Home / Car News / I Found A Coveted Pontiac Aztek Center Console/Cooler In A Junkyard. Using It Was An IQ Test

I Found A Coveted Pontiac Aztek Center Console/Cooler In A Junkyard. Using It Was An IQ Test

Image (11)

I did it, folks. I managed to snag the holy grail of junkyard treasures — a Pontiac Aztek center console/cooler. This rectangular prism that acts as both a CD-storing center console and a mobile beer-storing cooler represents the pinnacle of General Motors engineering prowess, and today I attempted to ascertain whether my feeble mind was capable of unlocking its brilliance. The Result? It was not. At least not initially, because the Aztek cooler is far more complex than you might think.

Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Antoine Lavoisier — these are some of the most brilliant minds in human history, and yet exactly zero of them were able to invent the Pontiac Aztek center console/cooler; if that doesn’t prove just how state-of-the-art GM’s contraption is, I don’t know what will.

The device is in high demand, often sought out by researchers in military labs around the world, which is why I was shocked to find one at my local junkyard just sitting on an Aztek’s passenger’s seat, unlatched from its snug hold between the hideous SUV’s front captains’ chairs:

As the console/cooler’s complexity is well-documented, I knew better than to touch it without first familiarizing myself with its function. After calling a few astrophysicist friends, I pulled up the Pontiac Aztek owner’s manual on my phone, and slowly reached my hand for the cooler, which has the terms “Latch” and “Loquet” molded in. Yes, GM felt the need to include the French term for “latch” on the handle; rumor has it that the French — universally recognized as leaders in the area of picnicking — may have had a hand in this device’s development.

I felt a slight electrical tingling when my hand made contact with the cooler, confirming my suspicion that there was some sort of electrical generator at work — possibly one involving cold fusion, though maybe the tingling was just nerves. It’s hard to know definitely, because I was concerned that I would be in over my head, mentally. That I’d overtax my neurons and suffer a psychological breakdown right there in that junkyard in what would be a rather fitting place for my demise.

As you can see in the owner’s manual above, the way the console/cooler works is, you keep the handle pointing straight up, then drop the box between the two front seats. To latch the now-console into place, you simply pull the handle toward the driver’s seat and listen for a click. To open the console, you push the handle towards the passenger’s seat, revealing the proprietary rubber CD/coin storage device inside:

To remove the console and make it a mobile cooler, you move the handle to the center, and lift the device straight up. Changing the glorious chilling/compact disc-carrying device from cooler to console and back took me a few tries to understand, but — luckily, and with my heart pounding out of my chest — I managed, as you can see in the video clip above.

But that was the easy bit. The truly grueling part of the whole ordeal happened when I attempted to confirm General Motors’s claim that the console/cooler can “store up to twelve 12-ounce cans.”

First I had to get some cans, and, as I don’t drink beer or soda, this meant I had to go to my backyard, where a cooler that I’d filled with beer for a July 4, 2020 party sat. Luckily, not all of its contents were encased in a block of ice, so I was able to pull four or five beers from the chilly brown water; I managed to snag the remaining seven or eight from a box of “Rolling Rock” sitting in a utility closet for some reason.

Anyway, from there, it was time to shove 12 beers into the Aztek’s cooler.

The Pontiac Aztek cooler is a touch short for two cans lengthwise

This was not straightforward, as the box is just too small to fit two cans length-wise. So you can forget that as a packing strategy.

It’s also just too short to fit four cans width-wise.

The Pontiac Aztek cooler is just too short for four levels of three cans loaded widthwise

As you can see in the image above, that ain’t gonna work.

Next, I attempted a hybrid approach — I stacked some length-wise, some widthwise. This, at first, didn’t yield the intended results, as you can see in the image above. But, after 19 sweaty hours during which I obsessively stacked cans, trying desperately to convince myself that I am not, in fact, a cretin, I figured it out! By optimizing placement of the bottom cans, the hybrid method worked; Behold 12 cans:

Then someone commented on the Instagram post above, suggesting that I place the cans upright. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get enough cans on the bottom layer to get me enough up top to yield the full dozen:

The Pontiac Aztek cooler won't fit twelve cans upright

But after another 19 hours of sweaty, tear-y self-doubt later, I realized that if I place a can at each corner and work from there, I could get eight cans on the base layer:

As I established earlier, the box isn’t quite wide enough to fit four cans laying on their sides, so one can does protrude a bit:

But the cooler does close, 12 cans inside!

