Plymouth Prowler, The Lord of the Looks
By Mike Covello
If your main reason for driving a car is to get attention; sell whatever you own and buy a Prowler. Before my public debut in my test 1997 Purple Prowler I thought I had been prepared for the excitement, awe, and sometimes puzzlement that the car can generate. Volkswagen's New Beetle was the car in which I coined the phrase, The Lord of the Looks. Before that Chrysler's own Viper was the previous champ for turning heads. The Prowler has them all beat.
First off, let me salute Chrysler for having the audacity to take such a wild concept as a 'factory hot rod' and turn it into a production reality. I thought the idea of a 400 horsepower elemental roadster had little chance of being built. I would have given the Prowler even smaller odds, except Chrysler had delivered on the promise of the Viper concept car.
A hot rod is by definition an individual's expression of his automotive taste. These modified coupes are usually done within the confines of 'If it doesn't make the car go faster, take it off.' The Prowler has done the seemingly impossible; it has mated the wild looks of a modified Deuce Coupe with all the comfort and convenience items one could expect for a late Nineties $40,000 car.
Every Prowler comes standard with air-conditioning, a six-CD changer, dual airbags, cruise control, and the cutest little power windows you ever did see. You can raise the manual top if it rains, and the glass rear window even has an electric defroster. While it's possible to enjoy the comfort features of a normal car, it is highly unlikely that you will ever forget that you are driving something special.
First off, while most cars are based on the rectangular shape, the Prowler's body is much more of a triangle. We are starting to see more cars with different sized tires front to rear, but nothing else verges on the difference between the Prowler's front and rear skins. The front are a fairly large 225/45 X 17, but they are dwarfed by the rear's massive 295/40 X 20 inch rubber. I know of no other car that has 19-inch wheels, much less twenty!
One of the things that greatly contributes to the Prowler's stylistic success is the faired in headlights. These modern lamps are surprisingly effective, and contribute to the car's custom look. The front bumpers are a masterful solution to meeting the reality of today's bumper laws. Since there is little room in the trunk for anything larger than a brief case, you'll have to leave the lawn chairs behind, when you go to a cruise night. But never fear, the bumpers make surprisingly comfortable perches.
Now that we are on the subject of cruise nights we come to the heart of the Prowler. As much fun as this retro-buggy is to drive, the greatest pleasure is to park the car in a small crowd, and watch it grow into a large crowd. I took the potent Plymouth to the Cruisin UConn car show, and I felt like the pied piper. As I drove through the assembled cars I attracted a group of followers who were waiting for me to stop. Once I arrived at the Shelby Club's spot, the crowd engulfed the purple batmobile.
Far and a way, the most common question was, "What is it?" The cruise crowd was in the know. But, throughout the five days I drove this attention-getter, I was amazed at how many people had never even heard of this Plymouth calling card. Chrysler used the Prowler to experiment with exotic material construction. The entire frame is made of aluminum, as is the hood, decklid, doors, hood side panels and even the seat frames. The front and rear quarter panels, rear valance panel and those extravagant front fenders that turn with the wheels are made of a sheet molding compound. And of course the styling is unlike anything else available.
I also had occasion to join a local Corvette club's Cruise for Kids at Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Camp. The members were not expecting me in a Plymouth, and their excitement at seeing their first Prowler was significant. The kids on the other hand, went completely off the wall. (Please excuse the pun.) They loved the 18 Corvettes, but adored the Prowler. This was a unique opportunity to cheer up some sick kids and be the center of attention.
Driving the Prowler is a very different experience. You sit so low, that the top of the doors is at shoulder level. The purple instrument panel features a speedometer in the center of the dash and four gauges flanking it on either side. The tach on the steering column is a touch admired by many. The initial throttle response from the 3.5-liter V-6 is impressive. With 214 horsepower and 221 lb-ft. of torque, the 1997 Prowler's performance doesn't quite match its explosive looks. Also those smaller front tires can be overwhelmed by the weight transference if you try to drive it as hard as you would a sports car.
Only 312 1997 purple Prowlers were made. The 1998 model year was skipped, and you will start to see yellow, black and red 1999 models around. They feature the aluminum block version of the 3.5 and more horsepower. I'll be sure to give you a report on whether the 99 packs as potent a punch as the Purple Prowler, Lord of the Looks.
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