An early blog for a non-apocalyptic apocalypse, for those who may be bummed they have a bunch of canned food they now have to go through. Enjoy!
When I was a child, I saw an ad with an unmarked model. Not realizing what a “Plymouth” was, the other cars in the ad weren’t in my automotive diction. Thus, I embarked on the search for the Chip Foose penned body.
At that time, the Prowler wasn’t even in production yet, and I was maybe in second grade. Also around this time, I started looking under vehicles to see if they were front, rear, or all-wheel/four-wheel drive because my father and oldest brother showed me what to look for. That helped me recognize cars like the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Dodge Dakota—but there was still so much to learn.
By 1996, the internet became a reality for my family, and when I had the chance to look at car-maker websites, I could look at pictures and get to know them. All that stuff about transmissions and engines was still beyond me—does a V12 mean it has twelve valves? What’s a cylinder? What’s a valve? That took freshman year in autoshop to learn, but back to the story.
In came the Supercars.net website, loaded with many exotic and obscure machines. Alongside the internet, my brother (the middle of us the three sons) sported a Playstation on his side of our shared room (though divided by a wall). He had Madden and MLB games, and I had Test Drive 5.
After learning all those hundreds or thousands of names and stats from Supercars.net, I finally tracked down my mystery car was the Prowler. Those massive 20” wheels in the back, the smoothly-sculpted rear end, and some really weird looking metal thing going on under the back—it was all so exciting!
Fast forward to learning it was a mere 250hp, and not paying up the hot-rod bill the body racked up, many hated it instantly. But the power (not even the handling) isn’t what I like—it’s the fact they even did it to begin with. The Prowler was taken from a halo-car concept and turned into a reality. Not just that, but it still possessed great engineering for what Chrysler Corporation was usually known for.
The body and chassis is littered with aluminum (according to Edmunds Insideline, close to two-thirds of the car) keeping the weight down under 2,900lbs, the suspension was (as far as I can tell) similar to that used on formula race cars, and the weight distribution was a damned-near 50/50 front and rear thanks to a rear mounted transaxle (like the Corvette, many Ferrari’s, and Alfa Romeo’s of the past, among others). Yes the powertrain—both engine and transaxle—was sourced from the front-wheel drive Chrysler LH-cars (Intrepid, Concorde, 300M), but even that platform of cars was capable of being rear-wheel drive because that’s how they were designed. Sadly that never got past the testing stages, but water under the bridge. The Prowler took the potential and made it happen.
Performance wise, the numbers posted were great for the late 1990’s with 0-60 reaching as low as 6.3 seconds (with some claims even faster at 5.7 seconds). Considering for an automatic-only car with super-fat rear tires, that was an impressive feat when looking back. Seriously, the rear tires of the Prowler were among the largest ever placed on a vehicle, though not the widest (the 295mm wide rears are actually somewhat modest by todays standards). Those 20” rims were unheard of on production cars, as even Ferrari didn’t pass 18” at the time (Prowler wore 18’s in front).
Another thing to remember, the Prowler didn’t always house 250 horses—the early model was a mere 215, and would still do 0-60 in a respectable 7.1 seconds, per Motor Trend. I’d like to see a similarly-weighted Subaru BRZ with its fancy six-speed automatic match that (lower 200hp be damned). They also pulled .9g on the skidpad test—again, acceptable against even todays standards.
There are plenty of bad things to say about it, though. The Prowler may have pulled .9g on the skidpad (sustained turn left or right). However, the transition of swerving was a mere 62.5mph in that test. To put that into perspective, my Toyota Echo could slalom faster (heavier, well equipped Echo sedans slalomed 62.9mph, and held the skidpad at .79g). I say mine could do a little better because as parenthetically mentioned, it’s lighter, but moreover has 10mm wider tires and upgraded KYB shocks that the tested Echo lacked. What’s more, the base Echoes that lacked folding rear-seats had additional V-bracing… negligible, perhaps; still possible all that can improve such a light car.
Back to the Prowler downfalls, since comparing a beat-up econobox is unfair and childish. The trunk of the modern hot-rod was minimal. In fact, with the roof down and tucked in back, the 1cuft cubby was gone. If you ever see a Prowler with matching trailer, that’s why. Add in that it had a very high belt-line, visibility was a challenge for those days (though the current Camaro Coupe gives a good run for its money).
Looking not far from the Prowler, the other car Chrysler brought out from being a concept was the Viper. Of course the Viper was a V10 powered coupe or convertible, six-speed only, crudely put together out of more simple cast-iron and fiberglass. There was less theater than the Prowler had. To use the ricer mentality of horsepower-per liter (a size versus output ratio), technically the 250hp Prowlers were putting out more with their 3.5L V6 than the 8.0L V10 Viper’s 450hp of the same period. Plymouth: 71hp/L and Dodge: 56hp/L. Don’t even bring up torque—the Prowler still sits at 71ftlbs/L while Viper is 58ftlbs/L. Yes the Viper will still walk all over it, but it’s not nearly as comfortable or well equipped doing it.
With a blog named Manually Shifter Soul, you’d think I’d be rooting for the snake and not the cat, but as you might have noticed, I dig an underdog just as much as three pedals. The Viper is still a far better drivers car, and I’d love to have one because it’s what I tend to celebrate in a car: a simplicity in how it operates for the sake of driving it. The Viper took forever to gain things like ABS and only recently received stability control in 2013. But it doesn’t appeal to me as a driver, either, because it’s always seemed to be a car that needs to be tamed, rather than one that wants to work with the driver. Not to mention, there will never be another Prowler. With pedestrian safety standards today, the closest things you can buy to it are kit-cars like the Ariel Atom and Lotus 7 knock-offs.
The Prowler doesn’t even want to be pushed hard, and I’m fine with that. I could live with that V6 exhaust note and excruciatingly tall-geared four-speed automatic because that’s the best car that engine was ever put in. What, the Dodge Charger, Magnum, and Challenger? Those weighed a good 1,000lbs more—the Challenger and Magnum in particular can struggle to run next to a Grand Caravan. The Prowler, then, did have the go with the show. And did I mention the Prowler has held its value better than the Viper?
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