As soon as you see the Plymouth Prowler you know that there is a story behind it. Automobile manufacturers just don’t make non-mainstream cars like this for the heck of it. Ever wonder what the story is? Well, so have we, so we looked into it and here’s what we found.
To understand the Prowler story, one must understand where Chrysler Corporation’s Plymouth line stood back in the late 1990s. In a nutshell, the once proud Plymouth name was being considered for termination. The brand didn’t have the distinctive niche market that it once had and it was judged as redundant by some executives within the company. To test the theory, and to perhaps inject a little life back into the brand, the Plymouth Prowler was developed. In a way this is something akin to the Dodge Viper. The Viper was also a limited-use car that was considered a platform to try out new manufacturing techniques and materials on. Neither the Prowler or the Viper were really supposed to make any money for the company. There were really just to try out a few new things and garner some attention which might spill over into other models within the company.
The idea of a producing a Chrysler hot rod goes back to Virgil Exner, Sr. who in 1953 designed a roughly-similar Indy-car based roadster. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, though, at Chrysler’s Pacifica Design Center, that the concept of a retro-looking roadster really gained some steam. Started by Pacifica’s Tom Tremont, the idea soon it moved on to Tom Gale who owned a ’33 self-built highboy hot rod. This car seems to have provided the basis for the styling of the newly-named “Prowler”.
Shown at the 1993 Detroit North American International Auto Show, the Prowler brought down the house. It was styled to look like a traditional hot rod: open cockpit, wide back end with 20″ wheels tapering down to a narrow front end, and wheels and suspension right out in the open. When it finally went into production for the 1997 model year, there was quite a bit of pentup demand.
However, there were surprises under the skin: the Prowler used the same basic drivetrain components that the Concorde did, a V6 rather than the V8 many expected. 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. Inside, the interior was quite unique. The seats were aluminum-framed and the dash layout put a single gauge in front of the driver. The tachometer sticks up from the steering column giving it that hot rod add-on look. 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 “Inca Gold”.
So did anybody buy them? As you can tell, it wasn’t particularly practical for everyday use: open top, two seats, and very little trunk space (though they did have a cute little trailer specifically designed for it). Chrysler had expected to sell 3,000 in its first year (1997), but only hit 457. The remaining years weren’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. Today, it appears that the poor Prowler has gotten a bad rap largely because the sales weren’t exactly stellar, and most seemed to pin the major blame on the lack of a V8 and fairly high price.
Courtesy of: Earnhardt Dodge