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The Chrysler PT Cruiser: History, Buying Tips, Auctions, Photos, and More

All things Chrysler PT Cruiser on Automobile.

Chrysler PT Cruiser Essential History

To understand the PT Cruiser's place in automotive history, it's best to start with a quote from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "Most of it seemed to make some kind of sense at the time." In the mid-1990s, Chrysler was looking to drum up attention for the fading Plymouth brand. The company had been toying with the idea of a tall wagon based on the Neon platform, this despite poor customer research results and a lack of sales success for the Eagle Summit wagon. Given the acclaim for the Plymouth Prowler concept (which was on its way to production as a 1997 model) as well as the enthusiasm for Volkswagen's upcoming New Beetle, Plymouth decided to create a retro-themed mini-minivan.

After several false starts, designer Bryan Nesbitt came up with a sketch that had the right mix of retro and contemporary. (Read more about the PT's styling development in this Allpar interview.) Chrysler previewed the PT's styling theme with two concept cars, the 1997 Plymouth Pronto and the 1999 Pronto Cruizer. A production version was readied for the 1999 Detroit Auto Show, by which time the decision had been made to shutter Plymouth. When the car made its debut, it did so as the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Production began in 2000 for the 2001 model year.

Based on a heavily reworked Neon platform, the PT Cruiser was designed to be EPA-classified as a truck in order to help improve Chrysler's corporate average fuel economy (CAFÉ) numbers. Initially, all three PT Cruiser models (Base, Touring and Limited) were powered by a 150-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine driving the front wheels through either a five-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. The PT was exported to several foreign markets, where it could be had with a 2.0-liter gasoline engine or a 2.2-liter turbodiesel.

For the 2003 model year, Chrysler added the PT Cruiser GT. Powered by a turbocharged 2.4-liter engine that produced 215 hp, it was available with both manual and automatic transmissions. For 2004, a 180-hp version of the turbocharged engine was introduced for Touring and Limited models. Chrysler debuted a convertible PT at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show, and it joined the lineup for the 2005 model year.

In 2006 the PT Cruiser received its only styling update, with new headlights, a shortened grille, and a revised interior, while GT models got a power bump to 230 hp. The refreshed model came just in time to greet its only competitor, Chevy's new-for-'06 HHR.

Chrysler stoked interest in the PT Cruiser with a number of special editions, starting in 2002 with the Woodie and Flame packages. Other special editions included the Walter P. Chrysler Signature Series (2005-08), Street Cruiser Route 66 Edition (2006), Street Cruiser Pacific Coast Highway Edition (2007), Street Cruiser Sunset Boulevard Edition (2008), Couture Edition (2010), and five Dream Cruiser editions (2001-2008).

The PT Cruiser attracted a sizeable fan base largely owing to its styling. However, owners complained about indifferent build quality and low fuel economy from the supposedly economical 2.4.

PT Cruiser sales declined steadily after the 2006 facelift, dropping by nearly a third in 2007 and then by half in 2008, the last year for the convertible. With then-owner Cerberus Capital Management looking to cut costs, Chrysler announced that 2010 would be the last year for the PT Cruiser. By the time production ended, over 1.3 million PT Cruisers had been sold world-wide.

Chrysler PT Cruiser Highlights

At launch, Chrysler said that PT stood for "Personal Transport". According to Chris Theodore, vice president of platform engineering at Chrysler, the upcoming 2000 Neon on which the PT Cruiser was initially to be based was known internally by the code PL, and PT was short for P Tall.

The development of the PT Cruiser was subject to great internal debate. Bob Lutz, head of global product development, François Castaing, head of powertrain operations, and Chris Theodore were in favor of the project, but CEO Bob Eaton was opposed, and Sales and Marketing didn't think it would sell. In the interim, Castaing was promoted to EVP of international operations and pledged to take 50,000 units for export, which clinched the business case.

The designer behind the PT Cruiser, Bryan Nesbitt, also penned its only retro competitor, the Chevrolet HHR.

Chrysler PT Cruiser Buying Tips

Despite its age and uniqueness, the PT Cruiser has not yet caught on as a collectible car, though inevitably it will… someday. For now, PTs are still trading as ordinary used cars at rock-bottom prices, and even PT Cruiser clubs are seeing waning interest. That makes the PT an excellent buy for those who want to get in early; just keep in mind that you may be very, very early.

It's too early to tell if any particular PT Cruiser models will attain particular desirability, though it isn't hard to guess that GT models and limited-production special editions are likely to be the most collectible.

Chrysler's build quality throughout the 2000s wasn't stellar, so it's likely that all but the lowest-mileage examples will run into problems—and for the low-mileage cars it's a matter of time. Because of their utilitarian interiors and low resale values, many PTs were pressed into service as cheap family haulers, which means they may not have received the best of care.

Chrysler PT Cruiser Articles on Automobile

Hasta la vista, PT.

2010 will be the last year for Chrysler's retro box.

Facelifted PT meets its new cross-town nemesis.

Worth waiting for?

We spend a happy year with the new PT.

Chrysler PT Cruiser Recent Auctions

Chrysler PT Cruiser Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 2000 (2001 model year)
  • Last year of production: 2010
  • Total sold: 1.05 million (US), 300,000 (export)
  • Original price (base): $16,000
  • Characteristic feature: Retro styling, plethora of special editions

Chrysler PT Cruiser FAQ 

Why did Chrysler stop making the PT Cruiser?

After peaking in 2006, PT Cruiser sales began to decline rapidly. Owner Cerberus Capital Management was looking to cut costs, so the PT Cruiser got the axe.

Is the Chrysler PT Cruiser a good car?

That depends on your definition of good. In terms of style, uniqueness, and utility, the PT Cruiser is very good—and unlike anything else on the road. In terms of performance and build quality… not so much.

When did Chrysler stop making the PT Cruiser?

2010 was the last year for the Chrysler PT Cruiser. The last PT Cruiser came off the assembly line in Toluca, Mexico, on July 9, 2010.

What problems do PT Cruisers have?

The PT Cruiser was not known for outstanding build quality. The 2.4-liter engine was known to burn oil, particularly in early years. Electrical problems leading to rough running or difficult starting may also crop up. Owners complained about a lack of power and poor fuel economy from the base 2.4-liter engine.