Monday, April 25, 2011

Plymouth Prowler Retrospective: Could Have Used a V8

There are some things in life that go so well together that they are famous for being together; peanut butter and jelly, mac & cheese, burgers and fries and so on. Hot Rods and V8s go together just as well, ever seen a Hot rod without one? As a modern take on the Hot rod the Plymouth (and later Chrysler) Prowler certainly had the styling to look like one, but lacked the horsepower and the requisite V8 to truly be one. For these and other reasons some saw the Prowler as a disappointment, Time magazine even rated it as one of its 50 worst cars of all time. With that in mind let's take a look at the Prowler's legacy and see what this unique vehicle was all about. We'll compare the Prowler to its contemporary competition in areas of styling, performance and value to see if it really deserves to be called one of the worst of all time.


Certainly the Prowler looked and still looks like nothing else on the road today. If you disagree, ask yourself when was the last time you saw Formula 1 style wheel and suspension combination? The Chip Foose inspired Prowler draws attention with classic Hot rod proportion, wider and higher at the rear than at the front. Looking sleek and wide the Prowler looked great with its 17 inch wheels upfront and 20 inch wheels at the rear at a time when no one else was even thinking of 20 inch wheels. The 20 inch wheels were not the only mechanical element ahead of its time; aluminum construction gave the Prowler a relatively light curb weight of around 2,800 pounds. Upfront inboard mounted shocks handled suspension duty. The Prowler also used a rear mounted transmission as seen on the Corvette. The 4 speed automatic transmission was connected to a 3.5 liter V6 upfront. Overall the Prowler certainly looked like a performance Hot Rod and had some trick technology to boot.


Before we begin this section it's important to consider that it's been over a decade now since the Prowler stopped production so the horsepower numbers of that time period will look tame all across the board. Chrysler's decision to adapt its LH sedan powertain components (of 300M/Dodge Intrepid fame) has certainly been questioned by many critics. The Prowler first used 3.5 liter V6 with 214 horsepower which was updated for the 1999 model year to 253 horsepower and 255 pound feet of torque. At the time the Chrysler V6 was around 30 horsepower more powerful than any other mainstream V6 from Acura, Lexus or even BMW's inline six in the 5 series. At the time the most powerful Porsche Boxster had a 250 horsepower 3.2 liter flat six while the non M BMW Z3 topped out at 230 horsepower. On the domestic front the C5 Chevrolet Corvette produced 345 horsepower from its then new LS1 V8. Chrysler on the other hand did not have a powerful V8 option to consider. Its most powerful V8 at the time, the 5.9 Magnum, produced 250 horsepower (torque was greater @ 345 lb-ft), essentially ruling it out as a performance improvement over the V6. The LS1 challenging Hemi would not go on sale until after the Prowler ceased production. Based on the lack of a powerful V8 available at the time Chrysler's decision to use a "parts bin" sedan V6 was reasonable and financially sound, but hindsight would indicate that something like a V8 version of the Viper V10 would have made the Prowler a true modern day hot rod.


While the Prowler lacked a V8 soundtrack (the V6 was quite loud though) and was limited by a four speed automatic gearbox its acceleration performance was not too bad for its day but slightly slower than its competitors. The Prowler accelerated to 60 in 6 seconds flat or about the same as the regular Boxster but around half a second slower than the BMW Z3. More expensive competition like the Corvette, BMW M Roadster, Mercedes SLK 320AMG all featured more power and were about a second and a half quicker to 60. Despite its light weight the Prowler was not known for great handling being more of a cruiser than a sports car.


By using "parts bin" components for the powertrain and the interior Chrysler was able to keep Prowler's price to a competative level between 40-45,000 dollars throughout its life cycle. Closest convertible competition such as the Corvette convertible, BMW Z3 Mercedes SLK320 and the Porsche Boxster were priced in a similar price range, between 38-45,000. While the Prowler enjoyed a competitive sticker price dealer markup of 10,000 or more was abundant during the first few model years indicating the public's interest in the Prowler.

The final tally of 11,702 Prowlers produced tells much about it as a vehicle. Featuring styling that turned heads like nothing else except a few Italian exotics it was not for everyone. A V8 would have made it that much more desirable but it's certainly can not qualify as one of the 50 worst cars of all time under any circumstances. Click on the photo below to view more of the Prowler.

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