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Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts Of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

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On: Sat, Oct 27, 2012 at 10:47AM | By: Lou Ruggieri


Haunted Highways: A Series Exploring The Ghosts Of Cars Gone By (Quickly)

Every once in a while, a car comes a long that people can't help but love. All allegiances are put aside -- whether they be Bow Tie, Blue Oval, Prancing Horse, Four Rings, Blue Propeller, or Raging Bull. Some cars just bring out the little kid in all of us, and any gearhead with a pulse can smile and say, "Yeah, you know what? That's one damn fine automobile!" In 1997, Chrysler rolled a car rolled off the assembly line that was literally the automobile equivalent of a thumbs up on wheels -- the Plymouth Prowler.

Built in 1997, it took a year off and then continued on in production from 1999-2002, the Prowler was the end result of creative license being bestowed on a bunch of designer/engineers whose only requirement was to come up with a modern hot rod. Whether or not the car succeeded in its intended mission is a matter of personal interpretation, but no one can argue whether or not it can be labeled a hot rod, the Prowler is still one cool car.

That cool factor was supplied in a big way by the open-wheel front fenders, which turned with the wheels, not to mention the massive 20 x 10 inch steamroller rear wheels, as well as the steering wheel mounted tach, and even the if-we-put-the-top-up-we-can't-see-anything quirk somehow added to the charm of the car. For those with an extra $5,000 and a desire to add even a little more wow-factor to their Prowler, they could opt in for the optional trailer that was painted to match the car, as well as matching (albeit smaller) five spoke wheels.

Built primarily out of aluminum, the Prowler weighed in at a scant 2,800 pounds and posted a perfect 50/50 front/rear weight distribution thanks to its rear-mounted transmission (a design made famous by the new for 1997 C5 Corvette). On the powertrain side of things is where the Prowler's legacy takes its only real knock. For a car that was supposed to be a hot rod, it seemed very curious that the main ingredients to the mix where a 3.5 liter SOHC V6, and a 4-speed automatic transmission. In 1997, the 3.5-liter engine made a paltry 214-horsepower, but things did get a bit better for the 1999-2002 models, which got an upgrade to 253 ponies.

The engine however, is where the only gripe critics had regarding the Prowler, and to be fair -- in a hot rod, that is a considerable issue. Why on earth did Chrysler decide to use a 3.5 liter V6 in a car that was supposed to recall supercharged T-Buckets, and big block Model A Fords? Well, it was cheaper for one -- an engine Chrysler could source from its warehouse was a lot cheaper than building a new one. Same reason goes for the 4-speed auto trans -- Chrysler had plenty laying around so why not? Even with the corporate bean-counter drivetrain, the Prowler still retailed for $38,300 in 1997 and topped out at $44,525 in its final year of production in 2002. The other reason was weight, an aluminum V6 was light weight. Even an aluminum V8 can't match the an aluminum motor that has two less cylinders, so Chrysler decided that for the added weight it would penalize the Prowler, a V8 was just not worth the few extra ponies it would bring to the table.

That being said however, one can imagine that there would have been plenty of potential owners who would have gladly sacrificed a few extra pounds or even a slightly front-biased weight distribution for the opportunity to tell passer-bys that yes, in fact, that is a big V8 under that very cool looking hood. Not to mention mind you, the paradoxical ideology of putting a practical drivetrain into a car whose design philosophy is inherently impractical.

Chrysler did show that it had a fairly good idea with its engine choice by way of cold hard numbers. In 253-hp form, the Prowler managed a 0-60 mph run of 5.7 seconds and a quarter mile run of 14.4 seconds, on its way to a top speed of a very hair-raising 126 mph. What did not support Chrysler's argument however was the less-than-exhilarating exhaust note that always left something to be desired (a deeper tone that only a V8 can provide perhaps?)

All told Chrysler sold a total of 11,702 Prowlers in five models years. Not bad for an extremely niche market vehicle with a couple big question marks. It seemed despite the criticism Chrysler took for its engine choice, every other aspect of the Prowler really overpowered that one arguable point with sheer coolness. The Plymouth Prowler brought a smile to every single face that had the good fortune to gaze upon it, and cars like that don't come around very often at all. Good job Chrysler, good job.


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