This V8-Swapped RWD Chrysler PT Cruiser Build Is Impossible to Hate

Who knew all it needed to be cool was a completely different drivetrain?

byPeter Holderith|
Builds photo
American Gasser Hot Rod Shop


The Chrysler PT Cruiser gets a bad rap. It was an instant hit upon release, but over time it's been derided for its design which, while very popular at the time, hasn't aged well. If it had a Hemi V8 from the start, maybe it wouldn't be so uncool.

A company called American Gasser Hot Rod Shop out of Saginaw, Michigan had the same thought and built such a car. Now we can all enjoy it.

The Cruiser was purchased brand new in the early 2000s by its current owners. They're a retired couple in their 70s who drove the car in its stock form for a long time. Replacing it with something new seemed inevitable, but instead of buying a new daily driver, they approached the pros at American Gasser. After some discussion, the Hemi Cruiser idea came into view and the couple, Bruce and Kay, pulled the trigger. The result is a super clean build that retains "as much of the factory interior as possible" while receiving a few exterior alterations to match the vehicle's new drivetrain.

The 5.7-liter Hemi crate motor was not an easy fit, but I spoke to Justin Airbets from American Gasser who says this sort of thing is what the company specializes in. Despite doing a complete drivetrain swap, he tells me "all the factory interior panels, seats, and even the console were retained and fully functional, even with the added transmission tunnel and raised trunk floor." That last part indicates how tough this build really was. The PT Cruiser only ever had front-wheel drive, and the Hemi Cruiser is rear-wheel drive.

A Ford 9-inch solid rear axle, located by four triangulated links, sits in the place of the PT's old beam axle. The front subframe and suspension were likewise replaced with Mustang II parts, as the existing PT Cruiser parts wouldn't do.

The interior had to remain as stock as possible at the owners' request. All of the factory interior switchgear and features are still functional as a result, which is harder than it sounds to figure out with a complete drivetrain swap.

The couple decided to depart convention with the PT Cruiser's exterior instead of making it a total sleeper, though. You probably won't be surprised to hear that in terms of sporty aftermarket body panels for the car, "Not many options are available." Furthermore, "what parts are available don’t fit well." Airbets says a lot of time was spent making it all bolt up to the company's standards. The result speaks for itself.

The build was rounded out with a full stainless exhaust, wheels from Rocket Racing, and Wilwood brakes. It was revealed at the 2023 Detroit Autorama in all of its glory.

"Bruce and Kay have recently taken delivery of the car and plan to drive and enjoy it all summer," Airbets told me. And it's no garage queen. "Between taking it to car shows, trips to the grocery store, and everything in between, this car will be getting a workout."

If only more PT Cruiser owners were as ambitious as this couple.

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