Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler; photos courtesy Chrysler Canada. Click image to enlarge

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By Jeff Burry

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Plymouth Prowler

Those of you who are affectionately known as “gearheads” will most likely recognize the name Chip Foose. He is perhaps one of the world’s best known automotive designers, and is also reputedly the man behind the late-90’s Plymouth Prowler – that extreme hot rod, and “halo” vehicle manufactured by Chrysler between 1997 and 2002.

In 1990, during his time at the California Art Centre College of Design, Foose designed a similar-looking vehicle dubbed the Hemisphere. Could those early design sketches have been the inspiration for the Plymouth Prowler? Perhaps, or perhaps not! At Chrysler’s Idea Fair, held in the spring of 1990, the words “hot-rod style retro car” were also being bantered around.

Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler; photos courtesy Chrysler Canada. Click image to enlarge

Regardless of the “incubation” origins of such a vehicle, one has to admire the brashness of Chrysler to produce such a vehicle at a time when all other automotive manufacturers were producing vehicles for the masses.

It was stated at the time that Chrysler brass did not really care if they made money on this vehicle. It was to be an experimental vehicle for the company in which advanced assembly methods utilizing aluminum and composite bonding (components were literally bonded with adhesive) could be put to the test.

Without a doubt, the Prowler’s low slung front end coupled with that throw-back look to the hot rod era of the 40’s and 50’s made for one eye-popping piece of machinery. This is a vehicle that will even turn grandma’s head at the pumps.

The Prowler featured an all-aluminum body and a total curb weight of 1,287 kg (2,838 lbs). That’s close to 363 kg (800 lbs) less than many vehicles on the roads today. The powertrain was lifted from Chrysler’s LH cars and featured the 3.5-litre cast iron SOHC (single overhead cam) V6 engine, producing 214 horsepower and mated to a four-speed automatic transmission.

Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler; photos courtesy Chrysler Canada. Click image to enlarge

Thankfully for the 1999 model year, the powerplant was upgraded to an all-aluminum 3.5-litre, 24 valve V6 producing a more respectable 253 horsepower while remaining matched to the original automatic transmission. In order to provide the car with that highly sought-after 50/50 weight distribution, the transmission was located towards the rear of the vehicle and joined to the engine by an innovatively-designed flexible driveshaft.

Production of the Prowler started in early 1997 and the first year’s volume was originally targeted to be in the 3,000 unit range. However, final production numbers for its official launch saw only 457 vehicles being produced. The production volume was apparently tweaked and set for twenty vehicles per eight-hour shift. All 1997 Prowlers came in the colour purple with a total of 53 designated to Canadian dealerships.

Of note, is the fact that there were no 1998 Plymouth Prowlers produced, and after the Plymouth moniker was dropped in 2000, the Prowler was newly badged the Chrysler Prowler for the following 2001 and 2002 model years.

Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler; photos courtesy Chrysler Canada. Click image to enlarge

During the Prowler’s production run which spanned from 1997 to 2002, a total of 11,702 were produced. Although Chrysler originally intended to produce it for five model years ending 2001, 1,436 Prowlers made it into dealer showrooms as 2002 models.

Production of the Prowler was limited to just a few model years for obvious reasons: this is not a vehicle for the masses. It was only to be driven on fine weather days, and the trunk could barely hold a flattened suit bag so you could forget about picking up your buddy to play a round of golf.

Chrysler equipped the Prowler with “run flat” tires because there was simply no room to store a full-size spare tire or even a miniscule space-saver tire. The Prowler came equipped with huge 20-inch tires on the rear corners (front corners were outfitted with 17-inch tires) providing it with its aggressive-looking stance.

Plymouth Prowler
Plymouth Prowler; photos courtesy Chrysler Canada. Click image to enlarge

In terms of design, this vehicle demonstrated what automotive engineers could do if given full reign to exercise their creative freedoms. In terms of performance, however, Chrysler should have avoided the Chrysler LH parts bin and instead stuffed a V8 between the fenders matched to a five-speed manual transmission. If Chrysler was truly bent on creating a hot rod, the powerplant and tranny options ought to have been in sync with the styling of the vehicle.

Still, Chrysler succeeded in providing a hot rod with undisputed style, an open-air experience, and reliable, modern-day components – and perhaps, just perhaps this is more important than the powertrain.

The Prowler may have inspired other manufacturers to produce modern-day vehicles with that retro look – consider the Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Camaro and revamped Ford Mustang. At the end of the day, I tip my hat to the folks at Chrysler for providing us with a remarkable modern-day hot rod driving experience. To this day, the Prowler remains one of the most radical, sleek looking vehicles ever to be produced by a North American automotive manufacturer.

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