Monday, March 02, 2009

The PT Cruiser

A change of subject, instead of talking about media, I'm going to talk about cars - at least one model, the PT Cruiser.

In the mid-1990s, Volkswagen introduced the New Beetle. This was basically a Jetta with a new body made to resemble the iconic Beetle from the 1960s. A few years later Chrysler announced their own retro car - the PT Cruiser. The Cruiser looked like a cross between a Beetle and a classic hot-rod. The Beetle had a lot of trade-offs for its look. It is only a two-door with a small trunk and a difficult-to-service engine. The Cruiser solved most of those problems. It was four-door and had a huge amount of usable space for its size. It was also fairly inexpensive, starting below $20,000.

During its first few years the Cruiser was a halo car for Chrysler. People stopped just to look at it. Merely having it in their lineup made Chrysler seem cool. It was at least two years before production caught up to demand. Prior to that you had to get on a long waiting line or pay a premium to get a Cruiser.

Other companies tried to produce a retro car. Ford launched its revived T-Bird which started off hot but cooled quickly. GM came out with their SSR and HHR. The SSR, a cross between a pickup and a hot-rod was heavy, slow, and overpriced. The HHR was a better try but when you parked it next to a full-sized pick-up it looked like a scale model of a larger car. That never happened with the Cruiser.

Sales eventually dropped. Chrysler made a half-hearted attempt at freshening its looks but mainly managed to dilute them. The original Cruiser had a triangular grill that went past the bumper. This was responsible for a lot of its distinctive look. The new Cruiser lopped off the grill at the bumper, making it look more like a Pacifica. This was probably deliberate. According to one of the Cruiser's designers, Chrysler's German owners never liked or understood the Cruiser.

I owned two of them. I loved the first one but it was totalled in a wreck. I replaced it with a slightly newer one that had more options. When that wore out I considered getting a new one but the new design just didn't excite me the way that the original did.

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