Chrysler, in the 1990s, was successful mainly because they became the company of “why not?” Here’s how this worked out: In 1989 the Dodge Viper was shown off in production form. The overwhelming response was “build it!”. This emboldened the brand, and at the perfect time: the K-car platform was long overdue to be canned, and a bevy of new products in the marketplace would set them up for success, provided they did it right. And for the time, they did: the 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee might have been an final AMC design, but when Bob Lutz drove it through a plate glass window at Cobo Hall in Detroit, people sat up and took notice. The 1993 LH platform cars were leaps and bounds over the Eagle Premier/Dodge Monaco that preceeded them. The “cloud cars” midsizers were handsome, and the Dodge Stratus acquired a racing pedigree in North American Touring Car racing. The 1994 Ram was a 100% departure from the previous design, which had been around since 1972, and to top it all off you had the Neon, a small car that could handle pretty well (remember the Neon ACR?)
Chrysler became the land of possibilities. If it was good enough to make a concept, there was a good chance that it could wind up on the production line. Again, if it worked for the Viper, it would work for the rest of the company. But one car stands out even by these standards: the Prowler. Plymouth was having an identity crisis, one that it had been suffering since at least 1974 (and to be honest, one it had much earlier): effectively, they were cheap Chryslers. Once the Musclecar Era was truly over, the Hemis and Six Pack 440s were gone, and the Road Runner was mated to the Fury body, Plymouth was kind of aimless. The 1975 Plymouth Sattelite was stolen and became the Chrysler Cordoba. Plymouth didn’t get a J-body coupe, and only begrudgingly got an M-body sedan, the Plymouth Gran Fury. By the early 1990s things looked dire: the Neon would be sold as both a Dodge and Plymouth (with no real way to tell them apart), the Plymouth Breeze was the most gutted form of a “cloud car” you could get, and the proposed Plymouth LH car, the Accolade, never made it, with Eagle instead getting the Vision. For the hell of it, Plymouth turned their designers loose in 1993 and basically told them to have at it. Two cars came out of this: the PT Cruiser and the Prowler.
To be fair to Chrysler Corporation, it took some serious balls to even let this car go to production. At no point was Chrysler ever expecting to make money on the Prowler. Instead, the car was being sold as a test-bed of sorts. One was a revitalization of the Plymouth brand, one that would carry the themes of the kind of 1930s look that Prowler and PT Cruiser wore, and the other was Chrysler working on manufacturing with aluminum. The 2,780-pound Prowler is a flyweight for a modern car, but if we are going to discuss performance, we have to discuss the Prowler’s biggest downfall: the 3.5L V6.
Raided from the Dodge Intrepid, the V6 made 214 horsepower in the 1997 model, and 253 horsepower from 1999-2002. Many questioned immediately why Chrysler had decided to go with the V6 instead of the V8, but the answer was pretty simple: the V6 was more powerful than the 5.2 or 5.9L Magnum engines, and the 4.7L PowerTech V8 didn’t debut until 2002, when the car was being killed off. Hooked to an AutoStick-equipped four-speed automatic, it was quick enough (0-60 in about six seconds , a 14.4 quarter and a limited top speed of about 125 miles an hour) but it didn’t make the right noises or have the right attitude for a production car that looked like it had been designed by Boyd Coddington.
Plymouth was killed off in 2001, and the Prowler died in 2002. But there was one last footnote, a “what might have been” moment: The 1999 Plymouth Howler concept. The 3.5L V6 was ditched for the 4.7L V8, and the automatic was trashed in favor of a five-speed manual. An enclosed truck bed took place of the slope-backed trunk, and painted all-black it projected fun out of a wildly styled vehicle that captured imaginations. Too little, too late.