“If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It” – Walt Disney
(first posted 4/27/2017) No matter the make or type of vehicle, seeing an exotic concept car go into production with minimal changes is invariably a proud and exciting moment for any car lover. It’s one thing for a production car to feature influence from a concept, but when the concept is essentially put into production form as is, that’s taking it to a whole new level. As for the latter, a prime example is the Plymouth Prowler.
Introduced at the North American International Auto Show in 1993 in concept form, the Prowler was truly a head-turning vehicle that stood out, even among many other exciting Chrysler concepts of the era. Created as a tribute to hot rods of the past, the Prowler deserves at least partial credit with inspiring the “retro” trend that swept Detroit in the following years, with retro incarnations of cars such as the Thunderbird, SSR, Mustang, 300, Flex, Camaro, and Challenger.
Beyond eye-catching elements such as its 20-inch oversized rear wheels, floating front and rear bumpers, and striking overall silhouette, the Prowler’s styling was highlighted by its long triangular-shaped hood with its aggressive IndyCar-style open front wheels. It was quite a sight to behold!
The ’93 Prowler concept was well-received, and following up on the success of the Viper, Chrysler actually put the car into production with minimal changes to the design. It was just another satisfying piece of Chrysler’s mid-1990s renaissance, which saw the corporation take a more dedicated approach to design, engineering, and internal operations, bringing the automaker out of its K-car rut.
Thankfully, with “car guys” at the helm, emotion played a huge part in the products Chrysler was rolling out, resulting in many exciting concept cars being put into production with little disappointment. Reaching everything from the compact Neon to the Ram pickup to its trio of minivans, Chrysler styling in the mid-1990s was at its most expressive point since the fuselage cars of the early-1970s.
Arriving as a limited production car for the 1997 model year, the Plymouth Prowler was available in just one standard configuration with no options for an MSRP of $38,300 — quite a hefty price tag for a Plymouth, considering its next-most expensive model in the U.S., the Grand Voyager SE carried a base price of $20,755.
In fact, after the $66K Dodge Viper, the Plymouth Prowler was the second-most expensive 1997 vehicle sold by the Chrysler Corporation in North America, more expensive than any other Dodge, Plymouth, Chrysler, Jeep, or Eagle. Just 457 Prowlers were produced for its short 1997 model year.
The only color offered for 1997 was the same as the concept’s, dubbed “Prowler Purple”, so if one wanted a more muted color scheme, umm… “Uh-oh, better get Macco”. For the Prowler’s price, it did come generously equipped, with standard features including black leather seats, remote keyless entry, multi-disc CD changer, and a 7-speaker stereo.
Decidedly more of a show-car than a go-car when compared to the Viper, the 1997 Prowler was powered exclusively by LH cars’ SOHC 3.5L V6, making 214 horsepower and 221 lb-ft torque, which was mated to a 4-speed automatic with Chrysler’s Autostick manual shift mode.
Following a 1998-MY hiatus, among more minor changes, such as the choice of four exterior colors, the Prowler’s second model year of 1999 saw appreciated increases in power, thanks to a new high-output version of the 3.5L now featuring an aluminum block. Rated at 253 horsepower and 250 lb-ft torque, the 1999 Prowler boasted a 1.3-second quicker zero-to-sixty time of 5.9 seconds.
Unlike most non-truck/SUV Chrysler products of the era, the Prowler was a rear-wheel drive car, and the transmission was located in the rear of the car, giving it a near 50/50 weight distribution. The Prowler also notably made extensive use of aluminum in the chassis and body, with components such as the frame, hood, decklid, doors, control arms, and steering knuckles made from the lightweight metal. A key benefit of this was a relatively low curb weight of under 2,900 pounds.
Having gone over the basics, I’ll now address the elephant in the room: Was there ever any intended purpose for the Prowler beyond a creative muscle flex by Chrysler, showing that they could put an extremely expressive and impractical car into production just because?
I mean, was a highly-styled $40,000 2-seat roadster really meant to bring buyers who were looking at minivans and compact cars that cost less than half as much into Chrysler-Plymouth showrooms? Likely not.
Especially since the Prowler probably appealed most to the affluent mid-life crisis crowd, whereas all other Plymouths appealed primarily to young families and/or the budget conscious shopper who were probably more excited about the addition of a driver’s side sliding door on the new Voyager than some hotrod show car sitting feet away from it in the showroom.
On that note, however, the Prowler at least had one fan in young blonde-haired child named Brendan who was about a decade away from getting his drivers license. This was in fact, used for the Christmas card my mom sent out that year.
Yet notwithstanding this, there actually was an intended purpose to the Prowler. Beyond any “excitement” it was meant to create, the Prowler was as a matter of fact, the first of a series of retro styled concepts supposedly meant to inspire the designs of future Plymouths. Following up on the Prowler, there were the Pronto and the Pronto Cruiser, both of which heavily influenced the production PT Cruiser. There were also others such as the Pronto Spyder and Howler, the latter of which was essentially a Prowler with a functional trunk.
Unfortunately, the only other vehicle to see production from these concepts, the aforementioned PT Cruiser, was ultimately launched as a Chrysler due to the automaker dropping the Plymouth brand altogether. It only figures that after years of product and development starvation, just as there was a legitimate foreseeable future for the brand, Plymouth was sent to the gallows. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?
Had Plymouth been kept on life support, and slowly weened off of it with new products boasting thoroughly unique styling from other Mopars, the brand might have truly had a chance of achieving a level of relevance and success it had not seen in decades. Who knows if there was a legitimate vision and plan, but the idea of a lineup inspired by its final concepts is at least an interesting thought.
Several production Chryslers, Dodges, and Jeeps in ensuing years did indeed owe their designs to radical concept cars. Of course, Plymouth never further benefited from the Prowler and its following concepts, which makes the Prowler stand out even more as an abnormality. Among a truncated lineup of the value-oriented Voyager/Grand Voyager minivan, Neon compact sedan/coupe, an Breeze midsize sedan, the Prowler stuck out like a flamboyant trust fund child put into a family of simple middle-class Americans.
Upon its return, Prowler production shot up to 3,921 examples for 1998, its highest-production year. Apart from the annual color changes, including several special editions, yearly changes were negligible, if any. With Plymouth’s discontinuation, the Prowler transitioned to a Chrysler midway through the 2001 model year, and it was sold exclusively as a Chrysler for its final 2002 model year.
In total, 11,702 Prowlers were produced, with 8,532 of them being Plymouths. If there were indeed big plans for the Prowler, at least in terms of what it was meant to foreshadow, they ultimately did not become a reality. Apart from the PT Cruiser, itself somewhat of a mixed success and indisputably a dead-end venture, the Prowler really was just an artful display of excess.
But in an industry where the norm is usually practical yet boring cars, sometimes a vehicle that places emotion and the power of creativity at the forefront, and costs a lot of money doing so is rather refreshing.
Featured 1999 Yellow Plymouth Prowler – Photographed by Brian Turney, a.k.a. “MagnumSRT8 Brian”