By on October 12, 2020

2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser in Colorado junkyard, LH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhile it seems that we have always been at war with Eurasia Eastasia and hated the PT Cruiser, the loathing for Chrysler’s retro-styled, Neon-based “truck” didn’t become widespread until well into the smartphone/social-media era of the late 2000s and early 2010s. That was the time when the PT started showing up in large numbers in the big self-service junkyards I haunt. Now I see so many discarded PT Cruisers that I can be picky about which ones I document, and this first-model-year example in Deep Cranberry Pearl paint and screaming flames qualifies for inclusion in my Junked PT Cruiser Hall of Fame.

2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser in Colorado junkyard, flame decals - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFactory-applied flame decals for the PT Cruiser were available from Chrysler starting in the 2002 model year, and buyers of ’01s could get the decal kits from dealerships and have them installed. Many did.

2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser in Colorado junkyard, flame decals - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsOn top of that, multiple aftermarket companies created PT Cruiser flame kits, apparently because demand was incredibly strong for a new car truck that made you feel cool while draggin’ the line. After way too much maddening research slogging through gibberish-laden online PT Cruiser forums, I gave up trying to figure out whether this car’s flames were genuine factory flames or semi-custom aftermarket flames.

2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhile the PT Cruiser was just a tallish Neon with a rear hatch, Chrysler was able to work some regulatory magic to get this vehicle certified by the US government as a truck, legally speaking. That meant that fuel economy, emissions, and crash-safety requirements would be less strict than those applied to cars, with associated cost savings. PT Cruisers flew out of the showrooms for the first few years of production.

2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser in Colorado junkyard, engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsYou could get a PT Cruiser with a turbocharged engine and/or a manual transmission, but this one has the ordinary 150-horsepower engine and an automatic, like about 98% of the ones I find in car graveyards.

2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser in Colorado junkyard, decklid badge - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThere were plenty of special-edition PT Cruisers over its 2001-2010 sales run, including the Dream Cruiser in Aztec Gold paint and the Route 66 Edition with special badges. This one has just the slightly-better-than-El-Cheapo Limited Edition trim level.

2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser in Colorado junkyard, interior - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThis one looked pretty clean, but the resale value on even a nice PT Cruiser must be grim these days. Perhaps a “bustleback” body kit might have enhanced its value.


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34 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser, Purple Flamed Edition...”


  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Lol, My 91 year old mother has this exact PT Cruiser, same color/interior, only she has an elaborate pinstripe design on it. She bought it new and it now has 44K miles on it. Looks and runs like new

  • avatar
    Mike-NB2

    In a moment of weakness back when these cars first hit showrooms I was interested in them and half considered buying one. I didn’t. These things were hyper popular around where I live in Atlantic Canada though most of the buyers appeared to be 65+. Maybe it was a nostalgia thing for them.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      It was nostalgia, I tease my parents about their PT Cruiser all the time. I tell them the only reason they like it so much is because it looks like the first car they ever made out in

  • avatar
    David Cardillo

    At least someone had the nerve to attempt to thwart the dreaded “Chicken Tax”!! (BTW, that ad features a young Catherine Dent as baby momma….)

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    While getting the PT cruiser classified as a truck did mean that it was subject to lesser standards the primary reason that was not the primary reason they did so. This was back when CAFE actually meant what the name implied and fact is that their trucks had the worst fuel economy and this made the fleet average work on the Chrysler truck fleet. The Neon sold well enough that it kept the car side from costing them too much in fines.

  • avatar
    subuclayton

    PT Cruisers had their drawbacks but an article that takes potshots at their success smacks of elitism. These cars struck a chord with millions of people who liked them and who customized them innumerable ways.
    Of course there are lots of PT Cruisers in the junkyard. Chrysler built a s-load of them. That there so many still bombing around living a second life means you will see them for years to come. (Unlike 2000 Civics and Corollas)

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      Chrysler sold 1 million PT Cruisers, so a million people really liked them and once everyone who wanted one got one it was over

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Neon, which shared many components with it, was discontinued in 2005 and by 2006 Chrysler had still not established a replacement platform for the model. Given Daimler’s direction on using a Mitsubishi platform for the Caliber and then new Avenger, it was clear there was no will to continue the PT Cruiser. Had “the merger of equals” not already been a dumpster fire by 2005/06 the situation may have been different but even before 2008 the ROI wasn’t there.

