A Lukewarm Defence of my PT Cruiser

To Ian, Mark, and Siete
May the Cruiser haunt your dreams forever.

As a student in Utrecht, in possession of both a bicycle and a student OV, I had never seriously considered owning a car in the foreseeable future. Although I have always loved driving, I simply did not see the point of paying a considerable monthly charge for a car that would be standing still too often to justify the costs. Aside from that, owning a car seemed like just the thing to undermine all the effort I had put in over the years to reduce my carbon footprint; cycling may not be an enjoyable activity, especially when at the mercy of fickle Dutch weather, but it was cheap, green, and the most regular exercise I got. No, I had decided, I would not get a car until I actually needed one on a structural basis. 

However, life tends to get in the way of my carefully crafted plans.
I did not choose the Cruiser; the Cruiser chose me.

Ever since I got it thrown in my lap as part of an inheritance, it’s been the butt of many jokes, my own included. The bulk of criticism is centred around its unique aesthetic, as it stubbornly refuses to live up to vehicular beauty standards — contemporary and otherwise. As one of my friends, quoting an article pulled up for the sole reason of mocking me, put it: “the greatest thing about the Chrysler PT Cruiser is the fact that it represents everything that was wrong about early 2000s car design” (Homer). 

Observed from the front, the Cruiser appears to smile at the onlooker, cross-eyed and round-cheeked, sporting a prominent license-plate moustache. The front-end bumper is so bulky it could double as a shelf, and has been placed at a peculiar latitude: not at the bottom, where I assumed bumpers belonged, but smack dab in the middle, a protruding ridge running right underneath the headlights. This placement causes the characteristic Chrysler grille to be split into two parts, divided by the bumper running over it: the part below this disruptive borderline forms the ever-smiling mouth, whereas the isolation of the larger part above somehow ends up drawing more attention to the almond-shaped headlights, strengthening the impression of cross-eyedness. My friends have designated its expression ‘nightmarefuel,’ but I would describe it as the closest a car can get to emoting the sheer dumb optimism of the simple-minded, a mechanical rendering of the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ in metal painted blue.

As for the rest of the car, the main instruction for the design team appears to have been that absolutely no edges should, under any circumstance, be angular; even the dashboard panels have a slightly bloated look to them. The Cruiser may be thicc all around, the booty still stands out: its elevated behind commands one’s attention, as it is not just the widest, but also the tallest part of the frame. These unusual proportions require the car to taper down from back to front, leaning heavily into its front tires in what I interpret as either a design meant to mimic a mid-brake freeze-frame, or to convey an impatient readiness for forward momentum. The combined effect of all these intriguing stylistic choices is a voluptuous, dumb-yet-friendly-looking car whose posture is second only to Siete’s in terms of awfulness.

On a positive note, however, my standard model in dark blue is outright inoffensive when compared to some of the alternatives out there. When my friends kick off the latest instalment of The Roast of Lea’s Cruiser, which at this point has become a biweekly affair, I can always fall back on the fact that at least it isn’t the horrifying convertible model. Moreover, it is an absolute beauty compared to the specimen we encountered in Didam, which was adorned with a checkered roof, a fuzzy leopard-print steering wheel cover and a tiny leather backpack. The roof of mine may be embellished with duct-tape (more on that later), at least it’s not pretending to be a Mini with daddy issues.

Regardless, it is not the car I would necessarily have gone for had I had the freedom of choice. For a dedicated SP voter, my dad had a peculiar fascination with American culture; this expressed itself most tangibly through his choice of vehicles, starting with his beloved Harley Davidson motorcycles. When the time was ripe for a new car, he made it clear he was set on buying a ‘real American,’ his tone implying this would be a qualitative improvement as well as a very cool and unique thing to do. Imagine our surprise when instead of a Chevy, Cadillac, or even a Ford, he proudly revealed the PT, a car my American friends describe as ‘the quintessential mom car.’ I thought it wise to keep this to myself, so as to not provoke any animosity between myself and the man who held the keys, and therefore the power to revoke my driving privileges at any given moment. Besides, ruining what little joy he did manage to squeeze out of life every now and then seemed cruel, so I feigned excitement instead.

The “real American” appeared to be in decent shape for a fourteen-year-old car, but some minor issues began to manifest themselves rapidly. Unusual ones. Days before I was to drive myself and three friends to Berlin for the weekend, the glue that usually adheres the fabric lining to the inside of the roof had mysteriously disintegrated. Exclusively attached by the reading lights and the very edges of the ceiling, the draped folds gave the interior a sort of flaccid tent-vibe, much to the chagrin of my tall friend in the back, doomed to wear the ceiling like a droopy hat for the duration of the journey. My dad had it fixed soon after, but this initial absurd malfunction is still brought up frequently when my car is ridiculed.

