Cohort Classic: 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser – Decade Clash

(first posted 9/12/2017)      A late 90’s design that was meant to look like a modern interpretation of a 1930s trunkless sedan and has since been painted up to look like a 1960s hippiemobile. We have a real treat today.

The Chrysler PT Cruiser stands on a very awkward section of cars in my life: Cars that I vividly remembered being released and that are now very old. Looking around this site, I can only hope that it will become normal as I get older and the list of cars which elicit that reaction gets ever longer.

The reason I do remember the launch of the PT Cruiser is easy. After I had finally convinced my dad to buy me copies of Popular Mechanics and swore that I would really read all of the articles that were on it (Which will go down on the list next to “I swear I will not make the car slide” and “I swear to you that Grand Theft Auto is just a driving game”)I explicitly recall the magazine praising Bryan Nesbitt’s homage to the cars of yore. K.T. Keller would have been proud of the CAFE-skirting dimensions and design. And this time around, critics and buyers alike agreed with him and generously opened their hearts and wallets over its 10-year run.

In that run, you could see the PT Cruiser devolve from a new and interesting design that was deemed worthy of at least 1 Car-of-the-Year award down the ranks, to be bundled with the rest of Chryler’s lineup and their generally perceived reputation for crummy interiors, uninspired drivetrains and general lack of any standout features that would make anyone consider their mainstream offerings from anyone else. I say mainstream because that perception kinda fell to pieces whenever you reminded someone that the Dodge Viper, the Chrysler 300C and half-of-the-Jeep lineup still existed. Not that it did any good to the PT Cruiser. Not even the enticing prospect of a 230-horsepower turbo engine helped matters. Not when the SRT-4 was already scooping that market up.

But through it all that design was good enough for it to soldier on and for people to keep wanting one. My parents, for example, absolutely love the darn thing. They don’t even mind the Convertible version; which looks (to my eyes) questionable with the roof down and like someone tried to erect a camping tent in a vain effort to hide the fact that they sawzalled through their car with it up. By the end of the production run, Chrysler had sold more than a million PT Cruisers.

Being as knowledgeable about art as Ferris Bueller nonsensing his way through the Art Institute; all I can say about the flower power paint job on this one is that it looks like whoever did it actually took a lot of time and care. chrisjcieslak taking these pictures on the sunset just adds to it. May it give them peace as they look at it while drinking Chai Kombucha.

Me? I would prefer to decorate my PT Cruiser with some good old-fashioned Di-Noc, which was offered from 2002 to 2004. Bring the retro wagon theme to its logical conclusion. Speaking of which, when it came time to replace the PT Cruiser; Chrysler presumably ran into the same troubles that everyone did when it came to facelifting their retro offerings. What now?

For the Mini (by obligation) and the Mustang (By choice), it meant sticking around with a retro-inspired design. Chrysler had some issues with that. Bryan Nesbitt had left for GM to try and make lightning strike twice with the Chevrolet HHR. Also, unlike those two other retro cars mentioned above, which were based on iconic models. The PT Cruiser was based more on a concept. And so there was little on which to base a followup apart from ‘old wagon’

Finally, there was the Caliber, a small 5-door hatchback that was designed to replace the Neon. It was sold alongside the PT Cruiser, a small 5-door hatchback that was 7 years old when the Caliber was introduced. Even if sales hadn’t plummeted when the Caliber was released (which they did, from 99k to 50k on the first post-Caliber year), it just didn’t make sense to have both of them on the lineup. So in 2010, the PT Cruiser bowed down for the last time. The Caliber itself was replaced by the Dart in 2013 and *it* has been taken out of production, leaving Dodge with a compact-size hole in their lineup which I am sure makes them sleep uneasy over the piles of money from Challenger and Charger sales.