HomeCar CultureChrysler PT Cruiser: Retro Design at 20 Years Old

Chrysler PT Cruiser: Retro Design at 20 Years Old

Revival of a classic

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Retro-styled vehicles were all the range around the turn of the 21st century. The Chevrolet HHR, Plymouth Prowler, Volkswagen New Beetle, and Ford Thunderbird were a few examples of cars from around 2000 that harkened back to decades-old body lines.

The PT Cruiser first debuted in model year 2001 with lines drawn by designer Bryan Nesbitt. It slotted in the compact class and was designed with retro styling that evokes cues of the 1930s and 40s. Reception was warm, and Motor Trend awarded it with “Car of the Year” accolades. Among the early adopters of this unique design were my grandmother and her husband Russell who bought a new 2002 PT Cruiser Limited Edition in Dark Plum Pearl.

Family PT Cruiser History

On a recent holiday trip to northern Utah, my brothers and I got the idea that we should get grandma’s 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser running and take it for a spin.

By many measures, this shouldn’t be a big deal. The vehicle is barely 20 years old and according to some definitions it hasn’t yet achieved “classic” status. But this PT Cruiser, at just over 120,000 miles, had been parked for over six years since my grandma’s husband Russell passed away in November 2016. Its license plates expired in October 2017. Some of my favorite YouTube videos feature revivals and re-awakenings. I love a good “barn find,” so I figured it would make a fun rewarding afternoon activity to see what we could do.

The Dark Plum PT Cruiser hasn’t seen a night in a garage its entire life. Most of its travels for its first decade included daily trips to the mall and Sam’s Club. Every Friday, it made the 50-mile round-trip trek from Logan, Utah to Franklin, Idaho so grandma and Russell could purchase lottery tickets. There was good exercise, but the outside elements started taking a toll on the cosmetic condition. Rust consumed the right rear quarter panel and a large section of the front fender, and the clear coat failed on multiple panels.

The PT Gets a Revival

The day after Thanksgiving, we showed up to revive the PT Cruiser and it was sitting on four low tires. The electrical jump box that my dad provided did not provide enough juice to turn the motor over, so we pulled my brother’s Ram pickup over to provide a more substantial jump with cables. That did the trick. We weren’t sure how the PT would run on six-year-old gas, but it seemed to idle fine.

The automatic gearshift felt sloppy, and it was difficult to tell which gear was engaged. But we rolled out and took it easy on surface streets as we drove to my dad’s place where we filled up the flat-spotted tires. Upon returning to grandma’s, we parked the PT in the exact same location where it had been prior to our visit (which was easy to see thanks to the tire marks in the concrete). Time will tell whether it rides again.

PT Cruiser Model Chronology

Some of the PT Cruiser’s engineering was related to the Dodge Neon compact car: Powertrain engineering centered around a 1.6-liter inline-four paired with a four-speed automatic transaxle or a five-speed manual transaxle directing power to the front wheels. At 150 horsepower, it was hardly a dragracer, but Chrysler made some updates in the years that followed.

In 2003, a 2.4-liter turbocharged variant of the PT Cruiser debuted with a stronger 215 horsepower output. In 2006, styling was updated to include scalloped headlights, a new front fascia, revised taillights, and a refreshed center stack on the interior.

Many special trim versions of the PT Cruiser were offered over the years. Some came with simulated wood panels, some came in special Route 66 livery, some were styled as a tribute to the Pacific Coast Highway, a convertible became available, and there was even a two-tone Couture version. The overall design language, however, was unchanged for nearly a decade.

The Last Hurrah

The PT Cruiser lived all the way until 2010 before being discontinued. That final year, only the Classic trim level with the lower-output four-cylinder was offered. The vehicle went out without much fanfare. Today, the PT Cruiser has a small but devout following. There is even a website dedicated to data on performance, repairs, awards, and accessories.

Maybe grandma’s PT would make a good candidate for restoration to one of those collectors! Until then, it has resumed its spot as a placeholder in her driveway for passers-by to admire.

Follow more of Tyson’s family history of cars by clicking here.

Tyson Hugie
Tyson Hugie
Tyson Hugie grew up in a family of gearheads and enjoys anything to do with automotive and motorsports. He is a contributing editor to Redline Reviews, a YouTube channel with coverage from major auto shows. He also writes for Arizona Driver Magazine and holds leadership positions with a number of car clubs. Tyson has lived in Arizona for 10 years and his current obsession is Japanese cars from the early 1990s which, though hard to believe, are now becoming classics. Tyson can usually be found exploring offbeat and obscure road trip destinations on his blog "Drive to Five," which started as a way to share travel stories and experiences with his now-550,000-mile Acura.

31 COMMENTS

  1. 2.4L 4 cyl here in the states. The 1.6 was only used in other markets.
    With the obsession of crossovers now I think a 2nd gen PT would be a hit, but with a different name and different styling. They were very practical, versatile, and roomy cars!

  2. I hope you keep this rare PT Cruiser safe. It’s my dream to wish for one for my own. Many people hate them and destroy them on purpose just because they say their ugly cars. I hope to own your Chrysler when you don’t want it anymore, so I can make it live a longer legacy. I’d love to second hand own your car. May Pt Cruisers live on forever!

