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Story and photos by Paul Williams
Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible owner Rolf Endre loves his car. “It’s just fantastic,” he says. “With the roof up, it’s silent inside; feels just like a hardtop. But it takes only seconds to lower it and when you’re on the highway, you don’t get the wind and buffeting like in other convertibles.”
That’s exactly what Edscha Roof Systems (ERS), the U.S. subsidiary of the German roof specialist that designed and builds the top, wants to hear.
In an interview with www.Autos.ca, Thomas Wuensche, President of the North American operation of Edscha based in Pontiac, Michigan, described his company’s development of the PT Cruiser convertible top as a task with particular challenges.
“It had to be developed in a short period of time, built locally (near the Chrysler Group plant in Toluca, Mexico that builds the PT Cruiser), and technically innovative.”
The PT Cruiser, of course, is a retro-design four-door wagon/hatchback (the convertible is a two-door). It has a particular look that inspires great loyalty among its owners, many of whom have formed clubs and run annual shows to display their cars. No one wanted the distinctive look of the PT Cruiser compromised when it went topless.
“We recognized that the result must maintain the character and distinctive profile of the car,” says Mr. Wuensche. “Another requirement was that the engineering of the top had to be performed in America. At 2.16 metres in length, this is the biggest soft top ever made by Edscha.”
Rolf Endre, PT Cruiser Convertible owner. Click image to enlarge
But the company had extensive experience building convertible tops to draw upon. In the 1980s, Edscha, which has manufacturing facilities located in Europe, the U.S., Canada and Mexico, decided to apply its expertise in hinge systems to the design and production of soft tops.
Since then, it has produced over one million convertible top systems for vehicles such as the BMW 3 Series, the new BMW 6 Series, Audi TT, Smart Roadster (in Europe) and Volvo C70. In North America, Edscha joint-ventured with ASC to form Premier Roof Systems (PRS), which produced the convertible top for the BMW Z4. In January 2005, Edscha took full control of PRS and now supplies roofs for 100 per cent of the BMW convertible range.
The first thing you notice with the PT Cruiser convertible top is its high quality. Unlike other tops, such as older vinyl tops, single-layer canvas tops, or even more modern, double-layer tops, the PT Cruiser Convertible’s roof is a premium-quality, triple-layer design.
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There’s even a headliner, like in cars with a fixed roof, and insulating material that achieves a level of noise reduction comparable to that of the PT Cruiser sedan. At highway speeds, the tendency of convertible tops to “balloon” is eliminated due to the way Edscha connects the fabric to the bows of the roof.
All PT Cruiser Convertibles feature power roof operation, with a single locking mechanism in the centre to release or secure the forward bow (should power fail, the top can be raised and lowered manually). A twist of the latch and push of a button are all that’s required to automatically raise or lower the top, an operation which takes less than 20 seconds. And due to its “floating bow” design, the latch doesn’t require muscle-power to operate.
This was a particular concern for Endre, as he and his wife didn’t want to grapple with hard-to-find and uncooperative levers.
Chrysler PT Cruiser. Click image to enlarge
On the road, water and air don’t intrude into the cabin due to the side-sealing technology built into the soft-top system. As with more expensive systems found on the BMW Z4 or Porsche Boxster, for instance, a brief actuation of the window lift causes the side windows to push into or drop out of an open profile seal along the sides of the top. In practice, when you open the doors, the window drops slightly to clear the seal, and when you close the doors, the window pushes up into them.
The backlight is glass, and the soft top is of a higher specification than buyers may expect from a vehicle with a base price of $27,415.
Says Endre, “This is the best convertible top I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve owned ten convertible cars. It’s easy to use, completely waterproof, and because the top clears the back seat when it’s lowered, there’s room for our grandchild in her car seat.”