When the Plymouth Prowler was new in 1999, two years after it launched, it cost $39,300. That’s nearly $60K in 2018 money, and at the turn of the millenium that was a tough sell for such an outlandish-looking retro rod with barely any trunk and a measly V-6 engine. Nearly 20 years on, an excellent-condition Prowler with 23,000 miles just sold for $55,000 at auction—well north of what even elite-level concours-condition Prowlers usually cost. So what’s happening here?
Is this a sign the Prowler market is finally getting some claws after merely holding value for two decades, or were the two Mecum Las Vegas auction bidders vying for this example just uncommonly determined to win?
For starters let’s take a trip back to 1993, when the Prowler concept first arrived. As detailed in our recent feature story on the genesis of this bold factory hot rod, in the early 1990s Chrysler was keen to reshape the American public’s perception of the brand as a home for bland and uninteresting cars. At the 1993 Detroit auto show, Chrysler shocked the world by actually building a production Dodge Viper following the concept it showed in 1989, and at the same show it revealed a Prowler concept that blew everyone away. The idea of an open-wheel factory hot rod was delightfully outrageous. But Dodge just built the Viper, so it could happen, right?
And happen the 1997 Plymouth Prowler did, stunning the crowd at the 1996 Detroit auto show. Chrysler’s hope was that the Prowler would be a “shot in the arm” for Plymouth, according to then-VP of engineering Craig Love. The project was the brainchild of hot rod die-hard and Chrysler designer Tom Gale, who stressed the look of the car much more than the performance—thus the V-6 and four-speed automatic transmission shared from the LH-platform sedans, rather than the V-8 that Chrysler president “Maximum” Bob Lutz wanted.
Serious hot rodders felt the same way about the Prowler, but the project was ultimately a success for Chrysler’s goals. It represented a shift in the company’s styling and design ethos, and that translated into significance sales increases throughout the rest of the lineup. “It was an image and perception changer,” said Lutz “If it cost us $20 million or $30 million a year, so what? We blew 20 times that on bad advertising.”
Initially the Prowler made 218 hp from its 3.5-liter SOHC V-6, good for a 0-60 sprint in 7.2 seconds. For 1999 the ‘90s hot rod got a nice bump to 253 hp, enough to bring the 0-60 time down to 5.9 seconds. But that still wasn’t enough for some buyers, and one option was to add an aftermarket Paxton supercharger that brought power to 350 hp for about $5600. Motor Trend recorded a Paxton Prowler at 5.1 seconds from 0-60, and 13.7 seconds in the quarter-mile versus 14.3 seconds stock. MT noted that the kit was particularly difficult to install because of the Prowler’s tight engine bay, and installation required relocating the alternator, among other tweaks.
Which brings us back to the ‘99 Prowler sold this past weekend at Mecum’s Las Vegas auction. Hagerty currently values a top-flight #1-condition (Concours-quality) 1999 Prowler at $43,300, so a $55,000 sale is a big deal. Even more so when you consider that this particular car is probably in #2- (Excellent) condition—note the cracked leather on the driver’s seat and less-than-gorgeous engine bay. By all looks this is a well-cared for but also reasonably exercised example. So why the big pay day for the seller?
The last time we saw big Prowler sales like this was in 2015, when a Chrysler Prowler Mulholland Edition with 50 miles went for $62,700 and a 2001 Plymouth Prowler Black-Tie Edition sold for $57,200, both at Barrett-Jackson. That bumped up values for a little while, but the hype didn’t long and prices settled back in to previous levels soon after. Prior to that, there was a spike in September 2013, bringing the average Prowler from $19,800 to $23,200.
Other indicators of prices maybe soon rising—high insurance quote levels and clients adding cars to policies with frequency—don’t indicate anything out of the ordinary. Still, valuation editor Andrew Newton is hesitant to call this $55,000 sale an out-and-out fluke. “This appears to be the result of the right combination of options, not to mention relatively low miles. The Paxton blower, the metallic purple paint, and the $5000 dealer-optioned trailer (available on about 12 percent of cars) all go a long way,” he said.
We’ll be keeping an eye on the Prowler market in the coming months. And if you have a similar example in a quality color with a trailer and some extra grunt, you might want to do the same.