Preview: ‘04 PT Dream Cruiser Series 3

August 18, 2003

2003 Woodward Dream Cruise Index by TCC Team (8/18/2003) 

In nearly four years on the market, what Chrysler’s PT cruiser retro-breadvan/wagon/sedan has lacked in variety of body styles, it has more than made up in variety of special paint and trim custom packages.

There was the 2001 street-roddish Flames version, then a nostalgic Woodie version and the ’02 Inca Gold PT Dream Cruiser Series 1, introduced for the 2001 Woodward Dream Cruise, followed by the ’02 PT Turbo, the ’03 Chrome Accents version, the Tangerine Pearl turbocharged Dream Cruiser Series 2, an updated ’04 Chrome Accents package and now — drum roll! — the two-tone turbocharged PT Dream Cruiser Series 3.

Depending on how you count, Series 3 is the eighth special-edition PT and easily the best equipped and most elaborately decorated. Unveiled the Tuesday morning of Woodward Dream Cruise week in suburban Detroit, it begins with handsome two-tone paint and extends to Cruiser GT mechanicals, including aggressive 17-inch tires on chrome cast-aluminum five-spoke wheels and Chrysler’s 220-hp, 2.4-liter high-output turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Not surprisingly, it’s also the most expensive at $28,810, plus $590 destination charge, roughly $7,000 more than the standard model.

Factory custom

“We received inspiration for this, the third member of our limited-production PT ‘dream team,’ from the hundreds of Chrysler PT Cruiser owner events held across the globe,” said Chrysler Group Marketing vice president Tom Marinelli. “It’s all about upping the ante and making your PT Cruiser just a bit more unique than the one parked next to you.”

One disadvantage of “factory” custom versions is that there are others out there exactly like it. One major advantage, however, as Marinelli quickly reminds us, is that factory jobs retain the factory seven-year/70,000-mile warranty. Owner-customized versions often do not.

The Series 3 Dream Cruiser will be fairly exclusive with a build of “fewer than 2,000” planned at the Toluca, Mexico, plant beginning later this month. The 2002 Series 1 and 2003 Series 2 PT Dream Cruisers were built in quantities of 5500 and 2200, respectively. Also, to enhance collectibility, Series 3 VINs will be reserved in a continuous sequenced block.

The Series 3’s most visible and distinguishing feature is its Midnight Blue over Bright Silver two-tone paint. These Cruisers are sprayed solid silver at the plant, then the blue upper is applied at a Mannheim facility in Detroit. Blue tinted windows all around (darker in the rear) complete the custom look.

Chrysler proudly points out that this design harkens back to the bold, multi-tone paint schemes popular in the 1950s, and again on some muscle and specialty cars in the 1970s, but is the company’s first two-tone since then.

“Chrysler hit its heyday with custom paint options in 1955,” said Dave McKinnon, vice president Small, Premium and Family Vehicle Design, “including bold, contrasting bodyside inserts called ‘color sweeps’ on its upscale Plymouth and Chrysler vehicles.”

“That year,” he added, “Chrysler offered an astounding 56 solid hues, 173 two-tone combinations and several three-tone choices—which usually included white, black and one additional bright color such as fuchsia, bright yellow or lavender.”

“These combinations might seem a little flamboyant by today’s standards,” McKinnon said, “but they were extremely popular and helped the company sell 1.6 million vehicles in 1955, more than in any year prior to that time.”

Marinelli opined that the two-tone paint “is a natural for the PT. It pulls a page out of the past, and the car has a natural nostalgic element.”

The Dream Cruiser Series 3 exterior package also includes special badging, bright bodyside moldings, and chrome horizontal accents on the grille. Inside are unique two-tone seats, dark slate leather with light slate accents, and Chrysler brand winged badges on the headrests. This two-tone pattern extends to the door trim panels, the floor mats and the instrument panel.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel’s spokes and the standard Getrag five-speed manual transaxle’s shift knob are satin silver, while the optional AutoStick automatic’s shift bezel, the lock knobs, the pedals, and the sill plate inserts are bright chrome, the latter embossed with the winged Chrysler logo. In our opinion, it’s a striking and attractive package.

Additional standard hardware includes four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and traction control, a power moonroof with an “express-open” feature, a liftgate-mounted rear spoiler, AM/FM/six-CD charger audio system and SIRIUS digital satellite radio.

Series 3 Dream Cruisers should arrive (in very small quantities) at Chrysler dealerships beginning in mid-September.

Sales and futures

PT Cruiser sales have held relatively steady this year at 8,000 to 10,000 a month, for a total of nearly 71,000 this model year in the U.S. and about 94,000 worldwide through July. For 2002, U.S. sales were 138,260, down slightly from 144,717 in 2001. Total sales from the vehicle’s February, 2000, introduction through July have been more than 570,000 worldwide.

Production of the ’04 PT Cruiser convertible (an actual second body style) introduced at the Geneva auto show in 2002, is scheduled to begin in January, and the long-awaited Cruiser ragtops should hit dealerships in March. Marinelli expects U.S. sales of the convertible to be “north of 20,000” annually.

New for ’04 as a $1200 option — and standard on the coming convertible — is a milder turbocharged version of the 2.4-liter four that generates 180 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. “This affordable turbo engine will broaden the vehicle’s appeal and help maintain the momentum,” Marinelli said. The 220-hp, 245 lb-ft high-output turbo four is standard on the ’04 GT model and optional on the convertible.

Another interesting new feature is Chrysler’s Uconnect Communications option, which uses Bluetooth technology to provide hands-free, in-vehicle communications. Integrated into the electrical architecture, the system can support as many as five customer-owned cellular phones conveniently placed anywhere inside (or even close to) the vehicle, with the phones’ audio heard through the radio speakers.

The most interesting question to us, which no one at Chrysler really can answer, is what happens when the PT Cruiser’s nostalgic ’40s windowed bread-van look grows so stale that even a solid stream of special custom versions can’t hold the buying public’s interest? How in the world could you facelift or re-style the PT Cruiser?

The obvious answer is, you can’t. They’ll have to invent something new and different again—which we’ll bet they’re already exploring — and/or do a retro convertible pickup to challenge Chevy’s sexy SSR.

“The icon styling is so emotional,” Marinelli said, “and that is what sells it. We’ve got to maintain the styling and somehow keep it fresh.”

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