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Random Car Review: The Chrysler/Plymouth Prowler – From Concept To Forgotten In Short Order

Random Car Review: The Chrysler/Plymouth Prowler – From Concept To Forgotten In Short Order

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.

1993 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.

prowler2Raided 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.

1999 Plymouth Howler

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.



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10 thoughts on “Random Car Review: The Chrysler/Plymouth Prowler – From Concept To Forgotten In Short Order

  1. mooseface

    There’s a guy who owns a bright yellow Prowler living down the road from me, and I can only imagine that his first thought every time he turns the key on that things is: “I’ve made a terrible mistake”. He must’ve bought it on a whim and is now perpetually stuck with it because the resale value is probably comparable to a sack of beer bottles.
    Every time I see it on the road, I watch it expectantly; someday those BEBs are going to spin. Someday.

  2. Rattler

    For me the looks were good then and actually better now. The last thing it needed was an iron lump V-8. Maybe the Chrylser V-6 was on the anemic side but for the weight I am sure it was pretty nimble. A V-6 along the kind Toyota or Honda has would be great. Certainly a manual 5-6 speed is nice but I doublt they would have sold any more. If done right with a good suspension this could have easily been America’s version of the Lotus Elis or Caterham 7.

  3. 3rd Generation

    Bargain – basement retro rod Fun.

    For the busy car-person who wants all the flavor and attitude of a early V8 roadster with None of the bullshit hassles included in driving a piece of expensive rolling custom jewelry – here’s the ticket Right Here.

    Do a little front bumper revision – re-mount the healights and presto – a whole new uncluttrered front end look. A few more tricks and they can liik pretty acceptable.

    These things are all over-the-place, usually with low miles for mid 20’s $. Parts are over-the-counter and you shouldn’t need too many of them. Bought right, you can own it, drive the shit out of it and get most if not all of your $ when you are tired of it. I know, I have done that – twice.

    Checked what a clapped out, home-built and engineered 350/350 plastic bodied rattle prone, leaky top, no A/C duece replica is going for $ lately ? and speaking of depreciation, ever try to sell or insure for value a ‘real’ hot rod ? Have a nice life. Ever break down on a saturday afternoon driving x country in your kit car ? ever driven your kit car past the county line ?

    Say what you want, these Prowlers are cheap, reliable Fun and a bargain buy.

    See ya at the Hillclimb. Purple Prowler. I’ll buy the first round.

  4. jerry z

    I hope someone makes a stupid fast version of the Prowler. Stick a Hellcat setup with side pipes and let it rip!

  5. Sneke_Eyez

    Hey, it might be fun to rag on them, but as someone who daily drives nothing but vehicles powered by that 3.5L V6, it is a mighty powerful engine when it is done right, and that Prowler is a heck of a lot lighter than my 2004 300M Special or 2002 Dodge Intrepid that use the same mill.

    I have always and will always love the Prowler. Exterior, interior, engine and rear-mounted transmission.

    I love that people rag on them so much – it means that someday I will be able to park one of these gorgeous looking cars in my own garage.

  6. John T

    as others have said, the lack of a V8 soundtrack seems to have been the killer here…OK, so maybe the only available V8 at the time was a bit of a slug, but this happened to other Detroit iron too… even if it was slower than the V6 it would have at least sounded right, and the potential to hot them up would have been there. Not just the Prowler, either… imagine how people would feel about P/T cruisers if they all had V8’s ( even if they were a little anemic?) Its funny in a way to look at this from a distance..(Australia) – I have only ever seen one Prowler in the flesh at a car event in a car park. It caused a huge stir of interest but the disappointment when it started up was palpable.

  7. Tedly

    Someone needs to wedge a hellcat in one of these. I’m still trying to figure out why no one ever stuck a new gen Hemi in one (that I know of).

  8. bkbridges

    We mfgd some dual throttle body hillborn scooped tunnel ram intakes for a company that built 5.0l prowler motors (stroked 3.5)… Worked great. They also made a lot of real hotrod style parts to replace the plastic stuff like grills, lights etc. Not sure where Dean (the owner of Prowler Pro) went off to…Limited market, that’s for sure.

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