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

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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.]. 

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101 Responses

  1. Now you need to find a Honda Element one and do a comparison.
    – says one of the 10 people that probably knows the Element one exists, only because I worked on it

  2. 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!

  3. 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!”

  4. A cooler that can carry 12 cans with no room left for ice can’t actually carry 12 cans.
    Why is it impossible for GM to tell the truth!
    First the Corvair then the EV1 now this.

  5. 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.

  6. Finally! All your perseverance learned from wrenching on questionably revivable Jeeps has paid off! Digging The Autopian, and can’t wait for more!

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!!

  10. Aztek: the gift that keeps on giving. Ahead of its time, and you’re still learning new things about it 20 years after they stopped making them :p

  11. 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?

    1. That’s not an easy one to answer. Are we talking jewel case? Or digipack? Promo sleeves? I bet you could cram a ton of promo sleeves in there if you were ok with ruining them forever.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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.

  15. 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.”

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