    • We have a 2004 dark plum cruiser with 160,000 miles we have only had it for a little over a year we needed a car and this was all we could afford! We paid 2,000 for it!

    • Hey Hannah I have a 2003 burgundy/red pt cruiser limited with only 82k miles on it. I bought it from friend of older lady that had it. Inside all leather heated seats and interior is in great shape and has sunroof. I like the car but also have work truck and feel this is more suited for female. I just had oil changed installed new battery. If you would be interested I be glad to send you pictures.

  3. I hope you keep this rare PT Cruiser safe. It’s my dream to wish for one for my own. Many people hate them and destroy them on purpose just because they say their ugly cars. I hope to own your Chrysler when you don’t want it anymore, so I can make it live a longer legacy. I’d love to second hand own your car and keep it safe. May Pt Cruisers live on forever!

  4. I am on my second Cruiser. Got my first in 2001. People used to literally yell Nice Car! at me. Took her til 2015 and 147,000 miles. Cried as she was toed away. Found my second one soon after…a 2005 with 10,000 miles in 2015!! I am at 95,000 and hope to get another 40-50,000. After that I think my cruiser days are done. Unless there is a revival!

  5. My wife owned four PT Cruisers. The first year . Two in the middle years and finally her 2010. We still have the 2010 with 71,175 miles on it. She is the original old lady driving her car back and forth to Church. On the Garden State Parkway going to Atlantic City from our home on Staten Island the car gets 32 miles per gallon. That’s driving at 100 ( kilometers per hour ). Which translates to 62 Miles per hour. City driving on Staten Island developers 16.5 Mpg…. I find the BEST feature of the car is the comfort of the front seats. Like sitting on our kitchen chairs. Can’t say enough about the car. Other than all the notes left on the windshield shows how much in demand the car is.

  6. I own two PT Cruisers, one has over 160,000 miles the other 133,000. And other than changing out the timing built which is a maintenance item I haven’t done anything to either of them and either of them leak oil.

  7. I have a 2006 PT Cruiser that was handed down to me for a work car. It has 280,000 Mi and is still running. She’s silver and has been fun to drive. She was the car that we used for the snow because she could go anywhere.

  8. I have a 2005 PT Cruiser convertible…and he has a name “Petey” love him… and when I take the top of people tell me what kind of car is it… it’s got a little turbine engine…love my car….

  9. Lovely to read about the pt cruiser I actually have one ,one of the very last made so it’s got everything on it as it’s a limited edition and it’s uk plated as I live on a small English island it’s the only one here.ive actually spent lots of money on it trying to make it even more of a eye catcher..people stop me all the time asking me what is it and saying they luv it,…good look people happy cruising

  10. I have a 2004 pt cruiser turbo candy apple red with 110k miles. It has been garaged since we bought it. I like it so much. I almost said love, but I only love people and like things. My mechanic has told me to get rid of it for years, but I’ve refused. I recently had the ac repaired and new tires. I’m going to drive it for a long long time.
    People still comment on how awesome it is, maybe it’s the color. Take care cruisers and God bless.

  11. I have a 2005 PT Cruiser GT Turbo Convertible
    With 104,000 miles.. Gray / Beige .
    It’s been a very good car. Looks sporty, and I get lots of comments on it.

    .

  12. I have a 2005 PT cruiser Convertible with-turbo. It has been totally restored, new paint job new seats replace the engine about 8 years ago. I bought it for my wife’s birthday in 2005.

  13. I have a 2005 PT cruiser Convertible with-turbo. It has been totally restored, new paint job new seats, replaced the engine about 8 years ago. I bought it for my wife’s birthday in 2005. Burgundy in color-186.000 miles.

  14. I have a Red 2006 PT Cruiser no major issues had paint job done color faded due 2 living in Florida needs AC compressor that’s it has over 250,000 miles I am keeping it until tha wheels fall OFF.

  15. We still have our 2004 . It now has about 50 k original miles . The car won Cruise The Falls in 2004 and 2005 . Because of its unique color scheme it has been called The Crea Cycle and the Marilyn car.

  16. I have a 2002 red pt cruiser and I’m going to sell it because of my height and age I’m 90 years old and only 4ft10 in. And I can’t close the back hatch without a little rake I have with a extension handle , I use to reach up and pull it down so I can reach it with my other hand. It’s in perfect working order new timing belt new battery. I’m going to be asking$3,000 for it. I need a small car with a small trunk. Not a hatchback.

  17. Bought a 2007 with 89000 now has 169000.I love this car.The maintenance in replacing the timing belt and water pump was the only issue I.had it done because I gave to my daughter.

  18. My grandson will be 16 soon believe it or not he loves the car too.The car is in great shape be sure to keep oil changed every 3 thousand it’s the life of small engines they work harder than bigger engines

  19. I myself have a 2007 PT Cruiser and I love this car I get a lot of negative comments about it but also get a lot of good comments about it me myself I will be driving it until it rots if possible

  20. I sold my brother a loaded brunt orange Dream Cruiser; my wife and daughter had one. Now, it’s the go-to car for all the grandkids. Great first car. If they break it, it’s easy to fix. If they wreck it, buy another one.

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