Retro Style, Street-Rod Flair Made PT Cruiser a Star
By David Phillips, Automotive News
The recipe was simple.
Use an existing small-car platform, mix in some nifty retro styling inside and out, build it in a low-cost country, and command a higher price.
When it made its debut at the 1999 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the Chrysler PT Cruiser with its street-rod flair was an immediate sensation.
Americans either hated or loved the
little wagon born during the SUV craze. Those that adored it had to have
one of their own to cherish.
And it didn't hurt that it went on sale during the U.S. auto industry's biggest sales boom.
The last PT Cruiser is scheduled to roll off an assembly line in Mexico today, marking the end of one of Detroit's most celebrated product runs in recent years.
But the five-door hatchback certainly has been a soldier, with more than 1.35 million sold worldwide -- generating early waiting lists and fan clubs, spawning imitators in the Mini brand and Chevrolet HHR, and the subject of more special editions than any other model in recent memory.
Bob Casey, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich., said the PT Cruiser, unlike the minivan, mixed practical function with attitude.
"Every time I see one I smile," he said. "I can well understand why they sold more than 1 million."
It is the most profitable small car
in Chrysler history, according to Brian Nesbitt, who designed the
original PT Cruiser for the old Chrysler Corp. Nesbitt is now a top
General Motors Co. designer, while his former employer has since been
steered by Daimler AG, Cerberus and Fiat S.p.A.
The PT Cruiser was originally tapped to join the aluminum Prowler roadster to bolster the ailing Plymouth brand. But when Chrysler planners scrapped Plymouth, the PT Cruiser was spared and christened a Chrysler, eventually becoming one of the brand's top-selling models.
Its offbeat style immediately attracted a variety of buyers -- the young, tuners, entrepreneurs and retirees. Many owners quickly fell in love with its functionality and quirky interior. The wagon's rear seats were removable, allowing the tall interior to stow large cargo.
To keep consumers interested, Chrysler added a convertible version, a woody model and a turbo engine. Special editions -- dubbed Flames, Chrome, Couture and Dream Cruiser -- were routinely added.
But over the years it mostly stayed the same and the novelty slowly wore off.
Annual global sales peaked at 192,000 in 2001, and in the absence of a major redesign, demand dropped to just 25,200 last year. In a nod to the original, the last models are referred to by Chrysler simply as PT Cruiser Classics.
"In the end, it was a hard act to follow because it was a fairly unique," said Casey. "They got it right, right out of the box."
EXPLORE NEW CARS
MORE ON MSN AUTOS
ABOUT EXHAUST NOTES
Cars are cool, and here at MSN Autos we love everything about them, but we also know they're more than simply speed and style: a car is an essential tool, a much-needed accessory to help you get through your day-to-day life. What you drive is also one of the most important investments you can make, so we'll help you navigate your way through the car buying and ownership experiences. We strive to be your daily destination for news, notes, tips and tricks from across the automotive world. So whether it's through original content from our world-class journalists or the latest buzz from the far corners of the Web, Exhaust Notes helps you make sense of your automotive world.
Have a story idea? Tip us off at firstname.lastname@example.org.