Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible: Retrograde movement
The soft-top version of Chrysler's PT Cruiser suffers from all the original's faults, plus a few more all of its own, says Michael Booth
Sunday 24 July 2005
Price on the road £17,495
Maximum speed 118mph (0-62mph in 11.1 seconds)
Combined fuel consumption 31.7mpg
For more information 0800 616 159
I'm no great sage, I'll admit it, but I have learnt some basic, inalienable truths about life that I am happy to share with you for no extra cost. First, never trust a man in dungarees. It may seem self evident, but sometimes they can appear trustworthy. Second, true to conventional wisdom, a red hat actually very often does signify that a woman is not wearing any knickers. And third, any car with a roll-bar like the handle of a strawberry basket will be rubbish.
From the Triumph Stag to the Talbot Samba Convertible to this, the Chrysler PT Cruiser, the use of this crude, ugly safety brace is, almost without exception, a warning to steer clear. The only exception I can think of is the original Volkswagen Golf convertible which, in its day, was just about the most desirable car in West London (preferably driven while wearing large sunglasses mounted atop an Hermès headscarf). The Golf convertible was a cheap, practical, reliable alternative to all those rattly old death-trap convertibles such as the Triumph Spitfire or MGB Roadster - in its own way it was rather revolutionary. These days, however, a roll-bar can be integrated into windscreen surrounds or primed to activate from a concealed hidey hole in a matter of milliseconds when a roll is detected. Modern convertibles are designed with all the structural bracing they need hidden within their chassis, so a fixed, mid-mounted, single-arc roll-bar is a sure sign that the engineers involved received their qualifications from a mail-order college in Utah.
Imagine how much better the PT Cruiser would look without this automotive Alice band. Less like a pram, that's for sure. But, doubtless, if they were to remove it, the thing would probably end up looking like something a troupe of clowns would use to enter a circus ring. The PT Cruiser was never the most impressive piece of engineering. We could argue all day about the appeal or otherwise of its retro-futuristic (or whatever they call it) hot-rod styling, but the sorry truth is simply that Chrysler isn't as good at making cars as other manufacturers. From the Cherokee to the Neon to the Voyager to the Crossfire, its cars don't look very nice, don't drive very well and don't last very long. And it's catching. Getting into bed with Chrysler was the worst thing Mercedes-Benz ever did - rather than the Germans raising the American company's game, Chrysler dragged Mercedes down to its level, and the rest is history.
I appreciate that this is probably a question of taste, but the Cruiser is not for me: it's too cartoonish, too contrived and, well, too American Graffiti. Is there anything nice I can say about it? Well, the new soft top is quite roomy in the back, but then again, clambering in there is a royal pain and, if you are unfortunate enough to sit in the back when the roof is down, you'll be picking midges out of your teeth for days, as there is virtually no protection from the wind. The roof folds in about 10 seconds, which is quick, but it would take a team of five origami black belts to try to fit the vinyl tonneau cover once it is down.
It also drew more attention than I expected, which I believe is sometimes considered a plus by some. But they only come in left-hand drive, the emissions are poor and it drinks like a navvy. Ghastly chrome wheels, too. Oh, yes, I do know one other positive thing about it: they are only going to import about 100 a year.
It's a Classic: Triumph Stag
The Triumph Stag was never the success British Leyland hoped it would be. Its appalling reliability (its V8 was made from two Dolomite engines stuck together because Triumph was too proud to use the far better Rover V8), lacklustre performance, the oil crisis of the early 1970s, the car's enduring Jason King image and, of course, that silly roll-bar meant it found far fewer buyers than the 500 a week that the company originally predicted. I really don't know if I should admit this in public, but I used to own a Triumph Stag. I'm not particularly proud. I was about 19 years old, very impressionable and desperate to impress. Mine cost about £1,000 but was only partially assembled and finished in grey primer. Frankly, it was a complete disaster of a car that should have been crushed to a cube and recycled as tin foil, but I reckoned I could turn it into a silk purse and set about "doing it up". Eventually it bankrupted me and I sold it to a garage. I later saw the same car on TV in a feature on Top Gear as a warning about the dangers of buying old Triumph Stags.
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