COAL: 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser – We Get A Good One From Chrysler.

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In the summer of 2001 when TIP’s brother-in-law died suddenly while on vacation in Spain, I knew she was terribly upset.

At JFK airport she kissed Will goodbye but said nothing to me.   She was supposed  to be gone for 3 or 4 days; she was gone for almost three weeks.

Things had calmed down at work after the Y2K panic and we had retained most of the extra staff from that effort to help the NYC DOC implement PC software upgrades throughout the city, so while the DOC project staff had increased, I had great people in the field and two or three days a week I worked from home.

In those hectic times I had forgotten we had ordered a car from the nearby Jeep/Chrysler dealer.

About a week after TIP had left, I got a call and a pleasant voice told me my new car had come in.  I was caught off guard for a few seconds.

“New car?  Oh, yes, of course.  No, you have the right number.  I didn’t forget; just a little busy here.”

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It was a very hot summer in 2001 and when Will and I drove the Eagle Vision TSi to the dealer to trade it in, the overhead thermometer read 102 degrees.

The dealer had stored the just washed new car in an unused firehouse across the street from the showroom along with three Prowlers.

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We had ordered a 2002 PT Cruiser Touring Edition in the color Taupe Frost Metallic with a 5 speed manual, roof rack, and, well, and that was about it for options. It was fully equipped and bore no resemblance to the cars of the 1950s and 1960s where not checking boxes on the order sheet resulted in a real stripper.

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When we had ordered it I was still a bit shaken from the “incident” on Route 80 in the Eagle on cruise control when I had passed out after laboring in 103 degree sun helping to unload a tractor trailer full of Cat5 cables.

This new car did not have cruise control.

Besides, in my mind I thought cruise control and manual shift cars should be mutually exclusive. That’s not necessarily valid, but leaving out cruise control seemed like a good idea at the time.

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I know the general population does not like PT Cruisers, and even some of you at CC have had bad experiences in your family with these cars.  But I can honestly say this is the best Chrysler I have ever owned.

OK, admittedly, not a high bar, especially since I only owned two other Mopars.  So far.

Let me re-phase that. Taking into consideration the holy grail of wonderfulness that was the 1982 Honda Accord, this is the [second] best car I have ever owned. It handled well, was comfortable, roomy, very versatile, reliable, quite quick with the 5 speed, and loafed along at throughway speeds in its long legged overdrive 5th gear.

The a/c worked perfectly for all of the 13 years I owned it.  So did just about everything else.

When people asked me how I liked it, my standard answer was “It’s much better than expected.”

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And the radio never got stuck on any CD, let alone the best of ZZ Top. Looking at the above photo I am reminded of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, my almost namesake. A great rock vocalist.

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He’s 4 years younger than I, but he looks like hell (at least he did six years ago in 2010 shown above).  I guess all those road shows are hard on the body.

The Cruiser wasn’t perfect, but neither was the holy grail Honda. The Cruiser got so-so mileage and when it was started on cold mornings (and it always started), the engine sounded like Soviet era farm tractor.

But after a few minutes it calmed down and sounded like any other non-Russian tractor.

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The battery is under the air intake box at the right of the above photo and remote battery jumper locations are provided. The recommended negative ground connection is to the right of the hood latch (see the yellow label pointing to the ground bolt?).  The red marked positive connection is not visible in this picture.

With the rear seats out, it has about 63 cubic feet of space.

Some specifications: The engine is a cast iron block, aluminum head DOHC with 4 valves per cylinder, and develops 150 hp at 5,600 rpm and 162 lb. ft. of torque at 4,000. The car weighs about 3,112 pounds, is 169 inches long, and 63 inches high. The suspension is MacPherson strut, coil spring, anti-roll bar in front and twist beam, coil spring, and anti-roll bar in the rear.

Internet sources say the Cruiser can do 0-60 in 9.0 seconds and get 25 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway.

I disagree with the data of the prior paragraph. I never got better than 28 mpg on the highway and city stop-and-go yielded a lot less that 25, probably 20 or 21 mpg tops. And that 9.0 second 0-60 figure doesn’t seem right either. I’d say it was easily as fast as my current 1999 Miata, say 8.5 seconds, perhaps even a little better. These are estimates of course, but I owned the car up to mid-2013, so I do not think the rose colored glasses syndrome has set in yet.

Pulling onto fast moving highway entrance ramps in third never made me wish for more power. It was fun to drive and felt very planted on curves and entrance ramps.

The tach and speedometer were parallel in third gear in the Cruiser.  In the Miata, parallel is in fifth gear.

Looking at the above mpg and acceleration paragraphs, perhaps the less than spectacular mileage and the faster than estimated 0-60 times had something to do with each other.

