The PT Cruiser was introduced to much fanfare. The future/past retro styling teamed with minivan/SUV/station wagon elements caught the attention of the American car-buying public. This sure looked like a hot rod--or at least what the public thought was a hot rod. The dramatic styling is cool, but there's never been a real push to get real performance from the PT. Oh sure, we've heard about Hemi-powered versions being built, but there's a very tiny niche for something at that level. We feel the enthusiast public would have liked to see something a bit more real--and also something capable of passing most local smog tests.
Enter Mothers. Those in the know have seen Mothers promote their fine product by building a stable full of great cars. We've all seen their sedan delivery, and PHR featured the Olds of Mothers' own Gary Turnau on our pages in the past. Mothers also wanted to do a PT Cruiser, but they wanted some specific mods to make it interesting. It had to have the sedan delivery styling mother Mopar was toying with in concept form, and it had to have more power than the factory four-popper could deliver without radical modifications.
Mothers did the wise thing--they coordinated with the Gaffoglio family at Metalcrafters of Fountain Valley, California (www.metalcrafters.com), for the sedan delivery conversion and placement of their V-6 of choice. Then, they called PHR for advice on how to get it running right.
The 3.8L V-6 is standard in Mopar minivans, and it's no technical nightmare. The 3.8 is a traditional pushrod design but was not the first choice. Mothers first call on a V-6 was the 3.5L overhead cam engine found in most Chrysler front-drivers. Unfortunately, the wide cam boxes atop the heads proved to be impossible to mount to the stock trans-- they were simply too wide. The 3.8L (and its compact pushrod design) made the swap possible, but since minivans don't come with five-speed manual transmissions, there was no factory computer that could run it.
We advised Mothers to call Harv's Performance in Whittier, California (562/907-7834). We've worked with Harv's on several of our own computer-controlled project cars, and the crew at Harv's has always been both knowledgeable and nice. In many cases, nice is more important than knowledgeable, as patience and persistence often are the most important tools to use when dealing with modern computerized hot rods. It's really good to have both.
Shop owner Harv St. Mary chose to outfit the engine with FAST injection--a system with which they are intimately familiar. Since no harness exists to link this management system to the 3.8L Chrysler, Harv had to make one. This custom installation would not accept factory exhaust manifolds either, so Duane Dodson of The Other Guys teamed up with Mesa Muffler to develop custom headers and a complete custom exhaust system under the PT. The exhaust system is finished off by pair of carbon fiber-look exhaust tips (manufactured by Sebring Tuning) filling the cutouts in the rear valance.
Once the work was completed, the resulting performance was worth the effort. Now boasting 215 horses and 245 lb-ft, the PT was a reliable and enjoyable driver.
The envelope housing the V-6 is nothing to scoff at, either! The crew at Metalcrafters doesn't do anything halfway, and since they developed the delivery style for Chrysler (just one among many of their OEM concept car projects), upgrading this PT was fairly easy. The panels from Metalcrafters simply mount over the existing body, and the final appearance looks factory--a credit to the work done routinely by the expert craftsmen at Metalcrafters.
The aftermarket again contributed with a front bumper/valance and hood from P-Teazer (714/903-9000, www.pteazer.com) to smooth out the front end. A P-Teazer rear valance and wing were also used to improve the look from the rear.
With bodywork completed and a basecoat of BASF Glasurit Black sprayed by Metalcrafters, the PT found its way to Chip Foose's shop where the wild flame job was laid out. Noted Everett, Washington, airbrush artist Mike Lavallee (www.killerpaint.com) laid out the lifelike licks, and the amazing results look too hot to touch. Foose then lettered the delivery with Mothers own logo.
Luckily, the PT craze spawned a wide range of wheel and tire choices, and Mothers chose Foose Design "Monterey" 18-inch diameter hoops up front with matching 20-inchers out back. Shod with Toyo Proxes T1-S tires, they add to the pleasure of driving this particular example. Lowering is accomplished through use of adjustable Air Ride Technologies air struts and QA1 shocks. The Ride Pro four-way system boasts independent bag control, and pressures are monitored and adjusted through a custom switch panel and digital gauges mounted in the center console.
While the vehicle is not officially "smog legal," it's really close. It would probably pass the tailpipe sniffer test, but since the mods have not been approved by the clueless powers-that-be in California, it's technically still an outlaw.
Regardless, the Mothers crew is mighty proud of their project, and they should be. They coordinated with some of the best in the business to develop a solid, reliable, effective little hot rod PT that really performs.
Where most PT enthusiasts are satisfied with "appearance-only" mods, the real hot rodders at Mothers knew more could be done without radically altering the vehicle, and this is the finest example of a street-worthy, damn-near-legal PT we've seen yet. It may not have needed the killer flame job to prove it was hot, but we're glad it got the two extra cylinders to back up the searing looks of the licks!
The factory retro look is...
The factory retro look is what sold many on the PT, but these aftermarket goodies from P-Teazer will smooth it out a bit more. Smooth is a critical factor on deliveries like this--with so much clean real estate along the side of the vehicle, you don't want the rest of it to appear busy. The dual-bulge hood and front grille/valance are well engineered for fit. The clunky factory front bumper was a necessary evil for Chrysler; we don't need it anymore.
The Metalcrafters sedan delivery...
The Metalcrafters sedan delivery conversion is about as easy as it gets, since they did the homework first! The form-fitting interior and exterior panels are simply installed over existing parts. The final appearance (after adding rocker covers and carefully blending all the seams) looks factory, which was the goal. The rear valance cover (another P-Teazer part) finishes off the smooth look and offers dual exhaust pipes a place to exit.
Metalcrafters is horribly...
Metalcrafters is horribly overqualified to do these mods. We snapped a quick photo of what they usually do--create full-size steel concept cars for OEMs. That's mighty impressive stuff to garage gearheads like us.
Metalcrafters did the engine...
Metalcrafters did the engine swap, too. Creating space for the crate V-6 to live where the factory four-popper came wasn't incredibly trick but did require plenty of measuring and fabrication to be done right. As we all know--getting an engine in place and having it work well are two very different things.
After creating a sketchpad...
After creating a sketchpad design, artist Mike Lavallee began his trademark flaming style.
A minimal amount of layout...
A minimal amount of layout is required, as Mike does all of the actual flame painting in freehand. By laying the loose idea for the flames in white, he can keep adding color and shape as he desires.