New Car/Review

The 1999 Plymouth Prowler, the Finest in Show with lots of Go

by Larry Weitzman

Plymouth
Daimler/Chrysler Full Line factory footage (39:14) 28.8, 56k or 200k Part 1 and 200k Part 2

Plymouth is Chrysler's value and price leader line of cars and minivans, so where does the Prowler fit in? A vehicle that is a technological tour de force. A vehicle that is so different from any other production car, it is literally hand built. A vehicle that will draw more attention than any other car made today.

The Prowler is Plymouth's interpretation of a High Boy hotrod roadster. It has open front wheels, very sophisticated front and rear independent suspension, huge 17 inch alloy wheels in front and unbelievable 20 inch wheels in the rear that are shod with 295/40X20 V rated run flat tires. This is the most bitten' car I have ever driven and it comes after spending a week with a 1999 Corvette.

It took a long time to get the Prowler into any kind of production. It became public in 1993, but it was not until August of 1997 that the first Prowlers found their way to dealers. That Prowler suffered with build quality deficiencies and a first generation 3.5L V-6 that produced 214 hp. Only a few hundred were built and I am sure they will become significant collector cars.

The 1999 Prowler is a somewhat different animal. It now has the second generation Chrysler 3.5L SOHC 24 valve V-6 that puts out 253 hp at 6,400 rpm and 255 lb-ft of torque at 3,950 rpm. The old Prowler was a seven second car to 60 mph while the new model goes deep into the sixes. My best run was 6.55, but I've seen times of 6 flat and 5.8 seconds. That's darn quick. What is even better is that it feels very quick and responsive.

Passing times also reflect the Prowler's ability to accelerate. Burying the go pedal at 50 mph will sprint the Prowler to 70 mph in 4.0 seconds. A six percent hill will slow that time to only 5.3 seconds. It is interesting to note that this same engine in a Chrysler 300M produces the same level passing times but slower times in standing start and up hill acceleration. Not hauling 700 pounds of extra weight does have its benefits.

But the quickness of the Prowler was never a problem, even with the previous generation 3.5L engine. Any car that looks like a Prowler should be reasonably quick. But this car is about cruising, profiling and the malt shop. Even though it has a reported top speed of a 130 plus, the Prowler is at its best between 50 and 60 mph. With the top down, the wind protection from the windshield and side windows is minimal and after 65 the buffeting becomes uncomfortable. Forget the hairdo and spf 18 sun protection is a requirement as a hat would blow off.

There is also no place to put your left foot while driving. The tight footwell doesn't offer a dead pedal (no room). With the easy to use manual convertible top up, headroom is nonexistent and you have to slouch in the seat to see out.

So what's so good about the Prowler besides its speed and looks? This car has some significant engineering. The front independent suspension is aluminum double wishbone Indy Car style with inboard Koni shocks. The rear is a lower wishbone with upper lateral links with coil springs over shocks. This is really trick stuff. The frame is a box rail extruded from 6061 and 6063 aluminum alloys in T6 temper.

It has a four speed automatic transaxle for near 50/50 weight distribution and the body is made from aluminum alloys and injected molded urethanes. The brakes are four-wheel ventilated discs with composite rear rotors. Even the magnesium instrument panel serves as a structural cross member. It also stops traffic and people wherever it goes. It froze everyone in the parking lot at my kid's school.

Even with the trick suspension, the Prowler rides very stiff. It is best on smooth, non-coarse roads. The run flat tires (the Prowler has no spare) with their inherently stiff side walls make a fair amount of noise, so the smoother the road surface the better. The stiff ride, however, gives way to very crisp and precise handling. The Prowler goes exactly where you point it.

The twisties of El Dorado County are downright fun. This is, without question, the most fun and coolest way to experience Apple Hill. The rack and pinion power steering allowed for excellent feedback and control. The very firm ride is smooth enough on the freeway, but not as pleasant on the rougher roads. But Ponderosa Road was actually better than I expected. It was actually tolerable, even at speed. The car is very tight and exhibited no rattles or noises other than its authoritative exhaust note.

The Prowler is not a long trip car. The area that looks like a trunk has a 12 gallon gas tank underneath. With mileage in the low twenties, range is short. What is called the trunk is very shallow, shaped poorly and has a total capacity of about 2 cubic feet. Plymouth makes a special custom trailer ($5,000) that looks like the back end of the Prowler for long distance cruising (I'll take the 300M's trunk and leave the Prowler at home).

Inside the Prowler, its driver and passenger will welcome the very nicely shaped leather bucket seats. The windows and locks are power and the superb, 320 watt, seven speaker sound system comes standard with a six disc CD player located behind the passenger seat. Button switches located on the backside of the steering wheel can control the sound system. The cruise control switches are located on the front side.

The dash is very simple with a center mounted 150 mph speedo with four smaller ancillary gauges, the voltmeter and oil pressure gauge to the left and fuel and temp gauge to the right. They are not really as visible as I would like, except for the big tach, which is mounted on top to the steering column.

But this car is about exterior design. The wheels are absolutely gorgeous. The headlights fit beautifully and are molded into the side of the body just below the hood. They are twin halogen tractor beams that light up the road like floodlights. The shape of the windshield, the body proportions and the rear fenders all add up to one of the finest styling exercises to come out of Detroit. This car could be put on a pedestal at the New York Museum of Modern Art, but what a waste that would be.

The Prowler, if you can find one at a dealer (our local dealer has been waiting for months), stickers for $40,000 with destination. There are no options other than the travel trailer, chrome wheels ($1,000), black paint ($1,000) and yellow paint ($1,000). Purple is standard. It has been questioned whether Plymouth is making any money with such low production and the hand build requirements of construction. But the Prowler is about image and mobile advertising, advertising for Plymouth. It is an image builder, not only for the driver but also for the manufacturer.

In the early 1990's, Infiniti tried to sell cars by showing you pastorale scenes of trees, leaves and water without showing the car. Plymouth is using the bold and brash image of the most outrageous car ever built in Detroit (The Dodge Boys may take issue with that statement considering their Viper). I think the Plymouth (Dodge) method wins hands down.

The Prowler needs to be cruised (although I did spend considerable time just looking at the car in my garage), top down, using the throttle to make the engine bark and flicking the autostick up and down through the gears while pulling some G forces. Even with the firm ride and short but beautiful windshield, the Prowler is about as much fun as you can have.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                                 $40,000

Engine

3.5L SOHC 24 valve                    253 hp @ 6,400 rpm
V-6                                   255 lb-ft of torque @ 3,950 rpm

Transmissions

4 speed electronically 
controlled automatic 
with autostick

Dimensions

Wheelbase                            113   inches
Length                               165.3 inches
Width                                76.5  inches
Height                               50.9  inches
Weight                               2838  pounds
Fuel Capacity                        12    gallons

Performance

0-60                                 6.55  seconds
50-70                                4.0   seconds
50-70 uphill                         5.3   seconds
Top Speed                            not advisable unless you have
                                     lots of time for a stay away
                                     from home and plenty of money
Fuel Economy                         EPA 17/23 city/highway.  I got
                                     about 18 mpg (it was hard to
                                     keep my right foot out of the
                                     throttle) and would expect 18-20
                                     in El Dorado County driving
                                     and about 24 on the highway.

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