Home » Basket-Handle Drop-Tops: 1998 VW Cabrio vs 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser

Basket-Handle Drop-Tops: 1998 VW Cabrio vs 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser

Sbsd 7 27 2023
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Good morning! Today we’re headed out for some fun in the sun with a couple of convertibles, but we’re being safe and sensible, because they both have rollbar hoops. But first, let’s see how our rough-and-tumble work vehicles did yesterday:

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Another Mopar win. I think if the GMC (or actually probably a Chevy, as was pointed out) had been a little less of a bruiser, it would have won. But you don’t buy a dually flatbed unless you need a dually flatbed, in most cases. And the early stickshift Chrysler minivans are pretty cool.

You have probably noticed that there are a whole bunch of different terms for convertible cars. The trouble is, nobody can agree on exactly which term means what. Is that a cabriolet, or a drophead coupe? If it has a tiny back seat, can it still be a roadster? Does it matter whether it was designed to be a convertible in the first place, or adapted from a fixed-roof car? Nobody is quite sure, and most of the terms date back to horse-drawn carriages, and they weren’t applied consistently back then, either. All I know is that a VW Phaeton is in no way, shape, or form a phaeton.

Today’s pair are generally considered cabriolets, owing to the presence of some permanent structure besides the windshield frame. In the case of both of these cars, the B-pillars are still present, connected by a structural hoop that goes over the passenger compartment but fits under a full convertible top. This gives you that open-air feeling, but adds a little peace of mind in case things go sideways (or upside-down). It also adds quite a bit of rigidity to the structure, something lacking in a lot of convertibles.

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And you’ll notice that we’re spending a little more imaginary money today than usual. I just got tired of scraping the bottom of the barrel, and wanted to look at something shiny for a change. Let’s check them out.

1998 VW Cabrio GLS – $7,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Gig Harbor, WA

Odometer reading: 96,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Great, according to the seller

First, I want to give credit to this seller for their photography. Parking this car in such a pretty spot for photos was a masterstroke of salesmanship; I want to climb into this photo, hop into this car, and drive off down that lovely coastal road. It’s the one thing I miss about owning a convertible: a twisty road, a perfect day, some good tunes, and a nice manual gearbox.

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Yes, that’s right: This topless Volkswagen is equipped with the correct transmission. It doesn’t have a whole lot of power spinning those gears; this car has the basic “two-point-slow” four-cylinder. But when has a lack of power ever ruined a nice drive, if you approach it with the right attitude? This car runs great, has had a bunch of recent work including some upgrades to the suspension, and rocks a decent aftermarket stereo for the tunes. What more do you need?

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It’s still under 100,000 miles, and it looks good both inside and out. VWs of this era have a bit of a reputation for finicky electrical systems, among other issues, but this one is about as simple as they get mechanically, and everything electrical works at the moment, so at least you’re starting from a good place. The seller does note that the top isn’t in great shape; it was replaced by the previous owner, but it may be due again. It rarely pays to skimp on a replacement top; take it from someone who suffered with a cheap ill-fitting replacement top on a Miata for several years. Just pony up for the good one.

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Or, you know, just leave it down, and only drive it on nice days. That’s an option too.

2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser Convertible – $4,700

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Engine/drivetrain: Turbocharged 2.4 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, four-speed automatic, FWD

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Location: Salinas, CA

Odometer reading: 124,000 miles

Runs/drives? Sure does

We’ve looked at quite a few PT Cruisers before, and I know they can be polarizing cars. But I don’t think we’ve featured a convertible before. This version of the PT lost not only its roof, but its rear doors as well, which to me always drove home the point that Chrysler should have made it a two-door all along. It actually makes a striking-looking car, especially with the top down.

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This one is some sort of special edition called a Dream Cruiser. But then, it seems like “special edition” PT Cruisers outnumbered regular editions; there were a ridiculous number of special packages available for these cars. It has the turbocharged 2.4 liter engine, unfortunately saddled with an automatic transmission. But this car’s mission is right there in the name – “Cruiser” – and for that purpose, an automatic will do just fine.

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It’s in good condition, with only 124,000 miles on the clock, and a recent timing belt and water pump job. Everything works, and it looks nice and clean inside and out. I do wonder about the seat and steering wheel covers; are they protecting pristine surfaces, or hiding worn ones? Only one way to find out, I suppose. The pine-tree air freshener around the shift lever seems counterproductive in a covertible; you’ve got no shortage of fresh air.

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I like the color, too; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a metallic brown PT Cruiser before. I think the trick to a car like this is not trying to force it to be something it isn’t, just appreciate it for what it is: a reasonably comfy, reasonably economical little car with a top that goes down.

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Yesterday here in Portland was a damn near picture-perfect summer day: low 80s, not a cloud in the sky, and a light breeze. I drove home with my windows down and my sunroof open, and counted five convertibles with the top down on my way home. Cars like this are made for days like that, and if you’ve never driven a convertible around with the top down on a summer night, you have hardly driven at all. Which one of these is the perfect ride for it?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
STEPHEN WALTER GOSSIN
11 months ago

PT all the way over here.

It’s my prediction that these cars will rocket in popularity with Gen Z in a few years.

Another great one – thanks Mark!

FloridaNative
FloridaNative
11 months ago

This was a legitimately tough choice for me. I am put off by the VW price tag and feel a new top should be included for that much dinheiro. Also VW reliability of this era leaves a lot to be desired. I kinda like PT Cruisers and certainly have no hate for them even after driving a rental version in Houston. Turbo is good.

Stick shift and the fact I own and am familiar with VCDS still pushed me to vote for the VW. The devil you know and all that…

Phuzz
Phuzz
11 months ago

Why didn’t VW want to call the Golf a Golf in the US? In fact, have they ever used the Golf name over there? I’ve heard them called a Rabbit, a Cabriolet and a GTI, but never a Golf.

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
11 months ago
Reply to  Phuzz

I found this which was interesting:

The thing is, the Golf was always called the Golf, except here in America, and in Mexico where it was called the Caribe (Piranha). It’s not clear why VW decided to give it a different name here, except the theory that the name simply wouldn’t be successful because of its association with the sport. Some claim the MK1 was named for the 1975 U.S. release date because it was “the year of the rabbit,” but this is equally unproven.

Last edited 11 months ago by Freelivin2713
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