The Prowler Story
If you've seen a Plymouth Prowler, either in a photo or in person, you know there's a story behind it. Car companies don't make cars like this without some sort of reason. But what is the story? We wanted to know, so we dug in and here's what we found.
Chrysler's Down Days
In the 1990s, Chrysler Corporation wasn't doing well. Sales were down and management was looking at killing off brands that weren't doing well, like Plymouth. The Plymouth brand didn't have the market that it once had, and it was even being judged as "redundant" by some Chrysler executives. As a last-ditch attempt to inject some juice back into the brand, the Plymouth Prowler project was developed; a car that was deliberately outrageous.
This was not unlike the Dodge Viper story. According to South Point Dodge of Austin,TX, the Viper was also a limited-use car that was considered a performance platform to try out some new manufacturing techniques and materials on. Funny thing is, neither the Prowler nor the Viper were supposed to be profitable for Chrysler. The anticipated sales numbers were too low. The two car models were just to drum up some attention for their respective brands and get some press.
The Prowler project began in the early 1990s. It started when Chrysler automobile designer Tom Tremont at Chrysler's Pacifica Design Center suggested the concept of a retro-looking roadster. While still just in the "back of the napkin" stage, the idea was presented to Tom Gale who personally owned a custom-made 1930s hot rod. Naturally, Gale loved the concept and soon it was on the Chrysler drawing board. Soon a prototype was developed.
Shown at the 1993 Detroit North American International Auto Show, the Prowler stunned the audience. This was the first modern hot rod styled in a 1930s traditional way. Take the interior, for example. The seats were aluminum-framed, not unlike what you would find in a "deuce coupe" and the dash layout put a single gauge in front of the driver. The tachometer stuck up from the steering column giving it that 1930s hot rod add-on look.
When the Prowler finally went into production in 1997, a compromise that the design team made ended up being more of a liability than anyone thought. It invol ved the engine. The Prowler used the same basic drivetrain components that the Chrysler Concorde did, a tame V6. The problem was most customers wanted something much more powerful, a basic V8 at a minimum.
Secondly, the prowler wasn't particularly practical for everyday use. After all, it had an open top, two seats, and very little trunk space (although Chrysler did make a cute little trailer specifically designed for the Prowler).
Chrysler had expected to sell 3,000 in its first year (1997), but only 457 moved off dealer showroom floors. The remaining years weren't too bad, averaging a tad above 3,000 per year until 2002 when Plymouth went the way of the Passenger Pigeon. Today, it appears that the poor Prowler has gotten a bad rap largely because the sales weren't exactly stellar, but Chrysler did accomplish what it set out to establish: the Plymouth brand could still do some great things.
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