1990 Pontiac Trans Sport

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chicagotribune.com
Trans Sport. The name had flair. So did the vehicle, a concept of whatthe front-wheel-drive multipurpose hauler of the future would look like.

A few years ago, the Pontiac Trans Sport was one of the best-lookingconcept vehicles ever to grace the auto show circuit.

Trans Sport had a long, tubular, almost sausage-like plastic body. Theroof and sides were glassy, for viewing the scenery. The front end was roundedand elongated just enough to provide a sense of security: If you hitsomething, you figured you`d come out the winner.

Inside, the mini-van held the entire family in individual bucket seats.The real charm, for easy entry or exit, was the pop-up gull-wing door system. The public loved it, and General Motors Corp. gave the go-ahead to buildthe Trans Sport, Chevy Lumina and Olds Silhouette plastic-bodied mini-vans, ona 109.8-inch wheelbase and 193.9 inches long.

The concept was transformed into reality-and reality set in, in a bigway.

Make that reality as in bean counters, who won out over the stylists. Intrying to describe the production version of the concept vehicle, a few words come to mind: One is civilized, as in risks avoided; the other is sterilized,as in hold the sauce and make mine vanilla.

There`s still lots of glass, but mostly along the sides. There are stillbuckets for 6 to 7 occupants, but rather than individual stereo headsets, asin the concept vehicle, the passengers now have to settle for seat backs that fold into table tops with cupholders. There are still doors, but theconventional slide-open side door won out over the pop-up gull-wing.

Some executives said gull-wings cost too much. Others said the doorswould hit overhead hardware in garage ceilings. Still others said the gull-wings were doomed because consumers associated them with the infamoussports car from ex-GM executive John Z. DeLorean, better known around the GMbuilding as ``who?``

Rather than strip the concept vehicle of all personality and character,GM came up with a plan to take that rounded and slightly extended nose andstretch it. Now, the first snowfall transforms it into a ski hill.

Whereas the nose on the concept vehicle left you with a secure feeling of mass serving as a barrier between you and the object ahead, the protrudingbeak on the finished product leaves you with a sense of insecurity as youwonder where the hood ends and the metal post begins in that parking lot spot you`ve just pulled into.

Then there`s the dash, which more closely resembles a plastic-bottom bunk bed. It`s not so much that the size of the dash is distracting, though a humanbeing could nap on it; the real wonder comes from the fact that the dozercould toss or turn in sleep and not roll off.

Do you need to clean the picture window-size windshield that meets thatdash roughly three feet ahead of you? Send out for a service or reach for along-handled mop and swipe away.

We previously drove the Chevy Lumina APV and now have tested the upscaleOlds Silhouette version of the vehicle. We had hoped upscale would meandifferent. After all, GM says its vehicles aren`t clones of each otheranymore.

Yet Silhouette had only a few modest differences from Lumina, one beinga small glove box in the dash that holds a map or two. Upscale means mostitems optional in Lumina are standard in Silhouette. They`re clones.

Like its GM cousins, Silhouette is powered by a 3.1-liter, 120-horsepower V-6 engine teamed with a 3-speed automatic transmission and rated at 18 miles per gallon city/23 highway.

As previously reported, a 4-speed automatic is on the way in a year, anda 3.8-liter, 160-to-170-horsepower V-6 is earmarked for 1992. The 3.1 V-6 has ample power when Dad, Dad and Mom, or Dad, Mom and a child or two are aboard. Add any more family members or guests and luggage, and the 3.8 V-6 would come in handy.

While disappointed that he production van doesn`t more closely reflectthe concept vehicle, we aren`t discouraged. The fact that GM is going to beef up the powerplant shows that some progress is going to be made.

Having seat backs that fold into tables and 12 cupholders scatteredthroughout the interior is encouraging, too. This is a people hauler, and the conversion into a mini-diner for tailgate parties, picnics, long trips orsimply the weekly run to Mickey D`s is a plus. You`d never have that luxury ina station wagon.

And the aerodynamic styling does have a major advantage: You can powerdown the driver`s window and still maintain a conversation with your front-seat passenger without wind disturbance, because the bends in the plasticbody deposit air around and away from you.

But we`d certainly like the folks who voted aye on the ski slope up front and the king-size dash to come up with an alternative quickly.

Other changes we`d like to see are minor. One would be to replace thegraphic on the hood opener, making it a van rather than the car now portrayedthere, simply for a touch of class. The other would be to relocate the wiring clutter around the oil filter, to make servicing easier and the chance ofdestroying the wiring less likely.

Silhouette carries a $17,195 base price. Standard equipment includes airconditioning; power brakes and steering; front, side and rear defoggers; floormats; dual remote mirrors; AM/FM stereo with digital clock; tilt wheel; all-season radials; tinted side and liftgate glass; solar-treated windshield;and rear-window wiper.

The vehicle we drove added an option package consisting of power doorlocks, cruise control, power windows, power seats, leather seats and upgraded radio to include cassette for $1,750. There also were touring suspension, for $232, and electric rear-window defogger, for $160. The sticker read $19,087,plus $500 for freight.




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