PT Cruiser, RIP

By Roger Boylan

When it came out in late 1999 as a 2000 model, the Chrysler PT Cruiser PT was, love it or hate it, sui generis. It kicked off the retro revolution. Two years after the furor of the New Beetle, American car design was back where it belonged, out in front of the pack, and Chrysler was once again taking chances…and dividing public opinion. I can remember no other vehicle—not the Mini, not the New Beetle, not the Chevy HHR–that aroused such passions, pro and con, at its inception.  A few years later, of course, feelings had cooled, and after a couple of minimal cyclical touch-ups and a spate of spinoff submodels such as the Dream Cruiser, the GT Turbo, and the misbegotten convertible, Chrysler wound down its investment in the Cruiser.

By 2007, after a half-hearted attempt to refresh the aging design, the company, by then heading rapidly down the tubes itself, had essentially condemned the PT to death. It limped on for another three years. Then the former “it” car, the hottest of hot sellers, the  paradigm of cutting-edge design, was no more. The last one rolled off the line on July 9.  The plant that produced it in Toluca, Mexico, is being retooled for Fiat 500 production.

The first PT Cruiser I remember seeing was a black one heading west on 12th Street in Austin, Texas, sometime in, I believe, late 2000. I was tooling along in the other direction in my Nissan Pathfinder, going I can’t remember where–probably looking for another job, one of my perennial pastimes–when my internal car-buff alert system went off and I pulled over to the side of the road to have a look. The PT went by slowly and majestically, its driver no doubt aware of the effect the car was having on the gaping doofus across the street. Actually, I was surprised by the car’s smallness–the ads had made it appear SUV-like–and the slightly anachronistic chrome accents everywhere, but overall I was won over by the design. It was based, as the promo literature said, on the Ford panel vans of the 1930s. Yes, I could see that influence, but I also saw something entirely fresh and original. Indeed, I thought with some relief that, on the evidence of the PT Cruiser, news of the demise of automotive design, and of Chrysler, had been greatly exaggerated.

Not long after that first sighting I went out and acquired a PT Cruiser for my wife, who had also been smitten at first sight. It sits in our garage yet, her favorite car of all the cars she’s owned. Perfect? Hardly. Its reliability has been, shall we say, episodic. Fortunately, such episodes (an oil leak, a recalcitrant window regulator, mysterious electrical problems) have occurred only rarely. The car performs fine most of the time. It’s nearly eight years old now, after all, and my wife simply can’t find another car that suits her so well. (A Honda Fit or Insight, or a Mini, might be on the distant horizon.) The ride is smooth and pleasant. Cargo capacity is a cavernous 76 cubic feet and the interior allows for 26 seating/cargo space configurations. The seats are upright, minivan-style, with well-positioned armrests, and the dashboard is color-coded with the exterior, a nice retro touch. (Not any more; in the ’07 refresh, the original interior, seats and all, was gutted and replaced with a generic rental-car ambience of blanched plastic and faux aluminum.)  The second-row seats are also removable, albeit with some effort.  All of which is ideal for transporting groceries, dogs, coolers, bags, mattresses, etc.

Down sides? Personally, I never liked the Peterbilt-wide turning circle. The fuel economy (20 mpg average) is piss-poor for a small car.  The transmission is balky, and some of the bits and pieces are flimsy. But the Cruiser is more than the sum of its parts, like all true originals. I’m glad we still have one in our garage. It’s still one of the most evocative and stylish designs on the road. I welcome the Cinquecento, but I mourn the Cruiser’s passing. Ciao, PT. It was fun while it lasted.

Author: Roger Boylan

Aside from being the only Autosavant writer with a Wikipedia page, Roger Boylan is an American writer who was raised in Ireland, France, and Switzerland and attended the University of Ulster and the University of Edinburgh. His novel “Killoyle” was published in 1997 by Dalkey Archive Press and has been reprinted four times. In 2003, a sequel, “The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad,” was published by Grove Press, New York. Roger’s latest novel, “The Adorations,” in which a Swiss professor named Gustave, Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s mistress, the Archangel Michael, and a journalistic sexpot meet at the intersection of history and fantasy, has been published as an e-book and is now available on Amazon.com and other online bookstores. Boylan's light-hearted memoir, "Run Like Blazes," has also been published as a Kindle e-book and is also now available on Amazon.com.