Within three months of transferring the Cruiser to my name, the blinker controls abruptly ceased to function. As the confused yet helpful mechanic pointed out to me, these controls connect directly to the emergency lights button[1]: the entire mechanism would have to be replaced, setting me back approximately €70. However, he proceeded to demonstrate that wiggling said button a certain way restored the connection, though he could not guarantee the continued effectiveness of this cheat. Is the slight inconvenience of wiggling a button every once in a while worth the savings and effort of getting it fixed? Indubitably. Is it also an idiosyncrasy my friends have happily usurped into their arsenal of anti-Cruiser propaganda? Obviously.

The hitherto absolute biggest source of comedy gold, however, revealed itself when the Cruiser started leaking. On the inside. For some reason, it has a lump on the ceiling above the rear-view with a little display in it, which informs you what cardinal direction the car is facing. Every time it rained, or had rained at any point in the two days prior, drops of water would dangle from it, intermittently dropping in the vicinity of the gear shift, or on yours truly if a route required even the slightest of right-hand turns. Needless to say, I was soon deprived of my cardinal orientation, the bulge having relinquished its directional duties in favour of its new function: subjecting me to mild Chinese water torture. I did what any responsible semi-adult would do: I assured myself the problem would probably fix itself. 

When that strategy proved futile, I decided that laziness was a totally valid excuse for putting off the task ahead, especially if said task required me to put on Outside Clothes. Besides, the slow drip had not yet managed to negatively affect anything but my now useless ceiling bulge, which was about as useful to me now as before. Then came the autumn rain. After weeks of frequently encountering (and ignoring) the small puddles forming in the leather gear stick covering and oversized coin-holes, it was the outrageous degree to which my windows started to fog up from the excess moisture inside that finally drove me to do something. It took two attempts, but I eventually managed to slap enough duct-tape over the plastic nub on the roof which appeared to be the culprit to cease the incremental yet persistent flooding of my car. My friends kindly remarked that at least the duct tape distracted the eye from the bright bits of moss growing out of the window rubbers.

Let me ask you this: is an auto-mobile not first and foremost a utilitarian object, with the purpose of taking you from A to B? Has my ugly car not helped you move, taken you on trips, allowed you to circumvent public transportation during a pandemic? Didn’t we all get taught that it’s the personality that counts? The Cruiser may not be pretty, but as a consequence I don’t feel any pressure to keep it pretty. I don’t much care what my car looks like – it has been washed twice in the year and a half that I’ve owned it, and neither of those occurrences were my doing. I’d much rather have a car I can track snow into, a car in which I can eat a croissant, spill my drink, and transport people’s muddy bikes without stressing about my genuine calf leather upholstery. I want the time I back into my first post or tree to be an anecdote about how that dent got there, rather than a sour story about how criminally expensive repairs were.

Perhaps the theory that dogs tend to resemble their owners can be applied to cars as well. I do not believe my appearance generally provokes quite as much confused disgust as the Cruiser’s does, but there is some definite overlap: like me, it has a number of very specific issues, requires a substantial manual, is made fun of by my friends constantly, yet keeps going strong in a chaotic, messy sort of way. It often surprises, like the time its rear wind-shield wiper ceased functioning for two months only to magically begin working again when I needed it to combat the snow. Unexpectedly, my refusal to get things fixed until they start approximating an actual hazard paid off, a fact I have now brandished as a very valid and objective argument to never change my ways. Because, unlike myself, the Cruiser never breaks down, never refuses to start, and never overheats.

Minor complications aside, it’s a roomy, dependable car, and even my friends grudgingly admit it has great suspension and a decent sound system. The Cruiser has grown on me like window moss; originally, the plan was to get rid of it as soon as my father’s house was sold, but it has proved a great asset over the course of the pandemic, for the entire household I might add. Public transportation has lost what little appeal it had, and cycling is effort. Those very friends that refuse to appreciate my Cruiser for what it is have profited most of the freedom of mobility it has brought us all. It may be a tad handicapped in the turning radius area, and occasionally part with its license plates in the car wash, but I don’t see you loving me any less because I semi-regularly walk into door frames and consistently manage to lose my vape.

My cross-eyed Cruiser may not be my dream car, but it’s mine, the first one I’ve ever owned. I have come to embrace its idiosyncrasies: its defects make me feel at home, remind me that things don’t have to be perfect or even fully functional to be loved. My friends may have placed it second on their Ugliest Car tier list (surpassed only by the Fiat Multipla), the Cruiser has won my affection, and no car will ever be quite like it.

By Lea Dokter

Works Cited

Homer, Talon. “Why the Chrysler PT Cruiser Is a Future Classic: If the Spice Girls Can Make a
Comeback, Then There Is Absolutely Nothing Stopping the PT Cruiser.” The Drive, 28 Jan. 2018,
https://www.thedrive.com/article/17420/why-the-chrysler-pt-cruiser-is-a-future-classic.

[1] Inexplicably, this button is located on top of the steering column, entirely obscured by the steering wheel from the driver’s perspective. Imagine my face the first time I needed to use the emergency lights; for a minute there, I seriously started considering the possibility my car might not have any.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s