Behold: The Pontiac Aztek Cooler in its full glory

Somehow my little trip to the U.S. Auto junkyard in Sterling Heights, Michigan changed my life. Not only did I score the greatest junkyard treasure on earth — the much sought-after Pontiac Aztek console/cooler — but it taught me the value of perseverance, and it made me realize that maybe, just maybe, I’m not a dingbat.

[Editor’s note: This is the practical consumer advice you should expect to receive from The Autopian moving forward. Our crack team of researchers knew that millions of you out there were sitting in front of your Aztek coolers wondering how the hell you’re going to get the remaining three beers from your half-case inside. We’ve got your backs.]. 

Share on facebook
Share on whatsapp
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit

100 Responses

  1. I know I am in the minority, but I absolutely loved my Aztek. I mean come on:

    – Headspace? Check
    – Detachable Cooler? Check
    – Non-leaking sunroof? Check
    – Tent that attached to the back? Check
    – Pull out grocery tray with a tailgate that had seat cutouts? Check
    – Enough clearance to take it down seasonal roads? Check
    – Tailgate music controls for campers? Check

    That thing was the Swiss Army Knife of vehicles; and was comfy as all get out.

  2. I really like the detachable accessories some cars come with, need more things like that, like door umbrellas and rechargeable flashlights in the engine bay and bluetooth speakers you can take with you and such the like.

  3. French text is due it being sold in Quebec, and Pontiac wanted to appease the provincial government. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were special Quebec-only brochures with images of Roch Voisine and Celine Dion albums in the standard CD holder.

  4. The French really do know automotive picnicking accessories. The 2CV’s seats could be easily removed to become picnic chairs as we all know. And Renault Alliance engines could double as a smoker.

  5. “After calling a few astrophysicist friends, I pulled up the Pontiac Aztek’s owner’s manual on my phone, and slowly reached my hand for the cooler, which has the terms “Latch” and “Loquet” molded in. ”

    Either this was originally a Canadian-market car that found its way over the border before dying, or all of them may have been made this way. Canadian law requires that anything in written form be in both English and French-Canadian (it’s actually slightly different than proper French like the differences between American English and proper English). This includes printed words used on the and in the vehicle that may not have the same meaning between languages. It’s a possibility that the supplier for these coolers/consoles either put both words on there for all of the North American market or they made one for the USA that was only in English and another for Canada that had both words imprinted.
    I’m not enough of an Aztekie to know or care which one was the case, but running the VIN history should be enough to tell you if it was a Canadian-market car that found its way here, which was a fairly common occurrence back then. US dealers were buying new cars from Canadian dealers and reselling them here because they were cheaper with the exchange rate and some other weird shit that just made it even more profitable per vehicle than selling the ones they had delivered directly from the manufacturer. My 2001 Grand Cherokee was one such vehicle. Originally sold in Canada, then sold to a buyer in Indiana the same year, and then sold to me. The instrument cluster and other things were replaced, but the Jeep had integral DRLs, which were not part of the US-spec GC back then.

    1. If you want a laugh, ask an actual French person about their opinions of the language spoken by French-Canadians. They probably won’t be polite.
      My favourite reaction was a friend who was studying there for six months. She started to pretend she was Spanish, so she wouldn’t have to listen to people butchering French at her 😉

    2. Since it’s a molded-in part on an optional accessory I’d bet money on it being the same across markets. The cost of doing two runs for such a negligible difference definitely wouldn’t have appealed to the penny pinchers at GM at the time.

      The above is provided with the disclaimer that I am not an Aztek expert.