        https://www.wardsauto.com/news-analysis/chrysler-not-settled-platform-pt-cruiser

      • 0 avatar
        subuclayton

        The “millions” was an uneducated guess. But most of the one million original buyers have moved on. Buyers of used ones seem to take great pride in their custom creations. If you see a
        PT Cruiser on the street, it is almost never an old heap, but something sharp and original. I like seeing them around, although I have never driven one.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          They actually are pretty nice, the fit, finish and interior of the originals is pretty good. They’re comfortable, peppy and the ride is not bad. They also have a lot of usable space to carry even the oddest sized cargo

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I’ve never understood the snark around them either. I only drove a PT Cruiser once but it was fine. I thought it was better than the Caliber or Avenger or nearly every Subaru I’ve experienced.

    • 0 avatar
      Johnster

      After the Neon had been discontinued and replaced by the Caliber, Consumer Reports rated the PT Cruiser higher than the Caliber and I agree with that decision. The PT Cruiser was a better vehicle than the Caliber.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        It definitely was, Johnster.

        • 0 avatar
          -Nate

          As a passenger I thought them okay .

          My buddy who bought his new still loves it and drives it all across America .

          That damned transmission was expen$ive to have rebuilt .

          I see lots of these in junkyards, almost every one is clean and well kept .

          Not liked as Barrio Bombers / Ghetto Hoopties .

          -Nate

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    My mom wanted one for the longest time, but ultimately never had a chance to buy one. When they first came out I recall hearing that dealers were putting some ridiculous mark-up on them, and they still seemed to sell. At the time mom was still in the camp of buying 5 year old used cars because she could get most of what she wanted and cash was an issue.

    I never could quite tell if the PT Cruiser was directly aping a past vehicle design or if it was just borrowing heavily from the 1940s era of vehicle design. It was kind of interesting in that it wasn’t like any of its contemporaries, but I was never sure if I would want want. I could see the utility of a tall hatchback on a relatively short wheelbase. Were I given the option of this over a Caliber, I’d take this hands down sans garish decals.

    Another question I’ve had was whether the HHR would have been considered a truck as well. It had similar body shapes going on. I won’t say “they all look the same” because they don’t, but both come from the era where retro-inspired styling was all the tags.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The idea behind the PT Cruiser was entirely logical. A tall hatchback, with an available MT and an available turbo. What is not to like?

    The interior is quite functional. Driving a friends with an MT I found the seating position comfortable, the vehicle easy to get into and out of, considerable interior space. Not too big or too tall for a ‘senior’ or new driver or urban use. Overall a useful vehicle.

    Unfortunately it was derided for a) its exterior ‘retro’ style and b) that it was a Chrysler product and therefore assumed to be ‘shoddy’.

    A low mileage or well maintained PT Cruiser from an area where cars don’t suffer from rust, would I believe be a nice 3rd car/grocery getter/student vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      >What is not to like?

      The horrible turning radius, for one thing. My aunt had one of these, and I drove it quite a bit before she passed away, errands etc., and they apparently had to limit the steering to make the front end packaging work to accommodate the retro styling. Neons seemed to have a much smaller turning radius.

      • 0 avatar
        Roberto Esponja

        The first Lexus RX350 had a horrible turning radius, yet still was a likeable and successful vehicle. I wouldn’t dismiss a vehicle simply because of a less than satisfying turning radius, the PT Cruiser had other positive qualities.

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    I remember when this was the Plymouth Pronto concept car and being surprised when it came back as a Chrysler production car a couple years later. It was one of several funky concept cars of the time that I had assumed was dead alongside the Plymouth brand.

    My coworker at the time paid a pretty penny for his “gently used” example, but he loved that thing.

    While I personally was never a fan of the design, kudos to Chrysler for A) actually making something unique to production and B) making something desirable out of Neon bits.

    • 0 avatar
      ahintofpepperjack

      Chrysler actually had several neat vehicles back then, The Plymouth Prowler, PT Cruiser, Dodge Viper, even the Chrysler 300, and Dodge magnum (A hemi powered wagon!)

