp housings and wired them
to operate with the marker lamps, but only on the turn signal/flashing
function. Otherwise they do not come on with the marker lights.
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The marker lamp housings were
replaced with OEM replacements, and the fog lamp housings were replaced with
black halogen projector beam housings with halo "angel eye" LED accents to
match the head lamp housings. Traditionally, 3rd generation vans equipped with fog lamps require the low-beam headlamps to be
switched on in order for the fog lamps to be operational. I modified the wiring
so that the fog lamps turn on with the marker lamps, thus breaking their
dependence on the main headlamp operation. (This modification would become
standard in the next-generation minivan.)

Other exterior modifications
include the addition of a Class-III Hidden-Hitch trailer hitch (which completes
the trailer tow package standard on the Town & Country Limited). I added
the Thule Tracker II rack system and Thule Wind Fairing to allow for transport
of skis/snowboards as well as a bike on the roof. The front and rear windshield
wipers were upgraded to spineless Bosch Icon/Excel wipers.

Aside from a brand-new set of
Monroe Sensa-Trac front struts and a set of rear-helper springs, the suspension
has remained largely stock. The vehicle came equipped with the Nivomat
load-leveling rear shocks and in collaboration with the Michelin X-Radial
[215/65R16] tires- it still has one of the finest rides of any passenger
vehicle I've been in.

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The interior of the van has
remained mostly stock as well.
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The Town & Country Limited came with premium
leather seating- dual power/heated front seats, suede
interior paneling, wood grain accents, and "Limited" embroidered front floor
mats. The 3rd row bench seat has a higher back than other models,
matching the profile height of the 2nd row captain's chairs and
providing additional support. The bench also offers a center
fold down leather arm rest for when the middle seating position is not
in use. Along with the standard 10-speaker (in 8 locations) Infinity Acoustic
10 audio system, rear cabin heating and air conditioning, individual courtesy
lamps and air vents at all outboard seating positions, the van is pretty well
set in the interior department.

The largest modification I made
inside is to the audio system. I installed an auxiliary port to allow the usage
of MP3 and other devices, as well as a custom hands-free integration kit for my
iPhone 4. The system allows me to dock my iPhone in a charging cradle that
keeps it in a viewable/accessible spot while integrating fully with the sound
system. It plays all audio (including phone call
audio) through the van's radio. I added an external microphone
which is wired to the top of the steering column that picks up my voice
for use during hands-free calling and voice command operation of the phone.
Since the system plays all audio, live voice guidance from my GPS app also
plays through the van as well.

It has an incredibly comfortable ride, the
materials used throughout the interior are of superb quality and do not reflect
the plague of decontenting that infected the industry. My Town & Country
has all the features I want and none that I don't.
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The controls are laid out
logically and visibility is superb; making driving a
pleasure every time. It gives me the experience of having a high-end luxury
car, without being a high-end luxury car.

My Town & Country suits my life
perfectly. It's able to tow/haul a large amount of cargo, it has the ability to
transport seven passengers comfortably, it's a
rigid/versatile vehicle that stands up to a fast-paced life. In the event
something malfunctions, the vehicle is a breeze to work on for the most part.
Over 10 years old with and nearly 150k miles on it, it's seen most of the
country in a wide range of weather, handling wonderfully. For me, this is the
only vehicle I've found that combines utility, efficiency, versatility, style,
performance and comfort in a way that is most practical for me.

My car came
from an era where the auto industry knew how to make a genuine product, where
their goal was to create a piece of art and to leave an impression.
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