The Unlovables: Chrysler PT Cruiser

Consider, if you will, the Chrysler PT Cruiser. It’s a car you’ll either love or hate. There really is nothing in between. A retro-styled American car, owned and driven by people who should know better.

Or is it?

Ian Seabrook, a chap we like to refer to as PetrolBlog’s Wales-based cousin, is a man of unquestionable taste and the longest beard in motoring journalism. Surely a man with a penchant for cheap motoring and French fancies couldn’t possibly find anything to like in the Chrysler PT Cruiser? His Twitter account would suggest otherwise…


So what are we to make of that? Given that the tweet was sent at 4:52pm, it’s unlikely Ian was drunk at the time. And as he followed it up with a further three Chrysler PT Cruiser related tweets, we can safely assume his account wasn’t hacked. So there’s definitely some love for Chrysler’s much-maligned time machine.

In truth, the Chrysler PT Cruiser creates a problem for PetrolBlog. As a website that champions the obscure, the mundane and the forgotten, PB should be waving the Stars and Stripes for the PT Cruiser, especially given prices start from as little as £500. This is prime Bangerwatch territory.

Remember, PetrolBlog believes that every dog has its day, even the mangiest old mongrel that likes to wipe its bottom on the living room carpet. So where does that leave the Chrysler PT Cruiser?

Chrysler PT Cruiser rear

Ian’s tweet was timely, because for some time PB has been considering a feature on unlovable cars. The vehicles that are destined for a life outside of PetrolBlog circles. Go straight to jail, do not pass go. No room at the inn, etc, etc.

And the Chrysler PT Cruiser was always going to be the car that provided the springboard for the feature. So what do we think? Is Ian ahead of the curve on this one?

The case for the prosecution would almost certainly put forward the Chrysler Pronto Cruizer as exhibit A. The concept unveiled at the 1998 Geneva Motor Show was far more appealing than the actual production car.

It was finished in a nice shade of ‘Claudia Schiffer yellow’ (a proper 90s colour), while the overall design looked more cohesive and in keeping with the 1930s styling and hot rod vibe. In the case of the Cruizer-Cruiser, three doors is most certainly better than five. A story of what might have been.

Chrysler Pronto Cruizer

Amazingly, the Chrysler PT Cruiser enjoyed a ten-year production life, going on sale in April 2000 and not bowing out until July 2010. By this time, Chrysler had shifted some 1.35 million units, which is a remarkable achievement for such a niche vehicle. In the US at least, the reborn Volkswagen Beetle had nothing on the PT Cruiser.

Part of its appeal was undoubtedly its versatility. The Chrysler PT Cruiser was as much a small van as it was a hatchback, as the rear seats featured integrated carrying handles and could be removed to create a totally flat surface. As an option, the front passenger seat could be folded to create a table or a load length of up to eight-foot. Painters, decorators and window cleaners, this could be the car for you.

The parcel shelf design was clever, too, offering five different positions and the potential to create a picnic table. In fact, the whole interior was pretty cool, with a cue-ball style gear-shifter, deep-cowl dashboard pods and a retro four-spoke steering wheel.

Chrysler PT Cruiser interior

Yes, the interior was plasticky, but it was light, airy and supremely practical. Thanks to its Chrysler Neon origins, it also wasn’t that expensive. Prices started just shy of £13,000, although you’d pay more for special editions and the Cabrio version, but more on this later.

Put it this way, would you rather go to work in a PT Cruiser or a compact MPV? And no, staying at home isn’t an option.

It’s all too easy to be dismissive of the Chrysler PT Cruiser and it could slot neatly into the ‘unlovable’ category. But maybe, just maybe, this dog is about to have its day. That interior is suddenly becoming quite desirable, especially in light of so many other characterless and uninspiring efforts.

And who doesn’t love a cue-ball style gear knob?

The car still needs to go on a journey. Bangerwatch status means it will be bought by people looking for cheap transport, rather than something to cherish. There are also far too many ‘tastefully modified’ examples on the road, which isn’t great for the car’s image. But when the dust settles, the Chrysler PT Cruiser might emerge with some credibility. A car so of its time, yet so retro in its delivery.

There is, however, one massive fly in the ointment. Just when the case for the defence was leading to nods of approval from members of the jury, the prosecution produces its trump card. Step forward, the Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabrio.

Chrysler PT Cruiser Cabrio

Good grief. It’s like peeling back the lid on a tin of spam. And those shiny alloy wheels? No, just no. Like the forthcoming Range Rover Evoque Convertible and Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, it’s impossible to look good behind the wheel of one of these.

Cabrio version aside, what do we think? Time to embrace the Chrysler PT Cruiser? Snog, marry or avoid? Don’t let the photos of former footballers and ill-fitting suits sway your decision either way.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.

9 comments

  1. October 19, 2015
    Ian Seabrook

    I like them! It can’t be just me can it?

    Reply
    • October 19, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      We’re about to find out…

      Reply
  2. October 19, 2015
    Ant

    I first experienced the PT in 2007, on a holiday to the US. Naturally, it was a rental – in my price bracket I had the choice of one of these, a then-new Dodge Caliber, and a Dodge Caravan (read: Chrysler Voyager) with a big V6 in it.

    The Calibers were all taken, and for some reason I decided that with only two people and luggage to carry, the Caravan would have been excessive, so I went for the PT.

    And actually… I didn’t think it was all that bad. Yes, it was a holiday, so pretty much any car would feel special, but it really didn’t drive too badly. It amazed me how slow Chrysler was able to make a 2.4-litre car feel, admittedly, but it handled alright and was comfortable over a few thousand miles of driving. This was it:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/vitessephoto/7001638480/in/album-72157629361663641/

    I’ve never really minded the way they look, either. But then I quite like weird-looking cars. I think I have a higher tolerance for automotive ugliness than some.

    Reply
    • October 19, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      You see, that makes sense.

      US plates, sunshine and right next to the beach. Prime territory for the PT Cruiser. A wet Monday afternoon in Essex, less so.

      Reply
  3. October 20, 2015
    Andrew Clews

    Just no. No, no, no, no!

    Alan Bradley and I discussed this hateful vehicle recently as he recounted his tale of a butch drive across the US in a metallic pink convertible one.

    Just a daft shaped family hatch. Without anything really good.

    Reply
    • October 20, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Ha. I heard that on the podcast. Talk about drawing the rental car short straw.

      Question is: Insignia or PT Cruiser?!

      Reply
  4. October 20, 2015
    Neil rapsey

    I chose a pt cruiser while in LA about 10 years age and bloody loved it. So now I’m actively looking for a nice example, but some parts can be expensive but sourcing them from the US is more feasible, even if the right hand drive versions were assembled in Austria alongside the voyegers.

    Reply
    • October 20, 2015
      Gavin Big-Surname

      Given the prices of early models, it might be possible to pick up two. One to drive and one for parts?

      Reply
  5. November 23, 2015
    Mark Poynter

    I like these, especially the front – the rear maybe not so much. Quite fancy creating a Woody-style custom with twin rear doors a la Morris Traveller. Mind you I did test drive a new one one back in the day and the handbrake lever came off in my hand!

    Reply

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