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New Car/Review

1997 PLYMOUTH PROWLER

by Matt/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 38,300
Price As Tested                                    $ 39,000
Engine Type                            3.5 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
Engine Size                                 215 cid/3518 cc
Horsepower                                   214 @ 5850 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               221 @ 3100 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                  113.3"/76.5"/165.3"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     2879 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    12 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                      P225/45HR17 - P295/40HR20
Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/disc
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                         Two-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                 90 percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.49

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            17/23/19
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16 seconds @ 86.5 mph
Top speed                                           115 mph
   * Sequential multi-point fuel injection

(Bob Hagin says that Plymouth's Prowler "retrorod" is too fancy to be put in the same category as the street rods of the '50s, but son Matt says his dad shouldn't knock a comfortable ride and air conditioning.)

MATT - I know that you were around when home-built Model A "high- boy" roadsters were in their hey-day in California but from what I've seen at the Goodguy's Street Rod get-togethers, they rode hard, were tough to steer and their mills were unreliable. This new Plymouth Prowler is none of these but it was put together in much the same way you guys built street rods in the '50s - but by Chrysler engineers. The Prowler is a "parts-bin" car that incorporates mechanical parts that are also found in Chrysler's Viper, Neon, Cherokee, Caravan and Cirrus as well as many other corporate vehicles and assorted Dodge trucks. But Prowler is still a Chrysler that is easy to drive and have maintained.

BOB - I know I shouldn't look a gift rod in the grill, so I'll have to admit that the car borrows a lot from those old timers that cruised Colorado Boulevard. The instruments are in a bolt-on, center-mounted oval with the speedo right in the middle, and the tach is strapped onto the steering column. But there's no flat-head V8 up front and the suspension systems are independent at both ends, and although the top is manually operated, the glass back window is heated. In fact, the engine is just a 3.5 liter V6 and the transmission is an automatic four-speed. In the old days, a rod that was built like that would have been laughed out of the drive-in on Friday night.

MATT - And you did valve jobs for $25 back then, too. By the way, that automatic uses the same Autostick shifting system that was in last year's Eagle Talon, which means that the driver can slide into one of the four gears much like a manual gearbox. Things sure have changed in 50 years, Dad, and you have to admire Chrysler for filling a particular nostalgic niche. It received over 100,000 inquiries about the Prowler as soon as the prototype concept car was rolled out for the press in 1990. The car gives a pretty good account of itself at a stop light tangle, sprinting from 0 to 60 in just over 7 seconds with a top speed of 117 MPH. But at that speed, I'd want to wear a helmet if the top was down.

BOB - I'm intrigued by the way the front suspension is built. It mounts its coil springs inboard and the upper control arms operate on them like rockers. This is the same principal used on modern formula single-seater race cars, so it stashes the springs out of the air stream and out of sight. Unfortunately, nothing can keep that front bumper from looking homely stuck out there like an outsized mustache. In the old days, the only specially-built machines that rolled around Western streets with bumpers were Kalifornia Kustom Kars and it was almost a requirement that they original equipment on a '39 Olds.

MATT - Those "spade" nerfers were off the '40 Olds, Dad, and I'm surprised you'd forget that after only half a century. The reason I know is that I asked an old-timer who was showing the same '37 Ford lead-sled that he had built in '50 at that same Goodguy's meet. The reason the Prowler has that prominent proboscis is that the car has to adhere to the same safety standards as all new cars sold in the U.S. Without that bumper, a Prowler driver would have a nervous breakdown every time he or she had to park. Also, the insurance companies would get tired of having to pay to get the aluminum nose beat back into shape. Lots of other parts on the Prowler are made of aluminum, too. The chassis, cylinder heads, seat frames, rear brake rotors and wheels are all light alloy. Chrysler engineers couldn't find space in the Prowler for a spare, so they went with run-flat tires. Since the car uses 20-inch skins in the back and 17-incher up front, it would have had to be an odd-ball size, even it they had found a place for it.

BOB - Matt, I'm really impressed with your use of ancient hot-rod jargon. Where did you learn all that stuff?

MATT - I read the factory info very carefully, Dad. All those old hot-rod terms are listed in a glossary that came with the Prowler kit so reading it can make anybody "hot-rod hip."

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