You might recall the wild Plymouth Prowler concept of the mid-1990s, a retro throwback to hot rod culture. Except the Prowler wasn’t a concept, it was a fully fledged production car, of which 11,702 were built between 1997 and 2002.
It’s remembered as a bit of a flop, critically and commercially, but there’s more to the story than that.
Let’s start with the bad. The bold design successfully paid homage to cars like the Ford Model A, but many hot rod enthusiasts were left alienated by Chrysler’s decision to use a V6 engine and four-speed automatic gearbox. The V6 was chosen to improve efficiency and meet crash regulations.
Despite weighing just 1280kg, the Prowler, initially at least, wasn’t particularly quick. The 3.5-litre SOHC V6 produced 160kW/300Nm for a 0-60mph (97km/h) claim of 7.2sec. Plymouth claimed an electronically limited top speed of 190km/h, which was academic because during testing Car & Driver found the Prowler was aerodynamically limited to 188km/h, though it beat the 0-60mph claim at 7.0sec.
A little more potency arrived in 1999 with a high-performance aluminium block version of the 3.5 producing 189kW/339Nm. This cut the 0-60mph claim to 5.9sec and lifted the top speed to 203km/h.
However, Chrysler itself addressed the Prowler’s criticisms with a concept unveiled at the 1999 SEMA called the Howler, which packed a 4.7-litre V8, five-speed manual and elongated tail for luggage.
Boot space in the Prowler was virtually non-existent, a problem partially solved by the option of a matching trailer. Trouble is, the trailer added another USD$5000 to a car that already cost more than a Chevrolet Corvette.
While not particularly successful, the aluminium-intensive Prowler was an important research and development tool, parts of its chassis being adhesively bonded like a Lotus Elise. To Chrysler, the lessons learned about lightweight construction were more important than sales figures.
History with more horsepower on Fast Car History Lesson
1997 PLYMOUTH PROWLER SPECS
Engine: 3518cc V6, SOHC, 24v
Power: 160kW @ 5850rpm
Torque: 300Nm @ 3100rpm
0-100km/h: 7.4sec (est)