By August Pelliccio
Individuals far and wide loathe a certain Chrysler product from the mid-2000’s, Cole Terry says. The PT Cruiser made its mark on the West Coast as a quirky, retro-styled beachcomber’s car, in its element with surfboards strapped to the roof. Terry says around the East Coast, many people laugh when they see it; they do not take him seriously.
With a good sense of humor, Terry, a junior, geography major commutes to class every day from Hamden in his black PT Cruiser, embracing the hate and learning to laugh at it, himself.
“I love it,” Terry says. “It gets me from point A to point B. It’s not a bad car.”
Two things draw Terry to automobiles: the aesthetics and the power. What his car lacks in power, putting a modest 150 horsepower to the front wheels, it makes up for in style.
The yellow and orange flames stretching across the doors did not come with the car. He always told himself if he were to buy a PT Cruiser that aesthetic modification would be a must.
“Everybody’s going to have to look at it, so why not smile when you look at it,” Terry says.
When he was given the car in high school, he followed through, installing the vinyl decals himself.
“If people are going to hate on it that much, it can’t get any worse,” says Terry. “So why not put flames on it, and make it stand out.”
In addition to the flame decals, Terry added flare to the car’s looks by painting the plastic wheel covers a matte black color.
“If me, and a group of my friends are going places, they’re always like, ‘I don’t want to be seen in your car,’ ” says Terry.
Outside of the attention he receives from friends and bystanders, Terry says the driving experience is unusual in the PT Cruiser.
“The center of gravity on this thing is really weird,” Terry says.
Even though the car is low to the ground, the high roofline and front wheel drive layout make the car prone to understeering, and strong body roll.
That means feeling the body lean back and forth around sharp curves and losing grip from the front wheels first when driving in snow or mud.
Despite these quirks, Terry says the PT Cruiser has never let him down. The car has been pretty reliable in the few years of ownership. All he has had to do are regular brake pad replacements and oil changes.
The PT Cruiser has not been Terry’s only automobile project. Sitting in the garage is a classic muscle car he hopes to inherit once he graduates college.
“It’s a ’68 Pontiac Firebird soft top convertible, 350 [cubic inches],” Terry says, “that me and my dad picked up in Pennsylvania 10 or 12 years ago.”
It took about a year to get the car out on the road, after Terry and his father spent time working on it together. Other than some surface rust on the bottom of the body, he says the car was physically in great shape.
Terry’s first ride in the Firebird, with his father, was a landmark in his personal history of automobiles.
“I couldn’t stop smiling,” Terry says. “It was awesome.”
They continued getting the car into better shape, hoping for a full restoration. Spark plugs and other regular maintenance items made the Firebird run better, but after a few years, the car was not getting enough attention.
“He didn’t do much of anything with it because he was working all the time, so while he was gone, I’d sneak it out on weekends,” Terry says. “He found out about it, and decided he had no problem with it as long as it was running and not just rusting away in the garage.”
Terry says his father enjoys restoring cars, so to see it out on the road was all he wanted. He recalls the first time he drove the car on his own. He was taking a ride in the car, passenger to his father, when the opportunity arose.
“We completely ran out of gas, because the fuel gauge was busted,” Terry says.
His father walked back to the house, nearly two miles away, to grab a jerry can of gas, and fill the tank.
“We broke down, luckily, right in front of my buddy’s house,” Terry says. “My friend’s dad came out, put a couple gallons in the tank, and said, ‘all right, you’re good to go,’ fully expecting me to know what to do.”
Terry moved to the driver’s seat, and compiled all the pointers his father gave in driving a standard shift, so he could pull away and get the car home.
“I put it in first [gear], and just floored it,” Terry says. “I took the clutch off immediately, and just shredded up the road.”
While his father was sorting through the garage for spare gas, Terry pulled into the driveway in the Firebird. After that, Terry’s father trusted him behind the wheel.
Like the PT Cruiser, Terry’s Firebird gets him a lot of attention, albeit a different kind.
“The amount of respect you get on the road when you’re driving one of those is ridiculous,” says Terry.
For now, the PT Cruiser meets all of his needs, but Terry hopes to get his hands on his dad’s Firebird permanently, some day.
“It’s apparently a graduation present,” Terry says. “I’m really hoping that comes through.”