PG on Wheels: Prowler may not be practical, but Chrysler hot rod oozes fun
Friday, August 31, 2001 By Don Hammonds, Post-Gazette Auto Reviewer
Oh, this car! It has no interior room. No trunk.
No gizmos of any kind. No handy-dandy navigation system. Only two seats. A
CD system you have to be a contortionist to reach.
But so what? It's also the most fun you will
ever have on four wheels, a not-to-be-missed experience. That's assuming, of
course, that all the curiosity seekers leave you alone enough to have time
to drive it.
That, dear readers, sums up the 2001 Chrysler
Prowler, a low production, high octane, entertaining toy -- and I do mean
From the moment that this blue pleasure
palace pulled up to the Post-Gazette, it created an uproar unlike anything
I've ever seen. "You go, bay-bee!" shouted one woman jumping up and down on
One night, I took one of my friends out for a
birthday bash and the easy-going, self-effacing guy almost died from
embarrassment. Everybody gawked, pointed, drooled or just stopped in their
While I had the car, it was thumbs up and
finger snaps everywhere from onlookers. At traffic lights, people jumped out
of their cars, pointed their cameras at me and the car, then jumped back in
and disappeared before the light changed.
Meanwhile at work, things were no quieter. I
must have gotten half a dozen calls from co-workers begging for the keys.
Chrysler's Prowler, which used to be known as
the Plymouth Prowler before the brand was dropped, was born on the drawing
board at Chrysler's Pacifica Design Center in California in 1990. It began
production in 1997, based on a stunning show car that debuted at the 1993
North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The 10,000th Prowler was
produced just this year, a flaming orange color.
The first ones were purple, and each year
Chrysler picks three or four exclusive colors for it, retiring the others,
thus heightening the car's value as a collectible. It's awfully popular with
the celebrity crowd, including the Backstreet Boys and the '70s rock group
Ours was Prowler Midnight Blue Pearl Coat
with a light blue stripe and matching dark blue top and the most outrageous
chrome wheels and exhaust pipes you've ever seen. Call it Viagra on wheels.
Mine sold for $46,000, a figure which
absolutely blew away people who mostly thought it had to be several hundred
thousand a copy because of its custom looks. Let's go for a drive.
Open the door and suck it in. It's not easy
to get to the seat. Getting into this car requires the ability to bend one's
body into a shape that Mother Nature clearly did not intend.
But once you're in, va-va-va-vroom! The
dashboard's oval shaped-gauges are vintage '50s and '60s hot-rods, with
glass covers that, at night, take on a futuristic, shiny look as outside
lights bounce off the surface.
The first thing you notice about it is the
big round tachometer on the steering wheel, which helps maximize your
driving pleasure by taking full advantage of Chrysler's terrific auto stick
that allows manual shifting.
Turn the key. "VaROOOM! Rumpa-rumpa-rumpa ...
vaROOM!" Not only does it sound like a rocket, it moves just about as fast
-- 0 to 60 in seven seconds or fewer -- and you can feel the car shifting
through the gears at what seems breakneck speed. It was hard for me to
believe this is the same engine -- 253-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 -- that
powers such super-quiet luxury cars as the Chrysler LHS.
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When I first saw the Prowler, I was leery of
the fragile appearance of the front end. The hood comes to a point flanked
by two futuristic rectangular headlights, and the suspension and steering
system are exposed to the elements. The tires are under fenders that turn
with the car as you do.
But I discovered there's not a bit of
difference between how you feel driving the Prowler and how you feel with
any other high-performance automobile. There is a lot of body shake as the
car rumbles down the road, but that's part of the experience. The handling
never, ever gets out of control, and this thing goes around corners and
sticks to the street like glue.
