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If the PT Cruiser Was a Plymouth, It Would Have Saved the Brand

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author photo by Eric Brandt March 2018

I thought that everything that could be said about the Chrysler PT Cruiser had already been said, but I recently came to a profound realization. I observed one of the hundreds of thousands of PT Cruisers that I see every day, and remembered its passing resemblance to the Plymouth Prowler. Then I remembered hearing that the PT Cruiser was originally supposed to be a Plymouth. "PT" originally stood for "Plymouth Truck," and it began its life as the Plymouth Pronto concept (pictured). Unfortunately, the powers that be at DaimlerChrysler decided to kill the Plymouth brand before the Cruiser was ready for production, so they just made it a Chrysler instead. Then I thought about how automotive history would have been changed if one of our favorite cars to laugh at had come out as a Plymouth.

Imagine what could have been if Plymouth held on just a little bit longer. If the PT Cruiser came out with little sailboat emblems on it, it singlehandedly would have saved the entire brand. Not because it's a great car, obviously -- but because of the absurd amount of units that were sold. Over the course of nine model years, Chrysler sold over a million PT Cruisers in the U.S. alone, and they're still all over our streets to this day, eight years after the last one was built.

A Plymouth PT Cruiser also would have broken the too-long tradition of Plymouth compacts being identical to their Dodge counterparts, sometimes even sharing the same name. It all started with the first front-wheel-drive Chrysler compact, the L-body Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon. The cars were identical, with identical Pentastar badges -- but they carried different names. Then came the Dodge Shadow and the Plymouth Sundance, followed by the Dodge Neon -- which Chrysler lazily renamed the "Plymouth Neon," presumably to save money on badging.

The Plymouth PT Cruiser would have torn down that wall. Finally, a Plymouth that isn't badge-engineered directly from Dodge, and also isn't the Prowler. The success of the PT Cruiser could have given a hint to the higher-ups at Chrysler that we wanted something different from Plymouth. Sure, the PT Cruiser was still basically a second-gen Dodge Neon hatchback, but you wouldn't know that by looking at it, because of how differently they're styled.

The design language at Plymouth might have been, well, terrible at the time, but dang it, it would have been something different. It's like Doug said of the Pontiac Aztek: despite its legendary ugliness, at least it's something different that stands out in traffic. Imagine what Plymouth's take would have been on the Dodge Avenger or the LX cars like the Dodge Charger and the Chrysler 300. Maybe we'd even have a new Challenger-based Plymouth Barracuda. Plymouth could still exist today building crossovers that aren't the same vanilla flavor as most of the SUVs currently on the market. If only the PT Cruiser was there to save it.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
If the PT Cruiser Was a Plymouth, It Would Have Saved the Brand - Autotrader