Car Lust: The Plymouth Prowler

19 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Car Lust: The Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler

The Plymouth Prowler

by Anthony Cagle on September 16, 2011

Excuse me? This blog has been in existence for over four years and still no Prowler?

Ye gods, how could we have been so remiss in our duties to avoid mention of one of the biggest bombs in recent memory? Or perhaps that#39;s not strictly true. while the Prowler has had its fair share of ridicule and wasn#39;t terribly commercially successful, it did grab a lot of attention at the time and arguably led to something of a renaissance in vintage/retro designs #0160;#0160;#0160;#0160;both within Chrysler and outside of it.

On top of that, despite whatever shortcomings it may have had, at least it was interesting ; a totally new (albeit old) design from an American manufacturer that could not be mistaken for anything else on the road. In addition, it utilized a number of advanced production techniques and materials and was designed to minimize weight for both performance and fuel efficiency. And, truth be told, it really wasn#39;t a bad car.

Practical? No. Wildly im practical? Well. not really. Lustworthy? Definitely.

The Prowler came about as part of Chrysler#39;s efforts (the last as it turned out) to differentiate Plymouth from the rest of its lineup in hopes of keeping the brand alive. In a way, it was akin to Dodge#39;s Viper: something of a halo car to highlight and test out new manufacturing techniques and materials for use in their other cars.

As a halo, it was probably never going to make any money, but it was hoped that it would be received well enough to garner some attention, some of which might spill over into some of their other models. In this it was similar to the Viper. in other ways, eh, not so much.

The Prowler was based on a concept car from 1993 and actually ended up looking quite similar to that one. It was designed as a pure 2-seat roadster with a retro. no, scratch that, heritage-based look to it. Though the idea of a Chrysler hot rod goes back to Virgil Exner, Sr. who in 1953 designed a similar Indy-car based roadster to be built around the Hemi (photo), that particular concept never quite took off.

Later, at an Idea Fair at Chrysler#39;s Pacifica Design Center in 1990 the concept of actually#0160;producing a retro-looking roadster got its start*. Pacifica#39;s Tom Tremont started developing the concept further and eventually Bob Lutz threw his considerable weight behind the project, eventually finding its way to Tom Gale who owned a #39;33 highboy hot rod that seems to have provided the basis for the overall styling of the Prowler (it had by 1991 acquired that name).

The concept car wowed the crowd at the 1993 Detroit North American International Auto Show: not only did it have a wild look but it debuted in a stunning deep purple paint. It was styled to look like a traditional hot rod all the way: open cockpit, wide back end with big (20!) fat wheels, tapering down to a narrow front end, with the wheels and suspension right out in the open. Interestingly, a number of hot rodding enthusiasts were able to voice their opinion on how the car should look and perform.

When it finally went into production for the 1997 model year, it looked quite similar to the original concept. There were surprises under the skin: the Prowler used the same basic drivetrain components from their LH sedan line (Concorde, 300M) which was based around a lowly V6 rather than the V8 many expected.

Still, it wasn#39;t exactly impotent: the initial 24-valve 3.5-liter SOHC engine put out a fairly respectable 214 hp, which sounds rather anemic now, but at the time it wasn#39;t too bad, and was actually competitive with other sporty cars around. And by 1999 the output had been upgraded to around 250 hp. Still, the lack of a V8 kinda killed expectations that the Prowler was going to be a barn burner.

Similarly, it was fitted to an automatic transmission, albeit a semi-automatic Autostick 4-speed. On the other hand, the transmission was located in the rear of the car in order to give the car a better front-to-back weight balance. Between the engine and transmission, you#39;d think 0-60 times would be pretty pathetic#0160;#0160;#0160;#0160;. Not exactly. One of the prime characteristics in the design of the Prowler was to reduce weight.

Much of the body and frame were made of aluminum which was bonded rather than welded together — almost 1/3 of the car by weight was aluminum and it came in at only 2,800 pounds. By comparison, the same generation Mustang weighed over 3,000 pounds and its 4.6-liter V8 was rated at only 215 hp. The Prowler also had independent suspension front and rear and four-wheel disk brakes with vented composite rotors.

The interior was similarly. unique. The seats were aluminum-framed (reducing weight) and the dash layout put a single gauge in front of the driver: a tachometer which sticks up from the steering column giving it that add-on look. The remaining gauges were clustered around the center console.

The paint colors were generally limited, but bold. In its debut year it was only available in a metallic purple, but later the range was expanded to include yellow, black, red, silver, ORANGE, and what they termed Inca Gold, among others. Simple, but bold.

And noticeable.

Plymouth Prowler

So how did it perform? 0-60 times were between 6 and 7 seconds depending on the engine, and a drive test of a 2000 model revealed a very loud, hard shifting, and hard riding car that was competant in the corners, satisfyingly fast, and above all, fun . Probably not something you#39;d want as a daily driver, but at least comparable to some other 2-seaters of the time.

Errr, which brings us to the overriding concern: did anybody buy them? As you can tell, it wasn#39;t particularly practical for everyday use: open top, two seats, and very little trunk space (though they did have a truly bitchin#39; little trailer specifically designed for it!). Chrysler kept the price reasonably low using the parts bin design, but it still came in north of $40k.

Chrysler had expected to sell 3,000 in its first year, but only hit 457 that first year (1997). The remaining years weren#39;t too bad, averaging a tad above 3,000 per year until 2002 when Plymouth went the way of the Dodo and the Prowler wore the Chrysler badge and only sold 1,436 (all figures from#0160;Wikipedia ; these include all sales, not just US).#0160;

The poor Prowler has gotten a bad rap largely because the sales weren#39;t exactly stellar, and most seemed to pin the major blame on the lack of a V8 and fairly high price. And, you know, the styling isn#39;t for everyone. OTOH, I think it was a fairly competant car and certainly comparable to other similar cars of the time, even without a V8. Plus, it gave rise to the PT Cruiser which turned out to be a decently popular car for Chrysler.

Other retro heritage-based designs followed including GM#39;s HHR and SSR, and Ford#39;s Mustang and Thunderbird. These met with variable success, but it showed that there was at least some market for certain timeless designs, whether retro or modern. Certainly not one of the 50 worst cars of all time, although not a stunning success in and of itself anyway. And like most of the cars we feature here, there are plenty of fans out there.#0160;

* Some have credited Chip Foose#39;s Hemisfear design as the modern inspiration for the Prowler, and it may well have been, though I#39;ve not come across anything firm regarding the specific connection.

Credits: The top photo is a classic from Serious Wheels. The interior and trailer shots are from the Garage Car blog. The 1953 prototype is of a 3/8 scale clay model provided by our own Virgil Exner, Jr.

[Update: Minor edits made after publishing]

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