    3. Beyond running the VIN to see history, there should be something in the door jam to denote CMVSS compliance (which it looks like the normal VIN sticker on the Aztek doesn’t include).

  6. This cooler has been stuck in my mind forever, because Car and Driver noted in their initial review that it was the single best feature of the vehicle, so you could drink enough to forget what the outside looked like.

    A note on the fitment: Cans are taller now than in 2004, as the lid diameter has been reduced to save material, requiring a longer shoulder to lid transition in the press dies. Back in the day a simple end to end as in your first pictured attempt was probably the way to go.

  7. A positive review for anything to do with the Aztek!…It generally joins the Yugo, Gremlin and (globally) the SSayoung Rhodius for universal gag reflexes.

    However, I can relate an opposing view.

    I was at a corporate dinner years ago in my BMW days and opposite me was Chris Bangle, no stranger to styling controversy. He was still at BMW. He thought that the Aztek was a great design that had only been let down by the production people and accountants modifying the original design.

    He offered no intelligence on the number of beer cans in the cooler.

    1. You must have missed the podcast where (after some light prodding from Torch,) Tracy admitted that instead of bringing his groceries inside and putting them in the fridge like people, he typically leaves them in his Jeep, using the great outdoors as his refrigerator.

      Fishing beers out of a cooler that has been sitting in his backyard for almost 2 years feels like par for the course.

      1. I love the US Auto yard. I was walking through many years ago and came across a Range Rover with a lovely tan interior with black piping. I ended up walking out with a passenger seat and rear bench because they were in perfect shape. Fixed pricing for the win! They are my garage couch and rolling chair now (I just added a wood base and wheels), and they are tremendously comfortable. All in, I don’t think they were more than $200.

        You should ask them if you can post about and link to their video about the catalytic converter thefts from their yard and how they caught the thieves.

  8. As Editor in Chief, did you write the Editor’s note at the end of your own article? Not that I have an issue with that; it seems like a perfectly healthy way to validate some of your more crazy ideas. Loving what I am reading so far.

  9. Ok, I gotta admit, I’ve loved the Aztec ever since I first saw it and didn’t immediately realise it was universally hated in the US. I’ll agree that it’s not a good looking car, but it’s the kind of crazy ugliness that I can’t help but like, much like the first gen Fiat Multipla or the Renault VelSatis.

  10. David’s next feature will be Retro-Overlanding with an Aztec, it’s cooler, the tailgate tent and a 90’s CRV with the picnic table feature for the rolling kitchen.

  11. Please note that the Sam Adams & Rolling Rock cans are of the ‘normal’ 12-oz variety. But what if you were to try 12 of the longer, thinner cans favored by the ‘hard seltzer’ industry? Would that fit better? I don’t think anybody was making 12-oz cans longer and thinner back in 2004 with the possible exception of Coors Light, maybe?

    Another point that proves that the Aztek was far ahead of its time. It anticipated the thin-can hard seltzer craze of the 2020s!!

  12. Any idea what the can to CD ratio is? If we go with 11 cans how many CDs can be crammed in there? Is there a can to CD sweet spot where we have the most options for the discman while still having enough beverage to stay fully quenched while carrying around a French translator for the word latch?

  13. I think D.T. is the reason Budweiser came up with “born on dating” for beer. I used to think it was just a marketing gimmick….

    If I am ever invited over, I will be bringing my own beer. How some on who does not drink beer can come up with this stuff, should be studied. I have yet to read the ‘Roo Hunting rig article, yet, but am looking forward to it.

  14. I might be an oddity (probably, but that’s ok), but I like the Aztek in general. Then again, I like… interesting looking cars. I’ve owned a Honda Element, an FJ Cruiser, my current Gladiator, and even my old ’86 Nisson Sentra “wagon” with fake wood paneling on the side. These are unique looking cars. They also have some fun innovations. The Aztek may have some cheap components on the inside, but so many fun additions, like the cooler, make it interesting. She may have an odd alien nose, but, dammit, odd is beautiful!

