Imagine this. You’re a kid in the early-2000s chilling in your parents’ Ford Windstar when boom, a timer in the cargo area goes off and pizza bagels are ready. If you don’t think that’s the tightest shit, get out of my face. While Ford never actually sold a production-spec Windstar with a built-in microwave, they did team up with Maytag Corporation in a brief moment of pre-9/11 optimism to make a fully decked-out minivan called the Windstar Solutions.
According to the press release for the Windstar Solutions, this one-off vehicle was borne from Ford and Maytag research that delved into the lifestyle demands of busy parents. Record numbers of working mothers were a myopic fixation for project coordinators and as a result, the coolest Windstar of all time came with a similarly focused series of press shots. I’m not sure whether this photo set was meant to depict the freedom and responsibilities that come with single parenthood or the hectic schedule of a business dad that sees him working long hours away from the family, but hey.
Still, let’s take a minute to appreciate the sheer amount of things Ford and Maytag crammed into this Windstar. One refrigerator would be just too common, so they threw two refrigerated compartments in this swagger wagon, one in the cargo area and one between the rear seats. Also molded into the cargo area is a combination washer/dryer, a microwave, and a trash bin. How was water supplied to that washer/dryer? I have absolutely no idea and Ford didn’t say, although it’s not the only bit of hand-waving going on in this van.
These N64 controllers are part of the Windstar Solutions’ entertainment package, which doesn’t actually sound like it included an N64. As per Ford, “Individuals can choose between viewing movies or playing CD-ROM interactive electronic games. Game controllers and CD storage are built in.” Now I don’t know about you, but I used to own a Nintendo 64 and it definitely didn’t use CD-ROMs. What sort of proprietary hellscape is going on in this thing? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter because any agents of chaos riding in the back, like eight-year-old me, would try and feed discs into the built-in trash compactor. I’m not kidding.
Who on earth thought it was a bright idea to put a trash compactor within reach of children? I’ll admit, I was a particularly difficult child, but I couldn’t have been the only one who’d have fed by brother’s copy of Toy Story into the trash compactor should he whine one more time about me hogging all the AA batteries (do you know how power-hungry portable CD players can be?), using the interior light to read my latest car magazine or simply being on his side of the passenger compartment. Still, a trash compactor is a solid flex of Maytag’s appliance capabilities and maximizes the amount of stuff you can fit in the Windstar Solutions’ trash bin.
Granted, for everything in the Windstar Solutions that didn’t make production, or indeed sense, there was a feature that would eventually be put in a car. The cooler in between the front seats came to production in the Pontiac Aztek, and what a brilliant bit of kit it was. Heated and cooled cup holders for keeping tea piping hot and Slurpees frigid ended up in Chryslers, Mercedes-Benzes, BMWs and other vehicles. Even the built-in vacuum made an appearance in the 2014 Honda Odyssey, although the Windstar Solutions had a leg up on the Honda with wet-vac capability. As for the Windstar Solutions’ tray tables, well they weren’t anything new. A long-wheelbase Jaguar XJ offered beautiful walnut picnic tables, although the Windstar Solutions’ durable plastic tables should’ve caught on in the minivan and SUV market. They’re honestly just so handy.
Perhaps more important than all the appliances was the Windstar Solutions’ pioneering perspective on the Internet of Things. That’s right, welcome to hell, this van linked to your home. How exactly did that work? Well, voice-activated telematics could theoretically let Windstar Solutions drivers monitor their home’s fire alarms, check what’s in the pantry, and even pre-heat the oven. Let’s be honest, controlling your oven through voice commands in a notoriously janky vehicle sounds a bit like storing home security footage on reel-to-reel tape. Thanks, but no thanks. Besides, there are many reasons why the Internet of Things is terrible, from dead-end support to critical updates at bad times to surveillance capitalism. Hey, the future can’t be all unicorns and rainbows.
Strangely enough, the Windstar Solutions didn’t debut at an auto show, instead first appearing at the National Kitchen and Bath Industry Show in Chicago on April 7, 2000. While Ford Windstars can rarely be described as innovative, nifty and desirable, this one-off show car packed enough positive attributes to win a bronze Design Strategy award from the Industrial Designers Society of America. Honestly, there was no other time when the Windstar Solutions could be made. It needed optimism, futurism, a still reasonably successful minivan market and an absence of service apps to really take off. Nowadays, it works out cheaper in the long-run to order food than pay to have a microwave installed in a van, plus the repair costs on all of these appliances must’ve been tremendous. Still, I’m thankful that this slice of minivan weirdness existed, for it truly represents the sheer possibilities of a van.
Lead photo credit: Ford