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    My wifes old boss used to daily drive a PT Cruiser turbo. What was interesting was that he was in no way the usual demographic for a PT. A self made millionaire, who raced nationally a vintage 911 w/ PCA. There was so much cash on the hood on these towards the end of their run that he would just buy a new one every couple of years rather than buy new brakes/tires.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    These were hugely popular with the Greatest Generation and Silent Generation folks. No accounting for taste as I found them hideous. My colleague’s 100 year old grandpa just died with one of these in his garage. It was dead too, head gasket, which I’ve read is a fairly common problem with the breed.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I have travelled on biz for many years. During the period when Neon and PT Cruiser were on offer at the major rental agencies, I got in the habit of requesting them. I found them to be comfortable, practical companions as I called on contacts nationwide. There is something to be said for renting the same model car time after time…while perhaps a bit boring, arriving in Minneapolis late on a snowy night for example, it is nice to already know all the control locations on your rental…!

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    When I first learned that the PT Cruiser and the Chevy HHR were styled by the same guy (Bryan Nesbitt) I thought, “Huh. That figures.”

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    I never quite got the hatred for the PT Cruiser. I know the retro looks get mocked but were decently priced and practical. In many ways a cut above the Scion Xb. Would you have preferred a Neon wagon or hatch instead?
    I wished that it looked a bit like the prototype Plymouth Pronto and offered a two door, though the convertible was available. The nicer ones are the earlier pre 2006 version with the real bumpers and better interior before the Daimler era bean counter Rubbermaid like furnishings. And of course the 2.4 turbo is very tunable.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      “Would you have preferred a Neon wagon or hatch instead?”

      Yes.

      “In many ways a cut above the Scion Xb”

      This is incredibly ambitious.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        MRF is not wrong about the Xb… They’re little penalty boxes. Drive them for an hour or two on the freeway and see what happens…

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I have, if the base PT Cruiser gets points for comfort it then loses points to the Xb for pretty much every other metric.

          • 0 avatar
            iNeon

            PT Cruiser (especially the 2001-2005 run) spanks the Scion hatchbacks for comfort, power and livable nature.

            Originality, ‘feel’ and materials quality, too.

            Scion wagons are lightweight and tinny. Loud. PT Cruisers were many things— flimsy, light and loud were never in a PT’s character. The .look. of the 2006-2010 run wasn’t optimal, but the quality was never lacking.

            One can call them slow, but the Chrysler 2.4 feels a more substantial engine than any Toyota 1.5. The 2.4’s block and pistons are stout AF.

            Weakest parts of the car are the control arm and shifter bushings.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Count me in with the crowd that is puzzled by the PT Cruiser hate. They were a clever way for Chrysler to improve it’s CAFE average, increase sales and utilize the Neon platform fully. In addition, it was a unique car at the time. Outside of the VW Beetle, most other retro mobiles were aimed at higher incomes (SSR, Thunderbird).

    I rented them fairly often and liked them. A good seating position, a likeable chassis, good sightlines, all things we’d love to have now, without owning a SUV. It was such a good idea that GM had to copy it, post haste!

    Like others noted, the 2006 refresh was Daimler at it’s worst (wurst?); ruining a decent little compact wagon with the incredible cheapness not seen by US consumers before. Thankfully, by then I wasn’t traveling much for business anymore.

    I could never get my wife in one of these (or an HHR), I think it was too claustrophobic for her. One thing I didn’t like was that the fuel mileage was not great on the highway, but considering it’s blunt design, I’m not surprised.

  • avatar

    Everyone complains that all cars today look alike. And then the same people complain that PT Cruiser does not look like other cars. I was not fan of PT Cruiser but my wife was. I like retro Pontiacs circa Late 50s early 60s.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      For me there are only three sorts of vehicles. 1) Cars I like. 2) Cars I don’t like. 3) Cars I’m not sure about.

      The PT Cruiser is a 3. I thought it was interesting to look at, would be useful, but then I recall an undercurrent of Chrysler’s crap, avoid it. I wasn’t as aware of vehicles then and am only marginally moreso now and have no first hand knowledge.

      My thoughts on music are similar. There are only 2 types. Music I like and music I don’t like.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Echo the comments about what I call the “cool granny” demographic that bought these. Styling is always a matter of choice and we’re all free to choose (or reject) cars based on our personal opinions of styling.

    My only time riding in one is with a small town taxicab company- they have a small fleet of these with manual transmissions(!). So there’s a novelty angle to their business model. I agree that the interior is functional, and I thought that getting in and out of the things is as easy as any car on the road. Their cabs have fairly ordinary paint jobs with no flames, sorry to disappoint.

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