  15. We “can” tell David doesn’t drink beer. In my younger days 11 beers in the cooler would have suited me just fine.
    “This one doesn’t fit, I guess I’ll just have to take one for the team and drink it now!”

  16. You’ve promised us (and thus far delivered) stories written by engineers and designers – I hope you’re furiously trying to hunt down a lucky man / woman who was at one point in their careers assigned to the Aztek Cooler team at GM!

  17. This deep dive into can orientation placement and strategy is better content than Jalopnik has had in the past few weeks. Awesome! One time, I was at a junkyard and spotted a 3rd gen prelude, and .. woah , factory armrest! I paid $15 for it. I used it in my prelude for a few years, then sold the car, minus the armrest. I sold the armrest on eBay for $280. So there’s my junkyard armrest story.


  18. I really wish the dumping on Aztek’s and any other vehicle with unique styling would come to an end. Include things like the Gremlin in that mix as well.
    We all -well most of us – sit around and moan that car makers crap out the same boring styles. Never taking a chance. Well these are chances. They took a swing. Let’s appreciate them for that.
    Sure maybe the Aztek isn’t your thing or the Honda Element puts you off but for gosh sake let’s not deride them as hideous beasts.
    They’re different. Let’s appreciate the effort it takes to do something different in that business.

    1. There are plenty of things that are unjustly derided for being different that took a swing and a miss – things like the Fiat Multipla, Renault Avantime and Honda Element are in this category.

      The Aztek was just a poorly done design. It might have been hamstrung by executives – certainly the cost-saving move of using their minivan platform ruined any chance of decent proportions – but the otherwise talented team just straight up did a bad design.

  19. David looks at the cooler, scratches his head, looks again, then throws his head back and calls to the sky “ASSEMBLE THE CENTER COUNCIL!!!” From seemingly nowhere a group of six mythical car gods appear before him in a swirling haze of rust and confusion. A flurry of can stacking and sorting ensues and nineteen sweaty hours later the answer lays before him. Their work complete, the Center Council sinks back into a faded oil stain amid the strewn tools on the garage floor. Dazed but still coherent, David stumbles to his computer to share the story with the masses.

  20. I am actually in the market for one of these beauties they came out when I was a teenager and always loved them, it’s been hard to find one with the tent and pullout table with cooler, I have been trying to convince my wife that it would make a way better road-trip car than our 300 although comfy not really good for sleeping, the Aztek though is a free hotel on wheels and we all know how well Stan Smith did living in one.

    One day I’ll have one with all the options I want but man my daughter will find a real unicorn before I get the one that I fall in love with.

  21. Surface-of-the-Sun Hot Take: the Aztek was far, far ahead of its time, serving as the blueprint for the burgeoning Crossover segment. Its DNA lives on in every Equinox, Escape, Renegade, Telluride and so on. Hate it if you like, but hate it for the right reasons.

    Also, if they omitted the stacked headlamps and dual “sport intake grill” design cue, it would’ve been a lot more palatable. *paging Torch*

    Regular Car Reviews actually does a very interesting post-mortem of the Aztek, covering these points better than me. For what it was, it was a decent vehicle and rather comfortable for family trips (source: my FIL owned one before my wife and I got hitched and we tagged along on family vacations).

    1. The Aztek really wasn’t ahead of its time in any way, nor was it a blueprint for anything. It was pretty closely following the rules set down by the Lexus RX in 1998, and launched around the same time as the Toyota Highlander, Ford Escape and second-gen Toyota RAV4* – models which are basically the foundation of the category. Hell the Aztek was less similar to the modern CUV than its platform-mate, the Buick Rendezvous, since that had a more conventional shape that informed the majority of models. It was part of that first wave, but the blueprint had already been set down elsewhere.

      *The first gen was a lot weirder, the second gen is where it went to “yeah this is a family car deal with it.”

    1. Agreed. Too few cars are designed with the safe and economical transport of human tissue in mind – legal or otherwise. It’s good to know the ubiquitous traveling organ salesman of the early aughts had a factory-installed option, besides a 48-quart Coleman strapped to the roof.

Leave a Reply