One of the best products of Chrysler’s golden era of design came in 1997. The Plymouth Prowler may not have been a sales hit, but it surely wrote a beautiful chapter in the company’s history
- Plymouth’s last hurrah was a halo car with inspiration on hot rods of the 1930s
- The Prowler could have sold more, but set important standards nonetheless
- Every once in a while, a unit in top shape goes on auction on Bring a Trailer
Being the millennial I am, it is only natural that 1990s cars are special for me. As a child, I remember I had magazines and diecast models. However, the first time I saw the Plymouth Prowler was on a sticker for an album I had. After seeing so many cars of smooth surfaces and wedge-shaped front ends, you can figure how surprised that five-year-old was when seeing this car. Especially learning it was absolutely new.
Years later, I came to realize that car fans in general were actually as surprised as I was back then. In their case, the feeling came not only because of that design, but also by what the Plymouth Prowler meant for the Chrysler group. Fast-forwarding to the present, when I saw that a unit had been auctioned on Bring a Trailer just a few days ago, I could not miss the opportunity. Let’s talk a little about Plymouth’s hot rod.
Golden era for Chrysler
The North American group was on a roll in the late 1980s. Lee Iacocca‘s K-cars and minivans had already saved Chrysler from bankruptcy, so it was time to enjoy itself. It was gradually replacing those serious and bland models with much more exciting new ones, especially in the performance segment. The partnership with Mitsubishi brought Dodge Stealth and Eagle Talon, but there were great in-house projects as well.
The LH sedans were all the rage among sedans with that cab-forward design. You could have new SUVs in Dodge and Jeep flavors. And if you really wanted to stand out, there was the Dodge Viper waiting for you. However, the automaker knew there was room for more. Or just wanted more, it was hard to tell. Former designer Tom Gale is a fan of sports cars, especially hot rods, so the magic did not take long to happen.
1997 Plymouth Prowler
Narrow body with all wheels outside of it. Long, V-shaped engine bay with a tall radiator grille. Roadster design with a tiny windshield and a soft top. As if that was not enough, the front fenders are only partial and the wheels are protected by two bars, rather than a typical bumper. Everything in the car screams hot rod, especially 1930s ones. A beautiful halo car not just for Plymouth, but for the entire Chrysler group.
Now, it is interesting to know that the Prowler was not only good-looking. It shared 40% of its parts with other Chrysler vehicles. Steering rack, coil-spring suspension, and the 3.5L V6, for example, all came from its mundane siblings. Sadly, that engine would become its main weakness. Not so much because the 214 hp were low, but because it was not a V8. Its audience would simply not accept a hot rod without a V8.
60% exclusive parts
The other parts made this car unique in the automaker for yet another reason. The Plymouth Prowler had aluminum on its frame, brake rotors, and body parts; the latter were bonded with self-piercing rivets and industrial adhesives. Some suspension parts were made with semi-solid metal forming. In the end, the car served as a test bed for materials and procedures the company was going to use in all its future projects.
Another way in which this car stood out was everyday use. The Dodge Viper was an old-school sports car, so it had the bare minimum in terms of comfort especially in its first years. The Plymouth Prowler, in turn, had a penchant for comfort. You would find climate control, dual airbags, keyless entry, leather seats and wheel, power windows, and a stereo. Not to mention that lovely optional trailer for extra luggage space.
1999 Plymouth Prowler
Two years after the release, the company upgraded the Prowler’s engine. A new 3.5L V6 would make 253 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque, enough to take it to 60 mph in 5.7 s and through the quarter mile in 14.3 s at 95.4 mph. Also in 1999, Plymouth showed the Howler concept, a cargo version. The main differences were the rear end, with boxier design and a truck-like tailgate, and the use of Jeep’s brand new 4.7L V8 engine.
Even though the lack of a V8 was a letdown, the maker did not give up easily. Once the Plymouth division was ended, in the year 2000, the Prowler moved to the Chrysler brand. It would receive two limited series then, Black Tie and Mulholland. The last unit was built on February 15, 2002 to complete a total of 11,702. Chrysler would indirectly replace it with the Crossfire, a modern coupé that took the position of halo car.
2001 Plymouth Prowler
Last Saturday, Bring a Trailer sold a Plymouth Prowler at an auction for $28,000. That unit comes from the Mulholland Edition, which had only 1,280 others. The automaker had already upgraded its engine, so the series focused on appearance. The Midnight Blue color is exclusive and appears on the dashboard as well. However, the soft top comes in dark blue too (it was black on regular units) while the cabin uses Agate.
This car had some maintenance tasks performed recently, such as new tires and re-chromed rims in 2021, and an oil change in last April. Other than wear signs on the soft top and a scratch on the rear quarter, it is quite clean. The car had around 38,000 miles at the time of the auction, most of them registered during its last ownership. If you were to buy a car at an auction, would you consider a Plymouth Prowler?
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Chrysler’s other halo car was entirely different. The Dodge Viper arrived years later with a much more aggressive character. The GTS version only made it harder to resist.
Danillo Almeida has explored his passion for cars in two distinct ways. The first one is his graduation course in Mechanical Engineering, which will hopefully lead to a job position in the field. The other one is expressing his knowledge and opinions on the matter through writing. Almeida has already contributed to blogs, stores, and websites in general writing automotive content in many formats.