Chip Foose Joins Leno to Prowl around in the Most Un-Plymouth Car of All Time

YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

When the Plymouth Prowler debuted in 1997, it was, as we said in this year’s Bull Market List, “one of the strangest fun cars ever to make it to the showroom floor.” As a modern throwback to hot-rodding’s postwar heyday, however, it was just about perfect. Just about.

“It could have been great if it had just had a better powertrain, but they were so out of money by the time they reached production they had to go with off-the-shelf parts.” So says Jay Leno on this week’s episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, where the subject is, you guessed it, the Prowler.

Plymouth Prowler Jay Leno Chip Foose
YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

Jay is joined by automotive stylist, hot-rodder, Hagerty YouTube host, and former Overhaulin’ star Chip Foose, who, almost as an afterthought, played a key role in the Prowler’s genesis. One day while he was a student at Art Center, a team of Chrysler designers came to the school and asked students to develop a niche-market vehicle as an exercise. Foose not only gave them what they asked for, he gave them what he believed they should have been asking for.

“When I was a student at Art Center,” Foose says, “if you were drawing hot rods or muscle cars, it was very frowned upon. They wanted you to only focus on the future of automobile design. But I was a hot rodder…”

Foose gave them a handful of proposals “based on what they wanted.” Then he did a second batch of proposals, “at home so nobody would get upset,” based on hot rods and muscle cars. Tom Gale, who was then head of design at Chrysler, was intrigued and wanted to know more. “I’m catering to customers that already exist,” Foose told him, the people out there with hot rods and muscle cars who want to be able to use them on a daily basis. “We can go back and grab from forms that were fantastic in the past and evolve them into something new.” Foose says.

Plymouth Prowler low front 3/4 model
YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

And that’s essentially what happened. Gale instructed Foose to refine his sketches and develop a model, and though that model theoretically had a Hemi mounted amidships, the roadster that saw production was no less striking. It did, unfortunately, lack the Hemi. In the middle or up front. Instead, power comes from a fairly humdrum 3.5-liter V-6 making 253 hp, which is mated to an automatic transmission. Manuals were never part of the plan, sadly.

No one, it seems, was excited by that aspect of the Prowler. “You’ve designed this outside to look like a hot rod,” Foose tells Leno, “but it’s Grandma’s car. It just didn’t go together.”

Still, despite its all brakes no gas underpinnings, the Prowler was ahead of its time in other ways; namely, in the use of structural bonding, the use of previously unheard-of 20-inch wheels, and the widespread use of aluminum throughout the car, including the body panels. Body panels, we’ll say, that have aged gracefully. Even today, the Prowler still turns heads, looking no less wild in 2024 than it did in 1997. That it got built at all is a testament to the bravery of Chrysler at that time, led by the venerable Bob Lutz. “It was so unbelievable that Chrysler Corporation would build this car,” Leno says.

He’s not wrong.




Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: What automotive trends do you most miss?


    I was never a Chrysler fan but I always found this car interesting. To me it was kind of half Hot Rod and Half Miata.

    No it was never an overpowering car but it was made to be an affordable car that was different for the American market. It was a convertible and handled decent. It for sure did not look like any other factory car.

    I think the critics were to harsh and tried to make this the JR Viper. It was never intended to be that.

    As time passes I expect this may not be a get rich car but it will find a place in the collectors market and hold value very well.

    I expect the HHR SS to do the similar. They looked decent and were much faster than most people realized. Mine turned 13s and saw 26 MPG daily. The FWD was the only pain.

    These cars are short in numbers today and may find decent footing for value in the future. They for sure were not the norm.

    My first job at Chrysler was a release engineer on the Prowler, along with minivan electrical validation. The Prowler was sort of a skunkworks/G job. I think it’s underrated. It made 250HP and 250 lb ft of torque, had a killer stereo, and a crowd gathered wherever you drove it. I remember getting pulled over by the police and waiting on the side of the road until the deputies sergeant could drive over and check out the car. My boss designed the audio system, and I when I hired in worked on improving it. It has a rotomolded dual coil subwoofer behind the seat. It sounded great. I developed the top up/top down speed sensitive volume, which was a first at Chrysler.

    There was a time Chrysler was innovative and built interesting and reliable cars. Then the Government got involved, forced a sale to foreign entities who built junk. The last of their interesting cars just got canceled. Now all we will get from them is foreign junk.

    These were cool cars for sure. You could actually use it as a daily driver if you so desired. The 3.5 V6 was no Hemi, but actually the power was not bad considering the aluminum body and considering what was available at the time. I met a guy who had one with the matching trailer, and he and his wife used it for long distance travel.

    My 2 cents: I own a 2002, and yes it still turns heads and gets pointed at everywhere I go. The 253 hp doesn’t sound like much, but it only weighs 2800 lbs! The power-to-weight is almost as good as my ‘08 Challenger SRT8. Even though “underpowered,” it takes off like a rocket. I currently have it on Hagerty Marketplace (but it’s price not to sell : )…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *