The Lazarus Plymouth creates its own Dream Cruise at
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.
Plymouth has 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 years ago?
Unfortunately the 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.
Instant collector's item?
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 showpiece.
For 1999, new features included a new all-aluminum, 253-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine; it has 39 more 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.
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 household names.
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 drivetrain 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 features.
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 sportscar 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 carefully.
2000 Plymouth Prowler
Base 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 player
Retractable convertible top
© 2000 The Car Connection