End of the line for PT Cruiser

Ten years ago, the new Chrysler PT Cruiser was one of the hottest cars out of Detroit.

On Friday, the last one will be built, signaling the end of the line for a beloved little car.

The compact retro car was in such high demand when it debuted in 2000 that buyers were kept on waiting lists. Some were willing to pay thousands more than the sticker price.

The PT Cruiser was unveiled during the SUV craze, but its quirky styling and useful interior made it a sensation. It helped establish Chrysler as a design leader, sold far beyond the automaker’s expectations and became one of the rare American small cars that was an undisputed hit.

“For a while it was the best-selling Chrysler-brand vehicle,” said Jim Hall, managing director of consultancy 2953 Analytics.

The PT Cruiser was one of the first modern retro vehicles, coming after the VW Beetle and Plymouth Prowler but before the Mini Cooper, Chevrolet HHR, Ford Thunderbird and Fiat 500. Beyond the original sedan, the lineup grew to include a turbocharged performance model, a convertible and more than a dozen special editions.

But despite selling more than 1.3 million PT Cruisers over the years, Chrysler never refreshed the car’s looks and features or built on its success by launching any similar vehicles.

The PT had brushes with extinction when Daimler and private investment firm Cerberus Capital Management ran Chrysler. It won reprieve after reprieve because people kept buying it.

“It’s plugged along and still has a loyal fan base,” Hall said.

But with sales just under 5,500 this year through June, the PT Cruiser’s fate was sealed.

Phelan writs for the Detroit News/McClatchy.