The Province




The 1999 Plymouth Prowler was, and remains today, a throwback to a bygone era when funky was cool and hotrods were just not mass-produced. Its style was part retro, part fantasy and all unique.

Driving an early pre-production model back in 1997, I felt so conspicuou­s — the Prowler became a rolling road block as cars and trucks raced up to it, drove along side it for a while and then dropped back to admire the bustled tail and, at the time, enormous P295/40R20 rear tires. As I cruised, soft-top folded, people were yelling, “What is it?”

It all started when the Prowler was shown as a concept at the 1993 Detroit Auto Show. The consensus at the reveal was universal — build it!

Then-Chrysler president, Bob Lutz, a man believed to have gasoline coursing through his veins, endorsed the concept and, in 1997, it went into production. Design chief, Tom Gale, a longtime hotrod fan, took Lutz’s thumbs up and ran with it, and what came to market was not markedly different from the concept.

The hotrod style body had to-diefor looks, but it proved to be far from practical. To begin with, the tapered nose gave rise to impossibly small footwells — a driver with size 10 shoes need not apply. Similarly, the very tall body and low seating position made it feel like riders were sitting in an old-fashioned bathtub.

Then there was the trunk — all 85 litres of it. The saving grace was a small trailer option — it mimicked the shape of the Prowler’s tail. In much the same way, the 43-litre fuel tank and an average economy of 13 litres per 100 kilometres (if you were lucky!) meant many pumpstops, and yet more questions about what it was.

The Prowler, at the time, was different in that it joined an elite club — the entire chassis was made of lightweigh­t aluminum. This and the run-flat tires brought a ride about as forgiving as the Canadian Shield. This mandated a top-notch dental plan — such was the ride’s jarring nature.

The upside was the stiff platform, long wheelbase (1,943-millimetre­s) and powertrain layout (the transaxle resided at the back) brought a weight distributi­on of 45/55 front to rear. This combinatio­n gave the Prowler nimble road manners. No, it was not a sports car by any stretch, but it was up to the task of pushing on through a corner.

The downside came in the fact the smaller P225/45R17 front tires understeer­ed when liberties were taken. Worse, the run-flat tires had a massive aversion to rain. That and the lack of anti-lock brakes and traction control made the Prowler a handful in the wet.

When launched, the Prowler arrived with a rather anemic 214 horsepower, 3.5-litre V6. The good news is that the 1999 model (there was no ’98 edition) brought with it a brawnier 3.5L V6 that upped the output to a much more rewarding 253 hp and 255 pound-feet of torque.

When fired through the four-speed automatic transmissi­on (Chrysler was roundly criticized for not offering a manual gearbox), the lightweigh­t Prowler (all 1,270 kilograms of it) hustled its way to 100 kilometres an hour in six seconds — 1.2 seconds faster than the original.

Inside, the Prowler arrived with all of the desirable equipment, including leather seating, air conditioni­ng and, perhaps most importantl­y, a loud and proud sound system — it belted out ZZ Top’s Legs (the very song used to launch the original Prowler in Detroit) with the right sort of vibrancy.

While there are a few recalls on the 1999 Prowler, there is only one that really needs to be taken seriously — the aluminum castings used in the manufactur­e of the frame may have missed the required heat treatment process resulting in soft frame castings — 29 cars were affected.

Transport Canada has this to say: “If a casting were to fracture, it could compromise vehicle handling or result in a loss of vehicle control and a possible crash without prior warning.” This makes checking for this potential defect very important before purchasing any Prowler.

The other common complaint was found in the lower front ball joints. The lack of lubricatio­n caused premature failure.

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 ??  ?? The Plymouth Prowler had one-of-a-kind look that attracted a lot of attention the tapered nose design meant drivers were required to have small feet.
The Plymouth Prowler had one-of-a-kind look that attracted a lot of attention the tapered nose design meant drivers were required to have small feet.

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