2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT convertible
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Story and photos by Michael Clark

Somewhere between L.A. and San Francisco – They say it never rains in Southern California. They never said anything about how cold it gets.

With a steady diet of metric pummelled into my head since grade school, I fumbled with the celsius translation for 54 degrees. Ow, my brain hurts. I think I’ll just step out onto the hotel balcony and…quickly run back inside. In a word, brrrr!

It had to warm up. Downstairs was a 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT rag, just itching at the chance to zip my pasty hide up California 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. As a lifelong Winnipegger, I was well versed in the art of that first Springtime top-down experience. Start with a wooly sweater. Lower the top. Set the heat and defrost on max. Enjoy.

Those convertible experiences were usually centred around two types of drop-tops; diminutive MGs with X-Tra-Squeeze cabins, or North American behemoths that sat eight – with shoulder room. As we passed around the Thermos of mostly coffee, we paid homage to that great yellow orb, with liberal applications of Hawaiian Tropic. I think the SPF was 4.

My last drug store run saw the shelves stocking 60 SPF goo. The sun is no longer the happy-go lucky mass that you could turn the kids loose under from late June to early September. It’s gone nasty on us. Perhaps all those tailpipe belchings from Oldsmobile Delta 88 ragtops were to blame.

And still we worship. The ragtop has seen a resurgence that has not occurred since a former Ford exec put canvas tops onto K-Car platforms in the early eighties. Even the names appear to be appeasement to Ra. Solstice, Sky, and Solara when ordered accordingly. If it’s a coupe, and you want to sell them, you had better break out the carbide-tip jigsaw and a bolt of canvas. Or possibly the return of the hardtop convertible, IE Pontiac’s coming soon G6. They get people in the dealership.

2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT convertible
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While the PT drop-top appears late in the game, it definitely follows on popular heels. The Toluca, Mexico plant that produces them recently minted the one-millionth example. While the funk factor is getting on in years, this updated Airflow design has proven that something born in the 1930s can still be relevant today. Just look at William Shatner.

The salsa heat ratings of the various PTs range from Grandma mild to darn-near spicy. Price of admission starts at an MSRP of $27,790, with the normally-aspirated 150 hp 2.4-litre four. My GT tester starts off at $32,650. That bump provides the High Output turbo version of the 2.4, rated at 230 ponies. A 180 hp turbo is available as an option on the Touring edition. The base shift solution is a Getrag 5-speed stick on the GT, however my left foot received cramping from the presence of the optional 4-speed AutoStick slushbox. Add the high-polish 17-inch wheels, and the MSRP was now sitting at $34,650.

2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT convertible
Click image to enlarge

The exterior has seen few changes, save for the two doors of the PT rag and the GT nomenclature. The interior refresh includes a revised centre stack, and a sign-of-the-times MP3 auxiliary jack for the sound system. The minivan-style seating positions remain, as do the Fold-and-Tumble rear seats for cargo conundrums. Since the convertible top dispenses with the obvious hatch, the PT rag uses a tip-up rear cargo lid, providing access to a most useable trunk space with pass-through for bulky items. While not for every taste, Chrysler should be lauded for their interior plastics prowess. The materials are by no means high-grade, however the fit and finish and innovative use of textures is refreshing, instead of the usual sea of beige or greys.

2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT convertible

2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT convertible
Click image to enlarge

The convertible top has improved sound insulation, as well as an electric defrost rear glass window. Top-down is quick and easy; simply flip down the overhead centre catch, twist, and hit the dash-mount button. The top boot is held on by two snaps, and is formed to contain the contours of the folded canvas underneath. If you’ve ever had to roll down four manual windows or fiddle with British side curtains, you’ll appreciate the all-up/all-down power window feature. If you sprint, you can be deepening your facial lines in as little as 30 seconds flat. The basket handle-style sport bar is made of hydroformed steel, adding to overall chassis rigidity and reduced wind buffeting. My do hasn’t been buffeted since the early Nineties, so I’ll have to take Chrysler’s word on it. It’s also a great place to hang the towel to dry.

Rear seat access is ample for that one couple you trust with your personal baggage. It is rare to find a four-seat convertible that doesn’t require rear passengers to be wedged in with a shoe horn, petroleum jelly, and an overhead crane. The rear passengers are smiling in the PT brochures; they aren’t faking.

2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT convertible
Click image to enlarge

Dual frontal airbags are joined by front seat-mounted side air bags at the GT trim level. (Optional on Touring.) The GT adds further safety dollops, with four-wheel power disc brakes with anti-lock. There is also a low-speed traction control for the wintry slicks. Front suspension is MacPherson strut with a high-roll centre to help reduce body lean. The rear employs a twist-beam axle with a Watt’s linkage. This allows for low placement of the rear suspension architecture, affording more cargo and passenger space above.

As the temperature finally creeped over 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it was time to do like the Californians do. At speed, the wind flow is definitely assisted by the rear sport bar, though it is by no means erased. Tell your friends it’s your new shampoo, “Gee, Your Hair Looks Like You Put The Top Down”. Sure, you can dial up the windows, though let me go on record that the true ragtop experience is weakened by such displays. Buy a hardtop instead, you summer love poser.

2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT convertible
Click image to enlarge

The Chrysler web fodder describes the High Output Turbo as “wickedly responsive”. It would appear that me and Chrysler differ greatly on what we consider evil. Oh, there’s power allright. It isn’t smack you in the head, 6.1-litre HEMI thrust, but it will get you moving without embarrassment. The stick would have been the PCH choice. The 4-speed AutoStick was best used to hold the proper gear for hills and extra torque on curves. When it comes to slap shift, the AutoStick is abrupt with its gear transitions. Best to leave it in Drive. Rear vision is obscured with top up or down, the window a thin sliver of glass, and the top boot just high enough to hide everything but a CHP cruiser’s light bar. Or so I’ve been told.

Who knew it could corner? The PT exhibited impressive twisty bit navigation, with the steering properly assisted. The expected understeer at amplified cornering speeds simply did not occur. The GT states the existence of a sport suspension, and the damping leans toward the firm side, without feeling buckboard. Of course, this is California, where the road quality is such that the best surface Winnipeg can muster is tagged with “Rough Road” warning signs. The only problem with steering came when lost in Grover Beach. A U-turn that could have been performed in a ’68 Newport required a full stop and back-up to complete. Luckily it was at night, without the laugh-and-point guffaws from the locals.

2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser GT convertible
Click image to enlarge

While shooting some snapshots near Big Sur, a retired couple happened by as they admired the crashing surf. They immediately fell in love with the PT, pointing out the body colour dash inserts and the retro styling. As they smiled, I could almost see them morph into their younger selves, possibly in a ’49 Town and Country. The baby boomers were the generation that enjoyed the convertible at the height of its romanticism. As the population ages, so does the buyer’s needs and wants. Don’t kid yourself; they’re still frisky, and they still want to act like kids. The styling is the obvious cue, though the high seats and ample door openings point to 50-plus ergonomics. The fifty-somethings may be more enamoured with Mustang, however the back seat is still as comfy and easy to access as a ’65 ‘Stang was. The PT is familiar, like an old comfy cardigan. If there is one thing I’ve noticed about my late-sixties parents, it is that they are staying hip longer, regardless of the state of their hips. The PT doesn’t want younger buyers. The PT is going where the money is. And there is plenty of it.

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