When Chrysler introduced the retro-inspired, four-door, hatchback PT Cruiser in late 2000, the auto market exploded. Suddenly, Chrysler found themselves with months-long waiting lists full of eager patrons willing to pay exorbitant dealer add-on fees and sticker prices far exceeding the MSRP listings. Tuning shops began to quickly mass produce conversion kits to transform the suburban-friendly PTs into delivery-style panel vans, The Fast and the Furious-inspired road racers, and neon-lit, low-riding, automated-everything "bling" machines. The PT Cruiser was a hit, and its obscene sales numbers proved it. Many refute the PT's legitimacy as being merely a "reskinned Neon," though only the running gear and a small percentage of suspension and interior components carried over; the PT, in fact, had its own identity. By the time the excitement began to dwindle for the small cruiser, Chrysler had introduced several versions of the venerable PT-the Gold Edition, a California-themed Cruiser, a drop-top, a two-door version, and the 2.4-liter turbo that wielded the proven performance package pulled from the SRT-4 Neon. Even today, sales of the little-Cruiser-that-could are steady, proving the timelessness of the Americana design theme. We at Mopar Muscle have seen plenty of iterations of the Chrysler people mover, but never anything like Bob Klemann's radical street mauler.
The Lawrenceburg, Indiana, native has gotten his hands dirty in some odd projects before. A consummate fan of the LA 360 engine, Bob has built a '71 Dodge Dart Swinger and an '85 Dodge Ram Charger in the past, both with the potent powerplant. Bob says, "Ever since the days of the Dodge Boys, rear-wheel-drive conversions have been a thought." He had even gone so far as to purchase a rear-wheel-drive conversion kit for a '90 Dodge Daytona, but met with too many obstacles to fully complete the project. After that stumble, Bob poured himself into the restoration of his Ram Charger. During the rebuilding process, thoughts of another wild RWD swap would fester in his brain until 2000.
Then, during a father-and-son vacation to Siesta Key, Florida, they saw a PT Cruiser and Bob was inspired. He told his father, "I'm gonna put a V-8 in one of those." His father merely laughed.
Undeterred, Bob and his friends (who must share in Bob's delusional notions of automotive grandeur) uncovered a totaled PT in a salvage yard. The PT's engine bay had caught fire, burning to the ground. The Chrysler was stripped of all its internals and left bare.
Bob and his rag-tag troop disassembled the remainder of the Cruiser and thoroughly cleaned it. He went to his closest Mopar Performance distributor and ordered a complete 360 crate engine. Rated at 390 hp at the flywheel, the MP-built lung features an Edelbrock intake manifold and carburetor. To mount the small-block, the firewall was drastically altered, recessing the plant further aft than the original four-cylinder. Since a TorqueFlite automatic was going to tackle the shifting duties, Bob and Dailey Machine proprietor Steve Dailey hand-sculpted the new firewall and transmission tunnel. In fact, the transmission and driveshaft hump were formed out of a single piece of fiberglass that ran the length of the body pan to the Chrysler 831/44 rear. A beautifully fabricated engine cradle support was made to lower and tuck the V-8 into the tight confines, while large wheel tubs were placed in back, taking up a percentage of the cargo room. The 727 automatic was built by Tom Kleinberg in Cincinnati, Ohio, with a Turbo Action Cheetah SCS shifter, shift kit, and a Turbo Action 2,800-stall torque converter. The rearend houses an Auburn Gear differential with 3.55 gears and Moser axles. Bob sat the Cruiser down on Rallye rims with Hoosier rubber all the way around and Competition Engineering's rear shocks.
Since most of the PT's wiring harness was melted into a charred mass and was unusable, all new wiring was needed. "Gary Duross from Ron Francis Wiring was an immense help," Bob says. Due to the interior amenities in the Chrysler, friend Jim Franz (with help from Gary) had his hands full, as the PT sports nearly all the power options available for the little hatchback. Jim had to rewire not only the doors, firewall, dashboard, and all the other interior accommodations, but also the seemingly simple 360 to the onboard computer. Since the small-block was carbureted, the need for fuel-injection monitoring wasn't necessary. Jim wore out the service manual while chasing down every gremlin that reared its ugly head.