By the way, if you need some exercise, I've
got just the ticket. Try to get that top down. The top is manually operated
and it's here to ... pump you up! First you try to unhook some catches near
the window frame that don't seem to want to loosen up. Then you push up with
all your might to free the top at the windshield frame. Then you throw back
the front seat to get to a handle under the back window to unlatch the back
part of the top. Finally, you lift the back part of the top and tilt the
whole top backward into the open trunk area, which unlatches with a yellow
button inside the rear side part of the car.
Got all that? Chrysler has a reassuring note
in the owners' manual that promises that as time goes on, the top loosens
Speaking of trunk space, there isn't any.
You'd better travel light -- maybe a stick of deodorant, a change of socks
and underwear under the front seat -- or buy an optional Prowler trailer
sold by Chrysler.
The other big negative for me was the
cassette/disc player, which is thoughtlessly located behind the passenger's
seat, sticking straight up in a tiny, cramped space. Not the easiest thing
in the world to get to.
But with all of its faults, the Prowler is
peerless. Other than a Corvette -- and they're hopelessly conventional next
to one of these --you will not meet its match anywhere in an American car
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The Bottom Line: 2001
Fuel economy: 17 in the city, 23 on the
This one's for you if ... you're me! I loved this car despite all
of it's obvious drawbacks: No room, rough ride, top that's tough as nails to
lower, etc. I'm no different from any other Walter Mitty type out there who
goes wild when you hand him or her the keys to some exotic piece of
machinery. I've been a good boy, Lord. I want it, I want it, I want it!
What's the buzz? Everybody wants it. Everybody sees it -- and wants you.
Need to know anything else? Somehow, I didn't think so!
In a family way? Uh ... no.
The Lazarus Plymouth creates its
own Dream Cruise at every stoplight.
by Bob Storck
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -
I've driven down Sunset Boulevard in a metallic
plum-colored Prowler, getting more looks and waves than
the Rose parade. Then a year later I repeated the trip
with a screaming yellow version in this trendy desert
town. Same reaction.
developed a great antidote for mid-life crisis. But can
the world's first "factory-built" hot rod breathe new life
into a brand that Chrysler was ready to abandon just a few
answer was no, and the brand is slated for oblivion next
year. At first the Prowler was going into the automotive
dustbin, too, but demand has caused the axe wielders to
pause in the down stroke. Now it will continue as a
Chrysler, and those with one badge or the other are bound
to become more collectible.
The Prowler made its debut as a 1993 concept
car. The two-seater captured the excitement of the great
classic hot rods, and proved so popular that Chrysler was
inspired to put the car into production as a low-volume
For 1999, new features included a new
all-aluminum, 253-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine; it has
horsepower than the cast-iron
engine in the 1997 Prowler. That year the Prowler also
featured a new on-off switch for the passenger airbag,
improved window switch gear and enhanced speaker cover
treatments for the Prowler's "boom box" speakers. (If
someone offers you a 1998 Prowler, politely decline, as
the car skipped a year in its evolution, a combination of
marketing and government regulatory shuffling.)
For 2000, the only change is the availability of
a new color, silver, in the Prowler's palette, plus some
minor interior improvements and some suspension
refinement. Purple, you'll remember, was the first hue; a
second color, yellow, was offered starting in mid-1999,
followed by red and black later in the year, run down the
line in batches. Other colors include a red and black
two-tone special Woodward Dream Cruise edition.
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Chrysler's styling studios have become known for some of
the auto industry's most innovative designs, and the
innovatively retro Prowler is bound to become one of their
hallmarks. Take a touch of Ford's '34 roadster. Add the
radiator cowl and a few features of the classic
Indianapolis championship cars. Spend a few weeks reading
50's issues of Hot Rod and Car Craft. Then
wrap it up with high tech features stolen from racecars
and the aerospace industry. You wind up ready to recreate
the movies that made James Dean and Marlon Brando
Its broad rear tapers to a narrow nose, and the
low profile front tires are set more than a foot outside
the body with all the springs and shocks buried in the
narrow nose. If it were not for the government mandated
front bumpers (true 5-mph protection), the Prowler's front
end would be as clean as an Indy car's. In order to
improve the balance, the transaxle is shifted to the rear
with a short engine speed driveshaft in between - just
like Ferraris and the new Corvette.
