That Viral Pikes Peak-Inspired PT Cruiser With the Huge Aero Is Really Going Racing
You’ve seen it in memes. You’ll also see it on a race track.
If you spend far too much of your time in car groups, perhaps you recognize this wild Chrysler PT Cruiser as "the race car we have at home." It's called the Yikes Peak Escudon't, and its resemblance to the big-aero Pikes Peak Suzuki Escudo is no coincidence. Best of all, this is not merely a car built for internet laughs—it's actually going racing in the 24 Hours of Lemons crapcan enduro series.
The PT Cruiser was part of the early 2000s wave of retro cars and initially a big hit, but it never quite garnered the enduring love of the revived Mini Cooper and Volkswagen New Beetle. Perhaps it was its grandparent-friendly high seating position, the frequency of garish mods, or the fact that it was built for so long that its designer left to pen the Chevy HHR midway through its production run, but somewhere, the not-that-terrible PT Cruiser became a punchline. Especially if you dress it up like an iconic race car.
Internet fame wasn't originally in the Yikes Peak Escudon't team's original plans. "This was a last minute decision because we were building a '79 Camaro before we broke it!" Josh Fuller told The Drive.
"The Camaro we were building decided the subframe no longer needed to be a part of the car anymore and the whole car nearly fell off the rack," he continued.
Josh says that he and his brother Matt Fuller have been working on the PT Cruiser since buying it in January in order to make it to the April 17-18 PittRace weekend. Josh told The Drive that the PT Cruiser came up on Facebook Marketplace and well, they just had to.
"We came across this manual-shift PT Cruiser and said, 'Wouldn't it be funny if we made this pile of junk look like the Pikes Peak Escudo?'" Josh said.
Shortly after those infamous words, Josh said that he and his brother were "giggling about it for an hour as we drove to go get this car." Fortunately, the rest of the world definitely got their joke.
One of the most immediately noticeable parts is the huge rear wing, which is actually covered in red fabric—not paint. Josh welded together an aluminum frame with threaded inserts to use as attachment points for the wing supports. Then he filled the frame with expanding foam and then carved it into shape using templates. That was then wrapped in cotton and then coated in fiberglass resin so it would keep its shape.
Not all of the aero is strictly for the look, though. Josh says that the splitter is functional, and it's also made out of budget-friendly 5/8-inch plywood. Extra cooling vents were also hand-hammered out of the hood and fenders. The scoop, of course, sits over a giant hole in the hood, so while it might not be as purpose-designed as the original Escudo's, it's at least bringing some cooler air into the engine bay.
Most of the car's more serious modifications so far have been about not failing tech inspection for the race, which the 24 Hours of Lemons series thankfully takes pretty seriously. (The PT Cruiser passed tech Friday and will start the race Saturday.)
One of the team's drivers, Roger Gestner, built the roll cage. The build has to be silly but safe, so it got a full fire suppression system, a Conquer six-point racing harness, a Kirkey racing seat, Hawk Blue racing brake pads, R1 Concepts slotted brake rotors, and an in-car radio system that lets the driver talk to other team members in the pits.
"Those are the only real expensive and new parts on the car," Josh noted. "The rest is keeping with the theme of Lemons: Cheap, used, affordable and creative fabrication."
Josh says that it's mostly been himself, his brother and a friend working on the build, so they're keeping any performance upgrades pretty simple for now.
The PT Cruiser now has adjustable coilover sleeves and heavy springs press-fit onto its factory struts, which cost the team a whopping $35 from eBay. In addition to the roll cage, the chassis itself was stitch-welded for extra rigidity. The entire setup is stiff but functional. The PT Cruiser's 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires don't provide a ton of cushion on track, but they definitely look the part.
"It doesn't handle too bad. It helps that we dialed in the alignment multiple times to get it right. Cut two coils off the rear springs, too," Josh explained. "Tried to just gain as much as possible by adding as much lightness as we could, too! It is gutted as gutted can be," he continued.
Tossing stuff out is a budget-friendly mod, after all. The rest really do fit squarely with Lemons' low-buck DIY ethos. The steering wheel and quick release were no-name eBay finds that had to be modified to work with the car. The PT Cruiser has a nice aftermarket set of gauges that were a swap-meet find. The rod ends for the splitter, seat sliders and uprights for the rear spoiler also came from a swap meet.
Additionally, there's a glass pack muffler on it, which will no doubt make you do a double-take thinking it's that neighbor-kid's obnoxious Neon for a second.
All in all, Josh says the team has only spent roughly $4,000 on the entire car—including the handful of performance upgrades, dress-up bits, the car itself and $500-budget-exempt driver comfort and safety mods.
This isn't to say they won't show the PT Cruiser off on the roads, either. The PT Cruiser is titled, plated and insured to run on the street. As a fellow Lemons car owner, I can confirm that it makes life easier if you don't have to trailer your car everywhere. (Also, it makes people laugh in traffic.)
For now, the Yikes Peak Escudon't is mechanically a simple, mostly stock non-turbo PT Cruiser with a five-speed transmission. If it survives this race weekend—good luck to 'em—the team already has plans for other mods.
"We ran out of time, but we do have a $Free.99 twin scroll turbo from a BMW that my brother pulled from the scrap bin at work since it makes 'Ric Flair' noises!" Josh told The Drive. "We are also contemplating taking this on Lemons road rallies and a possible trip to Pikes Peak maybe next year."
Alternately, that BMW N20 twin-scroll turbo could go on something else.
"We have been kicking around the idea of putting my brother's Honda Goldwing 1500 flat-six bike drivetrain in this as a mid-engine, rear-drive conversion," Josh said. "Maybe that's where the turbo will go."
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