The Plymouth Pronto Spyder concept car (1998)
The Plymouth Pronto Spyder was designed to help renovate the Plymouth brand by going back to basics: retaining Plymouth's "value for price" mantra, while providing best in class performance.
We test-drove the Pronto Spyder concept car in 2004, when it was six years old - keeping in mind that few companies intend their concepts to last this long, or be driven this much. The engine seemed out of tune, and after we drove it, the designer took it out and opened the throttle wide - something we hadn't dared to do, given the nature of most concept cars - which seemed to help. Even without pushing it, the power came through clearly, just as it does now on the SRT-4, which uses the same engine.
The steering is firm and tight, the center of gravity low, and the suspension firm, for a fun and stable feel. The driver is in a traditional low sports-car position; it's easier to get into and out of than the Sling Shot, and about even with the Toyota MR2. It feels as though it would be more enjoyable (and comfortable) than the MR2, and feels as though it can deal with zigzags more easily. However, it's really too narrow for everyday use; we're not fat, but had to move out of the way of the stick, as did our slender passenger.
One of the amusing facets of the Pronto Spyder - which, despite the Chrysler license plate, did indeed wear a Plymouth badge - was the experimental use of color inside, a friendly, warm, deep red which works quite well, though the fact that it was spray painted is fairly obvious when you look at the stereo and climate control up close (it's the standard Chrysler stereo). The metallic surface on the instrument panel was also used extensively in the beautiful Chronos; the wheel ended up looking better than the production 300C wheel. The odometer is painted on.
One of the challenges in keeping the Spyder affordable was to lower costs without hurting quality, by spending less on materials and more on engineering. They did this by using polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the same material used to make plastic drinking bottles - indeed, the idea was to make the Plymouth from recycled materials. PET technology could cut manufacturing costs by 80%. The chassis is still high-strength steel.
The engine is familiar now to SRT-4 and PT Turbo buyers, but at the time, it must have been seen as a pie-in-the-sky concept gizmo: the 2.4 liter dual-cam 225-horse powerplant, mounted behind the seats. The Spyder was designed to drive like an exotic sports car, helped by a low center of gravity and 18 inch aluminum wheels with 225/40 tires and a five-speed stick.
Also debuting on the Pronto Spyder was a plastic tortoise-sheel steering wheel rim, later used on the 300C, and extensive chrome accents. While the ideal would be to have the paint pigments directly injected into the plastic, the actual concept car has a silver paint sprayed onto it to make it look like molded-in-color plastic.
Weighting in at 2,700 lb, the mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive Pronto Spyder was probably capable of 0-60 times around 5.5 seconds, but that's hard to say.
Before actual production, the Spyder would require a windshield that met crush rules, better body stiffness (the undercut A-pillar hurt it there), suspension travel clearance to the wheelhouse, and, of course, an inside mirror. It did have high-mounted door handles which worked quite well (we first saw them decades ago on the Chevy Berretta).
Concept cars are often made so a car’s feel can be evaluated, problems can be foreseen, and reactions of the public can be judged. Some concepts test specific ideas, colors, controls, or materials — either subtle or out of proportion, to hide what’s being tested. Some are created to help designers think “out of the box.” The Challenger, Prowler, PT Cruiser, and Viper were all tested as production-based concepts dressed up to hide the production intent.