As a result, Prowler is just about the only hot
rod with independent suspension. Some writers have niggled
about the 1997 V-6's inability to chirp the fat rear
tires. The new engine will please them. I spent enough
time running twisty mountain roads and proving ground skid
pads to properly appreciate the balance and road holding
these sticky tires and this layout produces.
Underneath the skin, the Plymouth Prowler is a
"rolling test bed," designed to prove a variety of new
materials and techniques. The drive-train and suspension
layouts are stolen from racecar engineering parts bins.
All the bodywork is bonded aluminum, and when Chrysler
added its new line of engines, this lightweight metal came
to dominate the vehicle. Even the rear disk brakes are
constructed of an aluminum matrix composite. Only a few
limited-production cars use such exotic, weight-saving
The tires are well worth touting. Chrysler
engineers worked with Goodyear to develop a customized
"run flat" tire which can keep going for up to 50 miles,
yet still maintain sports car handling. There's no place
for a spare tire - there's barely room for a briefcase and
a folding garment bag in what passes for a trunk.
I recently traveled around Southern California
over the Christmas week, and had packed for the Prowler
and had no problems. I even had chosen my Christmas gifts
according to my transport, and everything fit under the
trunk lid. Unfortunately, my friends and family did not,
and their gifts to me were often a challenge to pack. If a
cross country lifestyle is a must, Plymouth will supply a
trailer styled and painted to match your car.
The top is ample protection for the elements
and has no rattles or squeaks, but wide tires and rear
drive will keep most Prowlers in garages during the nasty
times. Even so, its top is snug in spring showers,
although it sacrifices vision to styling. Still, it has a
heated glass rear window to help prevent misting and
preserve that limited vision.
At $43,725, the Prowler includes a long list of
standard features, such as dual airbags, air conditioning,
power windows and door locks, a 320-watt Infinity stereo
system with compact disc player and a fully retractable
convertible top. It also includes the ability to induce
hypnosis in other folks on the road. Exercise your power
2000 Plymouth Prowler
Price: $43,725 Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 253 hp Transmission: four-speed automatic with
AutoStick control Wheelbase: 113.3 in Length: 165.3 in Width: 76.5 in Height: 50.9 in Weight: 2838 lb Fuel economy: 17 city/ 23 hwy
Major standard equipment:
Power windows and door locks
Infinity 320-watt stereo system with compact disc
Retractable convertible top
A Canadian Perspective:
Test Drive: 2000 Plymouth Prowler
Now into its fourth model
year, the 2000 Prowler has new Goodyear runflat tires, a recalibrated
suspension, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and
speed-dependent stereo volume. Prowlers have the
same 253 horsepower 3.5 litre V6 engine engine
used in the Chrysler LHS and 300M, and a 4-speed
automatic 'AutoStick' transmission mounted at the
rear for better weight distribution.
Chrysler's tribute to the hot rod still turns heads
is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and editor
The Plymouth Prowler was first introduced as a
concept car at the 1993 North American International
Auto Show in Detroit. Reaction to it, as you can
imagine, was a mixture of surprise and amazement. No
one expected a major car manufacturer to produce a
limited-production retro-styled hot-rod. The Prowler
was given the Plymouth nameplate to help boost that
brand's image, which it did - but not enough to save
the Plymouth brand which is to be discontinued next
As the initial public reaction to the Prowler was
overwhelmingly positive, Chrysler built a production
version using the 1993 Dodge Intrepid platform with
rear-wheel-drive. It was unveiled at the 1996 Detroit
car show, and production began in July of 1997 at the
Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit (where the
Dodge Viper is also built). The first Prowlers reached
Canada late in 1997.
