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The PT Cruiser's influence.

Having flashbacks? It's the PT(SD) Cruiser!

20w ago

Retro styled cars are like marmite, people either love them or hate them. In the past twenty years we have seen a resurgence in the amount of mainstream automobiles coming under this umbrella; the 'new' VW Beetle, the Jaguar S-Type, the Fiat 500 and so on. Regardless of how many people adore or are repulsed by these, I believe no car encapsulates the retro-marmite ethos more than the Chrysler PT Cruiser.

See, while many of these cars start out with options to add the odd vinyl stripe here or quirky feature there, throughout their life they gradually tone down the fuss as the initial novelty wears off. The PT Cruiser on the other hand, didn't do this. Throughout its decade-long life, it continued marketing itself as the an all-American retrograde with special editions. Given that they sold over a million of these cars in the United States alone, it became a huge success for Chrysler, bringing some much needed revenue to the seemingly always struggling company. As everyone knows though, they've also found a place in pop culture as a bit of a joke. I maintain that if Wayne's World was made today then the AMC Pacer [at the time a cheap run-around instead of a classic] would be substituted for an equally preposterous PT Cruiser with flames - a feature you could actually get from the factory.

For all the time spent laughing at this car, you could be forgiven for being unaware of its significance in automotive evolution. Supposing you define a crossover as a kind of compact SUV, then they've been around since the late 1970's introduction of the AMC Eagle. There was the Toyota RAV4 too, which came five years before the PT Cruiser, in 1995. What we're seeing more of today though is city-crossover models which are essentially large or tall hatchbacks with no real off-road credentials; like the SEAT Arona, which started life as a SEAT Ibiza. Then there's the Fiat 500X, the Audi Q2, the Mini Countryman, the Nissan Juke, the DS3 Crossback, and so on. There's a seemingly infinite amount of these cars around today, making up a huge chunk of the market share. In terms of these kind of crossovers, I'd argue the PT Cruiser's 2000 arrival was the first.

Like any self-respecting crossover, it took styling ques from larger vehicle. In this case, a 1930's Dodge Panel Truck. The stance of the car's exterior styling being angled down, towards the front came from a hot rod influence. It followed several concept cars and design experiments unveiled in auto shows leading up to the car's release. The unusual styling took the attention of buyers, but it was its practicality which showed it to be more than just a gimmick. The seating could be rearranged and the passenger seat was able to be folded down into a table configuration. There was also a split boot design which became something present on many modern crossovers we see today.

Despite starting at a higher base price than many of its rivals here in the UK for the 1.6 litre, the price of acquiring a high spec model with a 2.4 litre engine was considerably less than the cost of rival cars in top-spec. This wasn't without ramifications however, as it could be argued that Chrysler had cut too many corners with the PT Cruiser's interior quality to save money. Such cheap plastics were used that they would make a Barbie doll house look over engineered. I've also heard it's not a very well screwed together car. Frankly, these arguments might have a point but the PT Cruiser's short comings didn't stop it from building up a massive following of enthusiasts who loved the fact that you could buy one with fake wood stickers on the side, a variety of flame designs (as previously mentioned) or even a Route 66 Edition with chrome wheels.

For all the flack this car has received, there's a bit more to it than can be seen from the surface. Even if it was succeeded by the Dodge Caliber, which bares no resemblance of any kind, its influence is can still be seen in strength now in some of society's best selling cars. Plus I have to admit that as tacky as they are, I'd love a shot at customising one.

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