The 1997 Plymouth Prowler was the division’s first stand-alone model since the 1969 Barracuda, and it tested a theory: would Americans buy factory hot rods? The concept debuted in 1993 along with the Dodge Viper, as Chrysler was introducing its cab-forward L-H sedans models.
By 1997, Chrysler was back in the black and it was time to play. The Prowler had been tweaked to meet crash and safety requirements, but it was still remarkably true to its original 1930-something roadster concept, mostly built of aluminum and molded compounds and weighing 2883 pounds. It was powered by Chrysler’s 3.5-liter SOHC V-6 engine that was rated at 218 hp and shared with the 300M. A 0-60 sprint came up in 7.2 seconds, but was later improved in 1999 to 5.9 seconds as the engine’s power was bumped to 253 hp. The Plymouth Prowler was only available with an automatic transmission, and the V-6 engine note was disappointingly smooth to hot rod fans. The interior, however, was well-finished, if a bit cramped, and bright colors rounded off the package. The dash featured standard Chrysler gauges.
Initially priced at $39,000 (and rising to $44,225 by 2002), the car wasn’t cheap and other factors combined to limit its use. The trunk was so small that dealers offered a $5,000 matching trailer if buyers wanted to take luggage along. In addition, the combination of high doors, low windshield and chopped convertible top meant vision was largely obstructed with the top raised. Cycle fenders turned with the front wheels, but were so low as to be invisible. Buyers also criticized the lack of a V-8 option.
When the Plymouth brand was discontinued in 2001, the remaining cars were sold as Chryslers. There were 8,532 Plymouth and 3,170 Chrysler Prowlers sold. After early buyers paid premium prices, demand stabilized. These days most Prowlers have few miles on them, indicative of their fair weather use and “instant collectible” hype. Options and colors play almost as big a role in determining the price of a Prowler as miles do, all of which mean that buyers can afford to be choosy when shopping for one of the hot rod revivals.