I have recently been revisiting my last trip abroad to the beautiful country of Italy, from just over two years ago. Even though this trip occurred three calendar years ago, I remain enchanted by many of the things I saw, the history, food, and Italian culture in general. It was pretty easy to get lost in all of it while strolling around on both sunny and rainy days. Nothing, however, brought me back down to earth more quickly than spotting several U.S.-familiar Chrysler / FCA products while out and about. It was almost like being able to spot other tourists from my home country just by their attire.
Brendan Saur recently featured a comprehensive, balanced, well-written essay about the Chrysler PT Cruiser, just a few weeks ago. That piece had renewed my interest in what I had considered to be, when new, a really unique, bold, well-styled entry into the compact vehicle segment (whether one considers it a car or light truck). When I saw the one above in Rome, however, I wondered how its American hot-rod styling must have appeared, at least initially, in the eyes of Italians, and how well it translated overseas as a retro symbol of U.S. automotive culture.
The only point of comparison with the PT Cruiser that I could think of is the similarly heritage-styled FIAT 500’s limited degree of acceptance in the U.S., how foreign car (and film) buffs may appreciate its shape and diminutive proportions, and also how others simply may not have “gotten” it. (The point is moot now that the plug has been pulled on this model in the U.S.) Still, according to one source, over 141,000 PT Cruisers found buyers in Europe between 2001 and ’09, so this small Chrysler must clearly have had some cross-continental appeal.
Parked not far from the PT Cruiser, near the Piazza del Popolo, was this Lancia Voyager minivan, looking much from the rear and by its taillamps like our U.S.-market Chrysler Town & Country. In other words, this transporter is a close cousin to the Dodge Grand Caravan driven by my sister and brother-in-law down south in Tennessee. Talk about a familiar sight! The Lancia Voyager was sold in continental Europe between 2011 and 2015.
I didn’t take more than a few photos of any vehicles during my first couple of days in Italy because I had felt like I didn’t travel all the way there simply to photograph familiar-looking vehicles. I did notice, though, from the few moments in which these vehicles had my attention, that their body jewelry – emblems, fonts, trim pieces, etc. – looked decidedly upscale from what I was used to seeing Stateside. This difference was similar to the slightly nicer clothes I saw in retail stores like H&M in Rome, versus the ones back home in Chicago.
The last noteworthy FCA product I had stopped to photograph was a slightly different-looking Dodge Journey, called a FIAT Freemont in Europe. Like the Lancia Voyager, sales started on that continent between 2011 and ended after model year 2016, with final-year sales being just over 3,000. These were hecho en Mexico just like the Journeys that are sold in the States. Just over 112,000 FIAT Freemonts were sold in Europe over that six year run.
I did also see a couple of Lancia Themas in traffic (known here as the Chrysler 300, and with shockingly few external changes from their North American counterparts), but I wasn’t quick enough on the draw to photograph any of them in motion. I did observe that what would be considered a large car over here positively dwarfed some of the other cars with which they shared the Roman roads.
I don’t know exactly why, but I expected a little more from the Euro-branded FCA products from a visual standpoint. I always think of personal attire from this part of the world being generally more sophisticated and fashionable that what we see on the average “American” or U.S. traveler or citizen. There isn’t much that could be done to differentiate the PT Cruiser for a foreign market (which, I guess, is sort of the point, with a vehicle with that unique of a style to begin with).
However seeing the Lancia Voyager and Thema, as well as the FIAT Freemont, was not unlike a hypothetical scenario with me first laying eyes on the ancient, breathtaking Trevi fountain and suddenly hearing the shriek of a loud family member who had happened to get there first (unbeknownst to me), saying, “Oh, my gosh, Joe, have you ever SEEN such a beautiful sight?? Here… have a Chicken McNugget! I just got them a few minutes ago at the McDonald’s up this little alley way over here.”
Stated another way, the sight of these very American-looking FCA (née Chrysler) products took me out of the moment of being in bella Roma… but thankfully, only temporarily. Still, it was a little comforting to see these American designs while on holiday, even if they looked slightly like they were wearing the automotive equivalent of Dockers.
Saturday, 11/11/17 & Sunday, 11/12/17.
Click here for related reading from William Stopford.
Here’s an essay I had composed shortly after my return from Rome and Venice.