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The car had a normal, if a bit rough life, doing mostly local stop and go driving and sometimes carrying loads of tree debris and cut logs from two hurricanes (Irene and Sandy) to the landfill that were so heavy I ended up damaging both rear shocks and had to replace them.

The Cruiser was legally titled as a small truck, but it was best not let the large yawning cargo space make one think it had a heavy cargo carrying capacity. Maximum payload was 865 pounds, and that included everything in it, including the driver.

Wood logs can be very heavy.  This was a small tall car, not a truck.

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As expected, the cue ball topped shift lever was not nearly as direct as the Miata and it was a bit longer, but it was always easy to find the right forward gear and the throws were solid and acceptable for a front wheel drive unit.

Reverse had a trick to it. Sometimes, it would feel like it was in reverse when in fact it was “near” reverse, and letting up the clutch when it was “near” reverse would result in grinding. I learned to feel or sense the difference and that became one of the car’s “endearing qualities” to me, and one of many reasons why I was reluctant to let others drive it.

The driver’s seat had power up and down.  I liked that.

TIP drove it once in a while and found it handy when going to the nursery and buying shrubs, small trees, and other greenery for me to plant on the rolling grounds of the marital abode.

The Car Talk brothers reviewed the PT Cruiser on their web site and I remember they said that while some cars are “chick” magnets, the PT Cruiser was a “Chuck” magnet.  Tom and Ray said that it was men, mostly old men, who found the PT Cruiser interesting.  The older the men, they said, the greater their interest.  That may explain my fondness for the car.

There was a rattle coming from the rear when backing off the gas in first or second gear, but a look under the car when I was having the oil changed, and some bending of the exhaust/Cat heat shield, and that was the end of the rattle.

Once, after having the timing belt changed, the door locks started going berserk locking and unlocking at will, sometimes rapidly like a machine gun; sometimes once in a while.  I pulled the relevant fuse and drove it like that for a month or so, and then put the fuse back in to see what would happen. The locks worked fine from that point forward.

Paul wrote up the PT Cruiser and a Plymouth Reliant here.

When Will and I picked up TIP at Newark Airport almost three weeks after she had left, she seemed quiet and troubled.  She hardly noticed that we were picking her up in a car that we had not owned when she left.

A week later we went to a neighbor’s home for an end of summer labor day picnic on September 3, and things started to feel a bit less tense. We joked with our neighbors and Will ran around with the rest of the neighborhood kids with water pistols and in the glow of the setting sun, good friends, and lots of food and drink, it almost seemed too good to be true and too good to last.

One week later, I had my normal Monday morning status meeting with the DOC at 60 Hudson Street.

The next day was September 11, 2001.

Basking Ridge lost 19 residents in the 9/11 attacks, three of which we knew personally, and one of those, a young Irish bond trader, was joking with TIP and me at that sunny labor day picnic a week earlier.

If you are my age (I was born in 1944) you know where you were and what you were doing when you heard that President Kennedy had been shot. The same can probably be said about the death of Martin Luther King Junior and two months later of Robert F Kennedy.

Well younger, more innocent people of the globe, welcome to the world of your elders, only worse.

Michael Nacht, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley stated that “Even more than Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the 9/11 attacks stand alone as a seminal moment in the modern history of the United States, one that exerted the most profound effects on the politics, policies and psychology of America and its citizens.”  Professor Nacht continues “ … the most fundamental impact of 9/11 is the sense of permanent vulnerability that haunts residents of Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue alike.”  For more on this, go here.

I was sitting at my desk with Will’s dog Sara on my lap developing meeting minutes and team work plans on a laptop off-line when I got the call from my DOC manager. “Robert, we have to vacate 60 Hudson immediately, please monitor the systems from there, tell the Rikers team and your DOC escorts to return to the MIS Trailer and await further orders. Gotta go”.

I hadn’t said a word, except maybe “OK”, but I could taste bile in my mouth. I put the dog on the floor, went into the den, turned on the TV, and sank to the floor.

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The mayor’s office had their emergency command center on the 23rd floor of 7 WTC and it had to be abandoned shortly after the attack.  The call went out to NYPD and NYC DOC for emergency telephone service to be restored to a nearby temporary work site because the local West Street Verizon switching center was badly damaged by the complete collapse of 7 WTC and flooding from broken water mains.  A second switching center on Broad Street had no power.

Cell phone service demand quickly overwhelmed most provider’s bandwidth capacity resulting in few cell calls getting through.

Note 1: The NYC emergency command center at 7 WTC was just 300 feet from the site of a terrorist bombing attack in 1993.

NYPD and NYC DOC uniformed personnel (including the two correction officers trained to work with telephone lines with the DEC Rikers team) filled marked vans with the boxes of Cat5 cable we had just recently taken delivery of and rushed into Manhattan and downtown to the WTC site.  At first the officers and Verizon personnel were laying out the cables from Verizon’s damaged switching center across and a little north on West Street, where a temporary command center was going to be placed, but when the South Tower fell, they had to abandon their efforts, move further north, and start all over again.

