What's a T-115?
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Updated:
24 April 2007

 

Former Chrysler Chairman, Lee Iacocca is often credited with inventing the minivan.

But give true credit to his trusted engineering - product development sidekick. They worked together on the original 1964 Ford Mustang.


Hal Sperlich, is more accurately called the "father of the minivan." 

But the title and his formula did not come easily:

When Sperlich, (like Iacocca) worked at Ford Motor Company,  it was Sperlich who came up with the then-radical design idea for a FWD minivan, which Henry Ford II promptly rejected by tossing both the idea and the man out the door in the mid-seventies.

But in 1977-78, Chrysler, then much in need of product innovation, adopted both Sperlich and the FWD minivan formula concept and profited hugely from that decision. Sperlich (later promoted to President of Chrysler) writes:

"They (Ford) lacked confidence that a market existed, because the product didn't exist. The auto industry places great value on historical studies of market segments. Well, we couldn't prove that there was a market for the minivan because there was no historical segment to cite.

Thus, in Detroit, most product-development dollars are spent on modest improvements to existing products and most market research money is spent studying what customers like among available products. In 10 years of developing the minivan we never once got a letter from a housewife asking us to invent one. To the skeptics, that proved there wasn't a market out there."


Click here to view Photo Gallery -- All Rights Reserved  2003 - Lee K. Shuster


Project T-115, Inventing a  "Magic Wagon"

It's hard to remember, but before the minivan and SUV, you had traditional rear wheel drive Station Wagons and Full-size vans, (which wouldn't fit into a standard garages), so Sperlich knew that he had to make the Project T-115 van garageable. In addition, to garageability, Mopar planners knew they had to design the minivan with a friendly interior. A focus on clever interior packaging and thoughtful interior features was important in developing the new market segment, the T-115 was about to create.

By making the vehicle front-wheel drive, designers could ensure a low, flat floor, which allowed for easy entry and exit, as well as space for chair-high seating.  To ensure a passenger-friendly vehicle, Chrysler designed a side-sliding passenger door that opened 30 inches, the size of a standard home door opening. Other requirements included a flat floor and 48 inches between wheel wells, perfect for fitting a standard 4' x 8' sheet of plywood and allow seating for three adults.  There were even two cup-holders!

Project T-115, (the initial minivan development program) cost $700 million (U.S.) and took about five years - a small price for a "magic wagon" that would forever change the mode of family transportation. Little did anyone (except maybe Hal Sperlich) realize what  "chart-busting" or "segment-defining" impact these popular vehicles would have on the world automotive scene for decades.

All Rights Reserved  2003 - Lee K. Shuster

The second generation (Gen-2)  T-115 (1991 - 1995) was rather ingeniously redesigned by (now-retired) Chrysler design-guru, Thomas C. Gale, who had just been given charge of the profitable Minivan division. Gale also oversaw the very successful "cab-forward" LH-family, the Plymouth Prowler, the  Dodge Viper and Ram truck, and the PT Cruiser  introductions in the nineties.

 

Wind tunnel testing revealed the T-115's aero drag coefficient of:


Cd = 0.43  and a total Frontal Area of 26.97 ft2.
Note: Despite the T-115's boxy shape it was cleaner than any existing (circa 1984) station wagon!

Compare this to the Omni GLH Turbo's figures of:
Cd = 0.42 and Frontal Area of 19.61 ft2. 

 

Specifications for Gen-2 1991-95 T-115 FWD T-115 SWB 3-door van T-115 LWB 3-door van
Wheelbase, in. 112.3 119.3
Overall Length, in. 178.1 192.8
Overall Width, in. 72.0 72.0
Overall Height, in. 66.0 66.7
Curb Weight, lbs. 3305 3573
Cargo Volume, cu. ft. (All seats removed) 117.0 141.3
Cargo Volume, cu. ft. (5-passenger seating) 53.9 72.3
Cargo Volume, cu. ft. (7-passenger seating) 13.3 25.7
Fuel Capacity, gals. 20.0 20.0
Seating Capacity 7 7
Front Head Room, in. 39.1 39.1
Max. Front Leg Room, in. 38.3 38.3
Rear Head Room, in. 38.5 38.4
Min. Rear Leg Room, in. 37.6 37.7