Since it was produced in limited numbers and was so
popular, the 1997 Prowler often sold for thousands of
dollars over the original suggested retail price of
The Prowler skipped the 1998 model year, but the
1997 model continued in production until a revised
1999 model came along. While the 1997 Prowler had the
same 214 horsepower 3.5 litre SOHC 24 valve V6 engine
offered in the uplevel Chrysler Intrepid and Concorde,
the 1999 Prowler switched to a new, all-aluminum 253
horsepower 3.5 litre SOHC 24 valve V6, the same engine
used in the recently-redesigned LHS and 300M.
In addition, 1999 Prowler's added de-powered
airbags with a passenger-side cutoff switch, an
'express-down' driver's-side power window, and
illuminated power window switches.
Some Changes for 2000
For model year 2000, Prowlers receive new Goodyear
Eagle GSD EMT runflat tires designed specifically for
the Prowler. They have a stickier front tire compound
for improved grip but they are heavier than standard
tires. To improve the Prowler's ride, 2000 models have
recalibrated Koni shocks, reduced spring rates, and
new ball joints in the rear suspension lateral links.
Interior changes for 2000 include an automatic,
speed-dependent stereo volume control, a new mute
switch, and a leather shift boot. A new 'electrochromic'
rearview mirror automatically dims at night to reduce
glare, and the mirror includes a built in compass,
outside temperature reading, and mini trip computer.
Originally, Prowler's came in any colour you wanted
as long as it was 'Prowler Purple'. This year, there
are three colours, 'Prowler Silver Metallic', 'Prowler
Black' and 'Prowler Red'.
From just about any angle, the Prowler's wild styling
is a feast for the eyes. Its tapered body and exposed
front tires and wheels mimic the original 'fenderless'
Ford and Chevy coupes of the 40's and 50's. To prevent
wheel spray, the Prowler has small, front fenders that
turn with the tires. Like early hot rods, the front
tires and wheels are smaller than the rear tires and
wheels - although it should be mentioned that the
original hot-rods never had low-profile, high-speed,
run-flat tires. The Prowler's front tires are
P225/45HR-17 inch, and the rears are P295/40HR-20 inch
mounted on five-spoke silver, or optional chrome alloy
Rather than the separate headlamps common to
hot-rods of the 40's and 50's, the Prowler has smaller
projector beam headlamps under plastic covers cleverly
integrated into the body behind the grille. The rear
of the Prowler appears extremely wide and high,
accented by wide rear tires and separate fenders, and
twin exhaust pipes with chrome tips.
A common criticism of the Prowler's styling are the
large, protruding front bumpers. They're necessary to
meet 5 mph bumper standards and crash standards.
Personally, I don't find them offensive. The designers
did a good job of making them look as inconspicuous as
Well-Equipped Interior But Tiny Trunk
Inside the car, most of the instruments are positioned
in the centre of the dashboard, including a large
speedometer flanked by oil pressure, voltmeter, fuel
and coolant gauges. The tachometer is positioned on
the steering column just behind the steering wheel -
just like they used to be on souped-up rods of
The rest of the interior is contemporary in design
and very well-equipped. Standard equipment includes
leather seats, air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette and a
6-disc CD changer with seven speakers, remote keyless
entry, cruise control and power door locks. For
safety, the Prowler has three-point seatbelts and dual
airbags - the passenger side airbag has a key-operated
cutoff switch. However, the Prowler doesn't have a
rollover bar or roll hoops.
The black convertible top is manually-operated, and
folds down into a cavity behind the seats under a
plastic boot cover. It's easy to do, but you have to
get out of the car to raise and lower the top.
As far as storage space, the Prowler is probably
the most impractical vehicle I've ever tested.
Interior storage room is limited to a small, centre
storage bin and a seatback map pocket, but there's no
glove box or door pockets. The Prowler has the
smallest, shallowest trunk I've ever seen - a measly
1.8 cubic feet - not even enough room for an overnight
Perhaps that's why Chrysler recently unveiled a
modified version of the Prowler called the 'Howler' at
the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Marketing Association)
trade show in Las Vegas. The Howler is a Prowler with
a taller, longer tail and a usable trunk.
