Though it was profitable, beancounters de-contented the Chrysler PT Cruiser more every year. PT team member Chris Theodore wrote, “The PT Cruiser was unloved by management, and suffered from benign neglect. We had to fight the chairman to get the program approved. Many other models were planned, but never came to fruition. Other than Brian Nesbitt, Design hated the car because they felt their job was to move the state-of-the-art forward, whether the customer likes it or not.”
Tom Gale planned the Cruiser to be a Plymouth, like the Plymouth Prowler, with a matching car and minivan to follow; the PT Cruiser was the last car designed as a Plymouth, debuting as the Plymouth brand was shut down.
Chrysler PT Cruiser information
The first PT Cruiser was loved for its ease of parking, use of space, ride and handling, and personality. New Beetle owners swarmed to dealerships to trade in their “Bugs” for PTs.
The Chrysler PT Cruiser had good handling, fit into small parking spaces, and held four full-sized adults and their luggage in comfort. The modified Watts suspension packed a lot of cornering and ride quality into a space smaller than a Neon on the outside, with more cargo space than many mid-sized cars on the inside.
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Motor Trend named the 2001 PT Cruiser the Car of the Year. The base PT went from 0 to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds, nearly a half second faster than the Honda Civic EX (a time similar to the Volvo V70 T5 Cross Country); critics said it was too slow. Braking was good, going from 60 to 0 in 120 feet - lower than most other tested vehicles (the Civic required over fifteen more feet).
The skidpad and slalom rating were identical to the supposedly class-leading Civic EX, and the skidpad was close (within .02 g) to the Audi AllRoad Quattro, Elantra GLS, Lexus LS 430, and Volvo V70 T5 Cross Country.
Demand stayed high until the 2006 redesign, which included cheaper seats, a cheaper air dam, and a more generic interior. Bryan Nesbitt said, “I didn’t like the update they did when they [altered] the headlights. But I find it interesting that Chrysler decided to keep it in production. I believe it is the most profitable small car in Chrysler’s history.”
Sales of the PT Cruiser fell dramatically in 2008 and 2009, and the sales mix changed from heavily loaded cars to inexpensive base models. 1,304,702 PT Cruisers were made between February 2000 and July 2008.
David Turnbole’s “pink smoke” photo is from the Central New York PT Cruiser Owners’ Club site; the car is owned by Ken Mulder and driven by Jason Mulder. It’s a 2002 Series II Dream Cruiser with the Stage One turbocharger, shown at the ESTA drag strip in Cicero, New York during the club’s Verona show (around 2008).
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