Chrysler PT Cruiser Mania: Could It Happen Today?

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The once-hot hatchback is now a complete dog…

These days, the Chrysler PT Cruiser is largely mocked. In fact, it was recently featured in The Grand Tour for a showcase of the worst American cars ever made, a sentiment many share. But when it launched in 2000 for the 2001 model year, people literally lined up for their chance to own one. CNN reported on dealers charging well over MSRP and preorders piling up.

Check out our pick for the most disappointing car reveal for last year here.

Shoppers seemed to be absolutely captivated by Bryan Nesbitt’s retro-inspired design, which was originally previewed as the Pronto Cruizer concept in 1998 at the Geneva Auto Show. Even though the concept was far sexier than the production model, the PT Cruiser was a welcome departure from the bubbly, wanna-be-futuristic car designs which inundated the market in the late 90s. Continuing a retro-cool vibe kicked off by the Plymouth Prowler, the PT Cruiser was hailed by some as the future of the industry. Adding to its appeal was the utilitarian nature of the large rear hatch and removable seats, combined with the fuel economy provided by a small four-cylinder engine.

Chrysler emphasized the fun yet practical nature of the PT Cruiser before it launched. The automaker highlighted the trim exterior dimensions and how they made parking a breeze, while claiming the interior volume of 119.8 cubic feet provided as much space as some full-size sedans. With MSRP set at $16,000 the little hatchback piqued the interest of many, leading to a mountain of preorders, something we can see with overly hyped vehicles today. In fact, The Baltimore Sun proudly declared in a headline the “PT Cruiser is hottest car on market.”

Almost instantaneously, PT Cruiser enthusiast clubs popped up, something Chrysler very much supported. The car’s fans were rabid, attacking anyone who dared to question what all the fuss was about. After all, it was paving the way for a better tomorrow and all obstacles to that progress had to be eliminated.

It wasn’t just Chrysler and its fans dutifully promoting the PT Cruiser when it launched. Car and Driver included it in the publication’s 10Best list for 2001, saying the “fuel-efficient tall wagon in a sexy wrapper” had won the 10Best jury over. It picked up quite a few other accolades, including being named North American Car of the Year for 2001.