Car Guides Car Reviews

Used Retro Inspired Wagons

Mini Cooper Clubman

by Chris Chase

The 1990s and 2000s saw automakers embrace retro vehicle designs in a bid to attract buyers with fond memories of cars they had owned decades earlier. Among the results of that trend were the Volkswagen New Beetle of the late 90s and the fifth-generation Ford Mustang introduced for 2005.

But not all retro-styled vehicles were sports cars and cutesy compact hatchbacks. Carmakers knew they also needed to appeal to nostalgic buyers with more practical needs, so designers turned out a handful of small wagons with styling inspired by classic designs of decades past.

Key among these were a couple of American-made models called the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevrolet HHR. They were joined by the British-built, German-engineered Mini Clubman, a wagon variant of the sporty Mini Cooper hatchback.

Mini Cooper ClubmanMini Clubman, 2008-2013

Despite being larger than the Mini Cooper hatchback it’s based on, the Clubman is the smallest of this collection of cute wagons. It’s also the least conventional of the trio: Passengers access the back seat through a small rear door on the right-hand side, and, instead of a tailgate, the back end has a pair of doors that swing out like those on a cargo van.

Mini offered the original Clubman from 2008 through 2013. All models use a 1.6L engine, which is turbocharged in the Cooper S and John Cooper Works (JCW) models.

Those turbo engines are the ones most prone to reliability troubles. A cold-start rattle often indicates a worn timing chain, which is difficult and expensive to replace, as this video shows.

The fuel pump is also prone to failure, and Mini recalled turbo cars to replace electric water pumps that could catch fire

The base model’s non-turbo engine is a lot less powerful, but also more reliable.

Chrysler PT Cruiser, 2000-2010Chrysler PT Cruiser

Chrysler introduced the PT Cruiser in 2000 with styling inspired by the Pronto Cruizer concept car shown at the 1999 Geneva auto show. Despite its exotic looks, the PT Cruiser was related to more mainstream Chrysler Corporation compact cars of the time, like the Dodge/Plymouth Neon. All PT Cruiser models used a 2.4L engine with optional turbocharging.

Here’s a discussion about the PT Cruiser engine’s requirement for a specific type of coolant to prevent overheating caused by a buildup of cooling system deposits. (

Radiator cooling fan failures are a common problem in the PT Cruiser, and can cause overheating at low speeds and when stopped in traffic.

Many PT Cruiser owners report problems with the engine’s timing belt and cylinder head gasket. The car’s automatic transmission is also kn0own for reliability problems, so have the drivetrain checked by a trusted mechanic before you buy.

Chevrolet HHRChevrolet HHR, 2006-2011

The HHR (short for heritage high roof) was Chevrolet’s answer to the PT Cruiser, inspired by the design of the 1940s Chevy Suburban. Like the PT Cruiser, the HHR shared its underpinnings with more mundane cars, including the Chevrolet Cobalt, Pontiac Pursuit, and Saturn Ion.

Chevrolet sold the HHR with 2.2L and 2.4L four-cylinder engines as well as a 2.0L turbo engine limited to the sporty SS trim level.

When test-driving an HHR, listen for any of the common unwanted sounds listed in this discussion thread.

The HHR was part of a Chevrolet repair campaign to replace faulty ignition locks. In these cars, a bad ignition switch could turn the car off unexpectedly and disable safety systems like airbags.

Here’s a discussion about the causes behind an HHR automatic transmission that shifts poorly.

Here’s a handy list of all the service bulletins and recalls related to the Chevrolet HHR.

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