CRAIGSLIST FIND: Diesel-Swapped Ford Windstar — Yes, Really

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Nobody would blame you if you found yourself in possession of an aging Ford Windstar minivan and wanted to swap its Vulcan or Essex V6 engines for something with more oomph, but this — this is certainly unexpected.

Photo: Craigslist

In Chillicothe, Mo. resides the above 1999 Ford Windstar. A first-year model of the van’s second-generation, I can only imagine what happened to the van’s original engine. The Windstar had either the 3.0-liter Vulcan V6 or the 3.8-liter Essex V6 for its entire model run from 1994 to 2003, so I would hope by the time the second-generation debuted, any van-specific kinks had been worked out. Regardless, neither V6 has proved particularly trouble-prone in other Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln vehicles, so the mind wonders what happened.

The transmission in these vans, on the other hand, is a well-known weak point. I saw someone discussing this van on Facebook this week who aptly referred to the automatic gearbox as being a “glass transmission.” The original Craigslist ad made no mention about whether the van had ever had its transmission replaced.

Sweet cold-air intake tubing, yo. Photo: Craigslist

Here’s the thing, though: I could see why someone demented as me might want to drop a hot turbocharged gasoline engine or a small-block V8 under that hood, turning the pedestrian-looking minivan into one serious sleeper capable of surprising ricers in the stoplight drags. But this seller didn’t take that tack, oh no. Instead, he dropped an inline-six diesel engine under the hood.

The engine itself is an interesting choice not just for the fuel it used, but also for its own history. The BMW M21 diesel engine was, as the name on the tin implies, built by the Bavarians. But in America, it saw more use in the Mk. VII Lincoln Continental than in the E28 5 Series that, in 1983, became the last diesel passenger car BMW would sell in the United States until 2009’s E90 3 Series. Curiously, the Mk. VII Conti was only sold with this engine for two years — 1984 and 1985 — before being dropped, leaving the tried-and-true (and much thirstier, no doubt) Windsor 302-cubic inch gasoline V8 as the sole engine option for the model.

The seller says the engine came from a 1985 Continental, so it already had some Blue Oval blood cells, apparently.

Photo: Craigslist

Now, what about power? That’s what’s so crazy about it. The Vulcan 3.0 V6 reportedly made 150 horsepower in the Windstar, while the 3.8 reportedly laid down 200. The diesel, predictably, gets nowhere close to that. According to Wikipedia, the Mk. VII diesel made 115 horsepower and 155 lb-ft of torque. That should make an already poky Windstar even pokier.

But that doesn’t matter. What matters is the sheer amount of work someone put into this thing to make their dream — however screwed-up and asinine — a reality. Truly, someone had to be bound and determined to make a diesel Windstar. I mean, who really thinks about this stuff?

As an added bonus, I’d imagine fuel economy might be pretty decent, assuming the gearing of the transmission cooperates. The seller notes it’s a “Good strong-running motor with good fuel mileage.”

Hat-tip to Brendan Blanding-Ullah and his Facebook group, Obscure Cars for Sale, for bringing this to my attention.

Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson

Lyndon Johnson is a husband and father of two who has now spent more of his life as a journalist than as a non-journalist. He serves as assistant editor at his hometown weekly paper in rural Tennessee and freelances in the automotive journalism world.