People feared the North tower would also fall.  And it did, wiping out the area where the officers had been working with the cables only minutes earlier.

With cell phone services overwhelmed and wired phones giving fast busys, the Rikers DOC/DEC team worked autonomously.  The DEC/Compaq lead technician Frank and I could still connect to, and monitor, the inmate systems remotely and as in the Y2K scenario of December 31 1999, the systems stayed up and available.

Rikersferries

It was estimated that DOC office personnel would not be able to return to 60 Hudson Street for at least two weeks, maybe more. Accordingly, DOC management decided that the two retired ferry boats moored at Rikers Island that were being retained as emergency overflow space for dormitory style inmate housing would be converted to temporary office space for DOC civilian workers.

The boats had electrical power but no telephones, no networking infrastructure, and no furniture. The DOC/DEC team emptied our network supplies and spares closet and our remaining Cat5 cables to supply both telephones (four per cable) and terminals (one per cable). However, we did not have enough Ethernet networking frames or modules to meet the demand of all of the displaced 60 Hudson Street workers.

A DEChub 900 frame with room for 4 power supplies (right) and 8 networking modules

A DEChub 900 frame with room for 4 power supplies (right) and 8 networking modules

I relayed to local DEC/Compaq management the DOC’s need for large DEChub 900 frames, its power units, and Ethernet networking sub-modules.  People were told to contact me and get the equipment to me in Basking Ridge NJ ASAP, and I’d then take it to Rikers.

The response was fast and heartening. I was getting emails and land line phone calls asking for directions to my home and then stayed up all night as co-workers drove in from disparate locations, some near-by, some very far away, to unload all sorts of new and used networking gear.

TIP and I offered the arriving drivers food and coffee and if needed, a place to crash to get some sleep. All of them grabbed a sandwich and coffee and got back into their cars. They were proud to be doing something, anything, to help.  I know how they felt.

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I took out the rear seats of the PT Cruiser to get full use of its 63 cubic feet of storage space.

The next morning, too hyper to sleep, I drove the first load of donated equipment to Rikers where it was unloaded and immediately installed in a building near the ferries. Other DOC officers and civilians were moving in old steel desks from storage facilities, terminating and running the Cat5 cables from the network modules through wiring ducts to locations on the ferries marked off by DOC management. There was no time to be fancy; sometimes an entire Cat5 cable serviced one phone. When they ran out of wiring ducts and cable management systems, they used duct tape and cable ties to keep the cables from becoming obstacles and tripping up people.

It wasn’t pretty (and that troubled the DEC/Compaq team) but it worked.

60 Hudson Street civilian and uniform personnel started coming in as team members were still punching down and testing the Cat5 network cable jacks and the telephone connections.

When I got home there were more networking equipment donations and I made another trip the next day. We were all running on nervous energy and anger.  The DEC/Compaq Rikers team slept on the floor of the MIS trailer for four nights straight.

Note 2: I was reminded of something I heard a long time ago: If you want to be successful, surround yourself with the best people possible, people who are smarter and more skilled than yourself.  I believe that, and I knew I worked with great people.

On the second trip back from delivering networking equipment to Rikers, somewhere on Route 80 west, I heard a psychiatrist on NPR say that the 9/11 tragedy would have a profound and lasting impact on people’s lives, their sense of self and safety, and that it would motivate people contemplating marriage to stop stalling and make the formal commitment to each other.

That makes sense, I thought.

On the other hand, the shrink continued, anyone in a tenuous relationship or marriage would react to 9/11 by getting out of that relationship in order to make their lives more meaningful while they still had the time to do that.

That too makes sense, I thought.

So essentially, the shrink said, 9/11 will cause some people to get married and some people to get divorced.

 

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The little PT Cruiser, emptied of its second load, hummed along at speed, the overdrive fifth gear making the car as quiet as a big Buick, the only sound (other than the shrink on the radio) was a small American flag flapping furiously on the rear cross bar of the roof rack.

These shrinks, I thought to myself, they make these pronouncements and when they turn out to be true, everyone thinks they’re geniuses.

Stuff like this; it’s either going to happen, or not going to happen. There’s a 50/50 chance of being right. If I, or my team, had a 50/50 chance of getting things right, we be marched off the island under armed guard.

Two weeks later, TIP told me she wanted a divorce.

No drama, no violence, just a simple request.

That damn shrink was right.  Lucky guess.

I had an odd thought.  It is much easier to be told by one’s spouse that your marriage is over than to do the telling.

Why?

Less guilt.

In addition to the 19 residents of Basking Ridge lost on that day, DEC/Compaq lost four employees attending a conference at Windows On The World, and one more in one of the hi-jacked planes.

Approximately 2,977 innocent people died that day.