Prowling with Plymouth

Chrysler’s Plymouth Division has been known for making some really unique cars once in a while. After all, this is the division brought us the outrageous Superbird back in the 70s. Well, in the 1990s, they did it again with the Prowler.  The Prowler was unlike any other car ever made in Detroit. It was basically a modern version of the California hotrods of the 1940s. If you are like us, you will probably wonder what the story is behind the Preowler. We asked the folks at Kims No Bull of Laurel, MS, a full-service Toyota, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer, to fill us in and, yes, there is quite a story behind the Prowler.

Plymouth in the 1990s

First, let’s put the times in perspective. In the late 1990s, Chrysler Corporation’s Plymouth line was not doing very well and was being considered for termination. The argument was that the brand just didn’t have the cache that it used to have.  After a great deal of discussion, it was decided that reenergizing the brand would be the next best step and a radically new kind of car would help. The Plymouth Prowler met that criteria.

It is interesting to note that this kind of brand-boosting is something akin to the Dodge Viper story.  The Viper was also a limited-use car that was designed to inject a little juice into the Dodge brand.  And the Viper certainly did. What is interesting is that neither the Prowler nor the Viper were really supposed to make any real money for the Chrysler.  They were really just to pump up the visibility of their brands.  

Designing the Prowler

In the early 1990s, Chrysler's Pacifica Design Center fleshed out the Prowler retro-looking roadster.   Started by Pacifica's Tom Tremont, the idea soon it moved on to Tom Gale, a designer who personally owned a '33 self-built highboy hot rod.  This was a fortunate move because Gale was the perfect person to bring the Prowler concept to life.

The Prowler was first shown at the 1993 Detroit International Auto Show and was a big, big hit. It was Detroit’s version of a traditional hot rod with an open cockpit, wide back end with 20" wheels and a narrow front end.  There had never been anything like it before.

1997 Production

The Prowler went into production in 1997 and dealers go them soon thereafter.  Outside it had all the styling of a modern hot-rod. The paint colors were limited, but bold. They included large grain metallics such as purple, yellow, black, red, silver and "Inca Gold".  Some potential buyers were upset that it only came with a V-6 engine but that was a minority. Inside the prowler, the seats were aluminum-framed and the dash layout put a single gauge in front of the driver.  The tachometer stuck up from the steering column giving it that “DIY hotrod add-on” look.

Limited Sales

Even though there was big interest in the Prowler, sales were modest. Some say it was because the Prowler wasn't particularly practical for everyday use. It had an open top, two seats, and a pretty small trunk. Chrysler estimated that 3,000 would sell in its first year but only 457 drove off the dealer lots. The remaining years were a bit better, averaging a tad above 3,000 per year until 2002 when the Prower was discontinued.

In Retrospect

Automotive journalists consider the Prowler a failure today. This is probably because it never really caught on and this was reflected in its sales numbers. While the general public gave it high marks for styling and originality, the fact was that it was really just a big toy.