In the early 1990′s, minivans were everywhere. However most Japanese minivans were adapted from commercial vans in Japan, which happened to be smaller than their American counterparts. These vans were oddly configured, with the driver’s front legs hanging awkwardly and precariously in the front of the car, and the engines tended to be under the front seats.
Honda, having long marched to the beat of their own drummer, did what they did best- a front wheel drive van based on the Accord parts bin. This van, known as the Odyssey, was originally built for the Japanese market. As a result, it was barely longer and wider than an Accord, yet incredibly space efficient with room for up to seven passengers. The car also had conventional rear doors with power windows at a time when a single sliding door on the right side of the car was the norm. Second-row captains chairs were standard on the EX and the third row retracted easily into the floor, which had never been done before. When the third row was up, a handy compartment was available for valuables under the seat. All models sold in the US had a standard rear AC unit, so everyone traveled in comfort. Not only was the Odyssey versatile, but it was a fun car to drive.
With its sports-car like double wishbones at all four corners, the Odyssey had great handling for a van. Then again, it wasn’t really a van, but a tall wagon, and had the handling and fuel economy to match. With standard ABS and dual airbags, this tall wagon had a full complement of safety features.
The one to get is any 1998 model year Odyssey. The 1998 model got the updated engine from the 1998 Accord, and a revised instrument panel with a tach. Get an EX if you want Captain’s Chairs and can live with room for six, the LX if you need more human carrying capacity. Prices range from $2-5K, a bargain given the reliability and versatility of these cars.
For the 1999 model year, the Odyssey was redesigned and forked for the North American market. It was a conventional minivan, not charming in any way, and a runaway success.