First Drive in a Plymouth Prowler

28 Apr 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on First Drive in a Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler

Cross-Country in Chrysler’s New Hot Rod

Right alongside our Power Tour (covered in depth elsewhere in this issue), Chrysler engineers were conducting a tour of their own. The “Prowler Tour” put two examples of Plymouth’s hot rod ragtop on the road for what was really the car’s public debut.

Yes, the car “officially” premiered in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. But standing in a convention center and watching a car slowly rotate on a turntable under fluorescent lights is nothing compared to seeing (and hearing) it blast by you on the interstate—or better still, blasting down the interstate inside the Prowler.

This was truly a unique opportunity for both HOT ROD and Chrysler. We not only got to spend time with a neat new car, but the Power Tour benefitted from the extra media attention the Prowler brought to our event. And Chrysler was able to preview the Prowler months before it begins production in January 1997 and hold that preview in an environment rich with potential Prowler buyers. (Not that it really needs it. Chrysler has received more than 13,000 formal requests for information and more than 20,000 hits on the Prowler’s Internet home page as of April, all for a car that will have a start-up volume of about 3000 units.)

Plus, spending 2900 miles as part of the Power Tour caravan reinforced the Prowler’s spiritual link with hot rodding. “The Prowler pays homage to the rolling art of hot rods,” explained Craig R. Love, Team Prowler’s executive engineer. “That means traveling across the country with many classic hot rods will be extra special for the team.”

But the Power Tour was no mere PR junket for Team Prowler. While one of Chrysler’s handbuilt prototypes made the trip inside a trailer—so it would be show-car clean for cruise night displays—the second drove the entire Los Angeles-to-Ohio route, accompanied by a small army of developmental engineers. This car was hard-wired with data-acquisition equipment, and at almost every stop along the way the engineers would plug in their laptop computers to access and evaluate the data.

Because the primary purpose of the trip was engineering evaluation, none of the HOT ROD staff was allowed to drive the Prowler. But many of us did the next best thing—ride shotgun and experience firsthand this aluminum-bodied, tear-drop-shaped ’90s hot rod.

One of the first to ride in the car was our Ol’ Dad, Gray Baskerville, who knows a thing or two about roadsters. “Remember, I drove my ’32 to work for about 14 years,” he told me. “I rode in the Prowler with the windows down, to see how noisy it would be, and it felt like a real roadster. It had about the same wind buffeting as my ’32 and all the noises. It takes you back.”

Purists will tell you a real roadster doesn’t have power windows. Nor does it have a fixed windshield. But even a purist will have to agree that the Prowler’s creature comforts—its windows, comfy leather seats, and yards of legroom—make it easier to live in over the long haul.

And that makes the Prowler more accessible to everyone, from longtime hot rodders to near enthusiasts, those people who want the feeling of a Deuce roadster without the shortage of legroom.

And some enthusiasts would rather not worry about keeping a flathead running right. The Prowler is powered by the same 3.5L V6 found in Chrysler’s LH sedans. It’s mated to a four-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission with Chrysler’s Autostic feature, which allows you to run through the gears with the flick of the shift lever—sort of a clutchless manual tranny.

Though it was hard to judge the car’s acceleration potential when sitting in the right seat, the Prowler’s 214 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque—numbers that aren’t far away from the current Mustang GT—should move the lightweight two-seater at a brisk if not blistering rate. And the Prowler’s exhaust tuning gives the V6 a growly rasp that sounds better than its V10 Viper cousin.

Plymouth Prowler

While the Prowler’s suspension is still being fine-tuned, it was clear from our drive with chassis engineer Alan Aloe that he and the other Prowler Team members are looking for a firm ride and responsive handling rather than living-room-sofa comfort, which is the right target, as far as we’re concerned. The Prowler is “a perfect car for a twisty-turny road, like California’s Highway 1 or Route 66,” said Baskerville. “It’s an off-the-beaten-path car, a two-lane car.” Its four-wheel independent suspension, coil-over shocks, quick steering, and fat tires (225/45R17s in front and monstrous 295/40R20s in back) will make it a lot of fun to throw into corners.

Those tires are almost a story in and of themselves. Because there’s so little room in the Prowler for anything other than two passengers, an engine, and a trans, Chrysler engineers found themselves with no room for a spare tire. Instead, the Prowler utilizes Goodyear Extended Mobility tires that have run-flat capability and low-tire-pressure sensors.

And speaking of tires, that brings up one disappointment we had during our Prowler ride. You can’t see them from inside the car. As great as those cycle-fender-covered front tires look to those driving by, you sit so low in the Prowler that all you can see in front of you is the cowl. No hood.

No fenders. So you may have to learn where your front corners are by braille parking.

What you do get inside the Prowler’s cockpit is a handsome instrument panel filled with white-faced gauges and a tachometer perched on top of the steering column. There are dual airbags for safety and a powerful Infinity stereo system for hearing your favorite tunes over the wind rush—unless you, like Baskerville, elect to revel in the wind rush and leave the tunes at home.

My short ride in the Prowler left me wanting more—more time in the car, some wheel time for sure, and more days or weeks to get to know this newest Plymouth. Baskerville, however, knows the car already. “It’s like the early Corvette,” said the man who spent most of the Power Tour in Boyd Coddington’s ’54 ’Vette, “powered by a six-cylinder, based on a sports car motif.” And not a hot rod in the purist’s sense of the word. Not yet, anyway.

“A hot rod is an owner-built car,” Baskerville said. “This is a production car. But it sure has potential. Flame it, take off the fenders, then you’ll have a bitchin’ hot rod!”

Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler

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