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15 Comments

  1. The first time my wife saw one of these her reaction was visceral and imeadiate.

    “It looks ike a Hearse. Who’d want to drive that?”

    Ever since the PT cruiser has looked like a hearse to me.

    I’ve had enough of these as rental cars that whenever I’m offered one at the rental counter I imediately try to get something else like say a Focus. They are still better than that other perenial rental car ofering(now thafully also gone) the Pontiac G6.

  2. Fell in love with the PT years ago, then last year finally bought a slightly used 2004 Classic model, 2.0 engine and auto trans, admittedly something of a slow and wide-turning gas guzzler but We Just Love It. The PT makes you happy just looking at it, like a big loyal sheepdog waiting for its stroll. Everyone else always comment on the happiness they feel from our little cream-white whale. It even rides well in snow and ice and the heater is really good. What could Chrysler have done for an encore? Have it eat the engine and gearbox of an Audi A8 that’s what..

  3. A good example of automotive design that was devalued by a dud driveline from the start and a life that was six years longer than natural. Both were derivative of ambition far exceeding the investment required….which still stinks of ‘cynical marketing exercise’ to this day.

    As a result, Chrysler converted a potential classic into just another also ran.

    The irony of the production line replacement for the faux retro PT being the actual retro 500 is…..amusing.

  4. My grandmother fell in love with a shiny red PT that she purchased and cleverly named P T.
    Five years later, we just put a new transmission in. It’s paid for though, and I think she will keep it until she can no longer drive. It’s like a family member to her. Personally, I feel like a goob when I have to drive it, although it is semi-comfortable.

  5. Chris, I LOLed at your, “personally, I feel like a goob when I have to drive it” line.

  6. People forget, but this also was the North American Car of the Year when it first came out.

  7. My first PT was a 2.0 litre 5 speed stickshift bouhgt new in australia in oct2000. I absolutely loved that car and knocked out 30,000km in the first year just because I couldn’t drag myself away from the thing. It kncked up 135,000 in 5 years.
    It was totally faultless and I kept it for 5 years until the lease ran out.
    In late 2005 we bought one of the first New-Gen PT’s to land in OZ, a solar yellow Route 66 Edition Street Cruiser. This time a 2.4 litre with autostick.
    Now as we use the car less due to a lifestyle change this car is 5 years old in 3 months time and has only clocked 61,000km.
    Here’s the drum…
    The redesigned sound deadening is very very noticable over the 2000 model and as by the time we bought route66 all OZ pt’s were specced with the U.S. turbo suspension it sticks to the road like you know what to a daiper.
    Again it has been faultless BUT……
    The seats are total and absolute crap.
    Long journeys ( say 4 or 5 hours at a time)leave me unable to walk at the other end and my back aches for days.
    This of course is the story of Chrysler corp in the dying days of Mecedes and many many others agree.
    Would I buy a revamped PT?
    Going off the reviews of the work done on the Grand Cherokee..you bet I would.
    The demise I think is a mistake.
    Where oh where did the California Cruiser show car go?
    Bring it on Chrysler and show us what you can really do.

  8. i like this car i want 1 but hibrid

  9. i LOVE my pt and was in awe of it the first time i saw one in a magazine–just had to have one and i have for 7 years now and i am looking to buy another one that is purple the best convertiable ever–hope to own several in lots of colors never any problems with old blue hope so of the next one

  10. I have a pt cruiser recently I had an accident and received a HHR and Caliber from a rental center Omg did i miss my cruiser

  11. I recently bought a purple PT Limited Edition..I have always wanted one and now I have one..just love it…Yes it does look like a gangster car but it’s so much fun to drive. It’s a 2001 and it only had 53,000 miles on it and I plan on keeping as long as it holds out.

  12. I buy this car for my son, he love it is strong, secure and the style is great, perfect for him, he going to College San Diego, perfect for the beach. he is so happy love it..! lo recomiendo.. seguro , fuerte para tu hijo en la carretera.

  13. 188,000 miles on my 2002 PT Cruiser Woody and still going strong. Replaced the transmission about 53,000 miles ago. This is a great comfortable car with lost of hauling space when you need it. Wish the fuel economy was better, have had some minor easy to fix (e.g. headlight/driving lights switch assembly) problems, but its a car with personality and I really like it.

    Dave D

  14. Mi PT CRUISER es del 2004 mecanico es una maravilla vivo en Peru y aca hay pocos pero han ingresado de importacion, son excelentes autos.

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