I recently came across what may actually be a cool Chrysler PT Cruiser. Now, before you skip the rest of the words and go directly to telling me how wrong I am in the comments, hear me out. I’m not talking about the kind of PT Cruiser where the owner opened up the JC Whitney catalog and ordered two of everything that says it fits their vehicle. I’m also not talking about the ones that get used as alternate parking spaces for HUMMER H1s. Nope, none of those things. The one I’m talking about looks like a London taxi.
I first came across this car a few months ago as I was heading the opposite direction on the interstate and became the only person in the history to do a double take on a PT Cruiser. I figured that would be the end of it — a fleeting moment in my life. The moment I saw a PT interesting enough to look again. Obviously, no one would believe me and I would go down in history as that crazy guy who thought he saw a cool PT. So, when I happened to see the car again, this time with a few extra minutes and a convenient place to turn around, I followed the car for a few miles until it stopped. I talked with the owner for a few minutes, exchanged contact information and agreed to meet up another day so that I could spend some time with this creation.
In the time between that meeting and the next, with some internet sleuthing, I discovered that the cars were made by a company called AAT Cars, based in Pontiac, Michigan, and more commonly known for making C5 Corvettes resemble C1 Corvettes. I reached out to them, and the owner of AAT got back to me — so we talked for a while about the PT Cruiser and how these cars came to be. Here is their story.
With the dot com boom in full swing, new "dot coms" were popping up all the time, especially around the San Francisco area. The one we want to focus on today was called Parachute.com, which intended to provide scheduled deliveries for the wealthy neighborhoods around the city. They also wanted to use more subtle delivery vehicles so that no one had to look at those big ugly brown trucks every time they ordered the newest Zune. Since they wanted the cars to be easily recognizable, instead of any number of normal vehicles for sale here, however, they decided the best way to accomplish this task would be to use London Taxis.
They approached LTI (London Taxi International) about sending some cars over. The problem is, London Taxis are a bit on the pricey side, and it would’ve been expensive to bring them here, make them left-hand drive and legalize them. So an idea was born.
Enter the Chrysler PT Cruiser. LTI went to AAT Cars to see if it was feasible to provide a cost effective alternative, and they struck a deal. LTI would license the look of the London Taxi (for which, over time, they would make a couple million dollars), AAT would build the cars and Parachute would use them to deliver the latest laptop from Compaq.
The alterations were fairly simple and mostly on the front end. The whole nose was reshaped using fiberglass and molded to resemble the nose of the taxi, and LTI even allowed these vehicles to use their grille and headlights. With the exception of the taxi roof sign and a piece mounted to the tailgate to resemble that of the taxi, the rest of the car remains as it did when it left the factory.
AAT made twenty examples of this car, all of which were delivered to Parachute. While they all made it to San Francisco, some or most of them never went anywhere — and eventually the cars were sold off. This particular example seems to be one of the those. According to its Carfax report, there are zero entries from the year 2000 (after its initial move to CA) until 2009, where it suddenly shows up in New Hampshire with 1,000 miles on it. The New Hampshire owner used the car to market a business in a small town and added somewhere around 15,000 miles. She passed away about a year ago, and ownership was transferred to her brother here in Vermont, where the car is located now, getting driven regularly. When I drove the car, it had 28,000 miles on it.
Speaking of driving the car, let’s talk about what it was like. Unfortunately, while it does look unique from the outside, especially to those who may not immediately recognize its PT Cruiser heritage, it is entirely PT Cruiser under the hood and on the inside. It’s reasonably quiet and roomy. Visibility is pretty good (certainly better than most of today’s offerings!), and it doesn’t creek or rattle — which is an accomplishment for any early 2000s Chrysler product.
But, while the automatic is smooth, it’s also slow — and it couldn’t care less how much of a hurry you might be in. Its 150 horsepower feels like less, though that’s probably more the transmission’s fault than the engine’s, and steering is pretty vague. But, without the later turbo engine, the PT was never really meant to thrill and excite, so I can’t imagine there is a single person reading this that is surprised by this news. However, it does at least bring some smiles, some laughs and some strange looks from those around you. And occasionally some strange guy may follow you to ask if he can drive it!
So there you are: There are 19 more of these out there somewhere! If you find one, it could well be the rarest PT Cruiser ever! And, hey — whether you love the PT Cruiser or not, I’ll bet even the most cynical hater would have a smile on their face if their Uber driver pulled up in this.