Since its inception in 2001, the popular Chrysler PT Cruiser has achieved cult like status among car owners and enthusiasts. The appeal of the Cruiser is its retro aesthetic, a family friendly albeit hipster take on the traditional station wagon with its caricaturized front section and wide interior. The modern playfulness the car exhibits makes it a favorite on the show circuit. One PT in particular, originating out of Brooklyn, has taken such events by storm on a national scope. Fuhgettaboutit! When it comes to winning competitions as well as winning over hearts, few PT's compare to the affable Casper the Friendly Cruiser.
Cruisers have a distinctive design, which set them apart from other makes and models. At first glance, the PT resembles the type of automobile you might find featured in an animated film because it does have a cartoon quality to it. It is that quality that initially attracted Casper's owner Joseph Cafarelli, a retired postal worker and lifelong Brooklynite, to it transforming the Stone White 2002 Cruiser into his childhood dream machine.
"When I joined the PT Owners Club, I got exposed to the art of PT modification at PT shows. I got hooked!" Cafarelli said with a smile. "I decided right from the start that I wanted to add ghost flames… that's when it dawned on me what the theme of my PT was to be, Casper."
Cafarelli's love of his car is infectious but the commitment to conceptualizing the ghost theme has been laborious. Having the right people, essential to success in any line of work, has enabled his vision to reach fruition. He credits pinstripe and flame expert John Torretta of local auto body shop Brighton Collision as being one of those people.
"John and I discussed what I envisioned. After I decided on the visual intensity of the flames, I first had my bumpers, mirrors, license plate holder and mud flaps painted Stone White. Then the flames were mapped out and filled with six coats of PPG pearl blue iridescent paint. Five coats of clear paint were smoothed over that." he explained. The ultimate effect is striking. "The flames are not visible unless sunlight hits them just right. Only then will their bluish metallic tint appear."
The ghost flames are undeniably the most unique element of the car. That being said, there are other accoutrements that enhance the mystique Casper is developing. As was the case with the flames, Cafarelli commissioned the help of neighborhood mechanics Michael and Richard Mineo of Audio's Best of Brooklyn to perfect his ideal electrical modifications. "They have installed neons, strobes and opera led light bars for the exterior. For the interior, they have installed APC EL lighted flame seat covers and mats and Nu-Glo series illuminated blue flame doorsills.", Cafarelli said. The final lighting touch is the custom made Casper sign for the rear hatch window. He enthusiastically adds, "As part of my neon shows I also incorporate a smoke machine to give a ghostly illusion to Casper, a real crowd pleaser!"
Clearly, bolder is better in terms of presentation and thus far car show organizers agree. The flames and lighting have contributed to Casper outshining other PT's at various car shows, most notably the Carlisle All-Chrysler Nationals 2003, 2004 and 2005. From September 2002 through the present, Casper has driven off into the sunset with thirty six prizes. Yet Cafarelli seems more impressed by the overall contribution Casper has made to the civic community. Due in large part to his audacious appearance, Casper has been selected to be the lead Cruiser in a number of holiday parades like St. Patrick's Day and Christmas as well as philanthropic events pertaining to September 11th. Those events attract enthusiasts from all over the country and raise sizable charitable donations.
With such a degree of tour acclaim, it would be easy for Cafarelli to have Casper rest on his laurels and let the flames die down for a while. Surely those owners of cars who have found themselves on the short end of Casper's stick shift would find a brief retirement of the ghost flames preferable. However thanks to an unexpected grass roots marketing campaign sparked by the power of the internet, Casper has transcended car show popularity.
"EBay has been very instrumental to my Casper theme", explains Cafarelli. "It has taken over two years of bidding on Casper items to obtain my collection of T-shirts, antiques and toys." Cafarelli is quick to praise a fellow PT owner and friend, metal artisan Yvan Michel, for refinishing his most treasured EBay purchase. "My greatest find on EBay would have to be the amazing brass five inch flying Casper… which I envisioned becoming the hood ornament. I told Yvan what I had in mind and he accepted the challenge. After five months of painstaking work, he created my incredible chrome plated masterpiece!" On days when weather conditions prevent Casper from displaying his technical bells and whistles, the brass plate is its signature feature making the PT immediately recognizable.
PT Cruiser clubs and organizations are a great way for fans and owners to meet and congregate at events. Unfortunately for some, distance and time can be the enemy prohibiting people from attending shows. Message boards like the one on www.ptcruiserclub.com allow people to chat and post opinions about their favorite vehicles. Official car show websites also offer people behind the scenes access to the events through streaming videos and photos. Utilizing multimedia sources furthers the camaraderie shared by PT owners and fans. Additionally, it serves to showcase cars like Casper, only enhancing its lore and reputation.
In any other budding business venture, lengthy renovations or additions to property whether real estate or automotive would be made with the promise of eventual financial gain. Websites would be constructed to shamelessly promote the product, a car in this case. Perhaps not surprisingly Cafarelli makes no bones about what he considers worthy profit. "When I see the reactions and amazed looks on all the children's faces, I know that all the time and effort I've spent to create Casper has been all worth while."