New Car Review

1998 Plymouth Prowler

by John Heilig

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:  3.5-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:  214hp @ 5,850 rpm/ 221` lb.ft. @ 3,100 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:   mpg city,   mpg highway,   mpg test
WHEELBASE:  113.0 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:  165.0 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:  51.0 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:  76.0 in.
CURB WEIGHT:  2,825 lbs  (est.)
FUEL CAPACITY:  15 gal. (est.)
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  1 cu. ft.
TIRES:   225/45R17 (front) 295/40R20 (rear)
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, 
oil pressure, battery voltage, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, 
air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE: $40,000 (est)

Chrysler Corporation has developed a reputation recently of building automobiles that "they said couldn't be built." First it was the Dodge Viper with its V-10 engine and growling horsepower. Now, it's the Plymouth Prowler with its street rod styling and innovative use of aluminum.

I knew both cars were going to be built when they were just concept cars. I had an opportunity to interview Chrysler president Bob Lutz for another project and he effused about both cars. His enthusiasm for them convinced me they were soon-to-be production models. It has taken more than five years since I spoke to Lutz, but that certainty was confirmed.

We had an opportunity to drive the Plymouth Prowler at its introduction in Los Angeles. The two-day driving event began with the media being met at the airport by a California street rod club and driven individually to the Pomona Fair Grounds in their personal cars. It was an excellent introduction to the culture, especially for someone who has lived in the East all his life.

At Pomona, we had technical briefings and drove the cars on a special slalom course set up in the parking lot. In another area of the lot were some California Highway Patrol cars also practicing. What impressed me the most about the Prowler in this small test was its handling. Rods are noted for being straight-line cars. The classic rod is a dragster. But the Prowler, although it looks like a classic hot rod, handles like a classic sports car.

After the brief introduction we drove the cars back to our hotel in Los Angeles. This gave us the opportunity to see the car in normal driving conditions. While the Prowler is a rod, it is powered by a 3.5-liter "Intrepid" V-6 engine that is rated at 214 horsepower. The engine drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission and the power meets the road through massive 20-inch tires with more than 12 inches of rubber on the road. So the Prowler proved to be a decent car in traffic as well.

The next day we drove the cars through the canyons north of L.A. These roads twist and turn and offer great elevation changes as well as fantastic views of the California countryside. With our slalom introduction the day before, we knew the Prowler could handle the roads and it did with style.

After lunch we returned to our hotel via Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive. The Prowler seemed to belong here as well, and there was even a Ferrari that declined to pull up alongside. Ferraris are "everywhere" in L.A., but not Prowlers.

Now the Prowler isn't that practical. There's no trunk, for example, although you can stow stuff in the car behind the seats and in pockets in the doors and alongside the transmission. But who'd want to take a Prowler on a long vacation anyway? For those twisted souls, there is a matching trailer that Plymouth will sell you to tow your goodies behind you.

Where Prowler shines is in the maintenance department. You lift the hood and you can get to anything under there. You also get a good view of the aluminum frame and Indy car-like front double wishbone suspension. The car is only available in one color--Prowler Purple.

At $40,000, the Prowler isn't the kind of car you'd buy to go to the grocery store in. However, it is a fun car, much like the Viper is, although it isn't quite as outrageous as the Viper. It will have a ready market in the sun states, although there are many in the Northeast who'd give their right arm to drive one.

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