Another option is a special Prowler trailer which
looks exactly like the Prowler from the rear.
Retro-look But High-tech Construction
Though it looks like it belongs in the 50's, the
Prowler is built using sophisticated 90's technology.
Extensive use of lightweight, rust-free aluminum
includes a bonded and riveted aluminum frame, aluminum
suspension components, aluminum engine, and some
aluminum body panels (hood, doors, deck lid, and front
side panels). The remaining body panels are a
composite plastic material. A structural cross-member
behind the instrument panel is made of magnesium.
Unlike early hot-rods which had solid front and
rear axles, the Prowler has a fully independent
suspension, including front double 'A' arm suspension
with inboard-mounted spring and shock assembly, and
rear an independent four-link setup. Four vented disc
brakes with ABS are standard equipment.
The standard power plant is the 3.5 litre SOHC 24
valve V6 engine that also powers the Chrysler LHS and
300M models. This all-aluminum engine develops 253
horsepower at 6,400 rpm (39 more than the previous 3.5
litre engine) and 255 foot pounds of torque at 3,950
The Prowler is not available with a manual
transmission, but it does offer Chrysler's four-speed
automatic 'AutoStick' transmission which allows both
automatic or sequential manual shifting. To shift
manually, the driver places the floor-mounted stick
shift in the last gate, and pushes the lever right to
change up and left to change down. If the driver fails
to shift before the engine redline, the AutoStick
transmission will shift automatically. To improve
vehicle weight distribution, the AutoStick transaxle
is mounted at the rear of the car.
A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On
Though the Prowler looks like a cross between a
hot-rod and a race-car, it's not a handling machine.
The Prowler's wide track and super-wide, sticky tires
provide excellent grip on smooth surfaces, but its
unforgiving suspension and considerable body flex
upset its balance when any small bump is encountered.
In fact, the whole body shakes alarmingly when
traveling over larger bumps, and from the driver's
seat, is rather disconcerting.
In true hot-rod tradition, the Prowler's
straight-line acceleration is very quick, in part
because the Prowler weighs just 1287 kg (2838 lb).
However, the transmission, in automatic mode, 'bumps'
when it changes gears - I don't know why because this
same transmission is very smooth on other Chrysler
vehicles. In manual mode, the AutoStick transmission
allows manual shifting, but there's a slight delay in
Braking is excellent, as you would expect in a
lightweight vehicle with four wheel disc brakes, and
the power-assisted steering has good feel and
Wind buffeting with the top down is minimal due to
a well-raked windshield and fairly high door sides.
With the top up, visibility to the rear is impaired,
but the top is well-sealed against the elements. In
any event, the Prowler is more of a summer car - I
don't even know if you could get 20 inch snow tires...
MSRP of $61,000
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price for the 2000
Prowler is $61,000, up from $55,000 in 1999. Plus,
there's a $1400 delivery charge. In some areas, you
might find dealers asking more than that because the
Prowler is a limited production specialty car in high
demand. In calendar year 1998, only 146 Prowlers were
sold in Canada, and in 1999, 88 have been sold to
date. Worldwide production output for the 1999 model
year was only about 5000 units.
Still, with its high resale value, the Prowler
might be a good investment, and one with which you can
have a lot of fun.
2 passenger, 2-door convertible
longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive
3.5 litre V6, SOHC, 24 valve
253 @ 6400 rpm
255 @ 3950 rpm
4-speed automatic 'AutoStick'
Front P225/45HR-17; Rear P295/40HR-20
1287 kg (2838 lb.)
2877 mm (113.3 in.)
4199 mm (165.3 in.)
1943 mm (76.5 in.)
1292 mm (50.9 in.)
51 litres (1.8 cu. ft.)
City: 13.8 l/100 km (20 mpg)
Hwy: 9.4 l/100 km (30 mpg)
3 yrs/60,000 kms
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