The Plymouth Prowler
The Plymouth Prowler had an aluminum body, with a 3.5 liter V6 engine (214 hp) from the LHS coupled to a 42LE four-speed automatic transmission. The engine was fitted with stainless steel exhaust manifolds. The front suspension used upper and lower control arms with pushrods; in back, an independent double-wishbone suspension was used. Four-wheel disc brakes with vented rotors stopped the Prowler quickly and without fade.
Why did they make it? (by Bob Sheaves)
Within the corporation, the Viper was a production technique testbed - to see if the corporation really could develop new methods of manufacturing and assembly to lower the cost of a vehicle.
The Prowler was the next logical extension of this process. The corporation did not care if they made money on it - simply breaking even was considered unlikely. The Prowler was, along with the all-plastic Neon, an experimental vehicle testing out even more advanced methods of assembly (aluminum and composite bonding, for example) and simplified vehicle design, than Viper- it was to have been a replacement halo car.
One note here: Remember I use the word "design" to mean how a vehicle works, and "styling" to mean how a vehicle looks.
Prowler's styling was "heritage-based" (remember that Bob Eaton would not allow the word "retro-" anything to be applied) and was to be the start of a final attempt at revival of the Plymouth brand with its own styling cues to separate it from Dodge or Chrysler divisions. The money saved by dropping the Eagle was to be plowed back into the Plymouth brand. The PT (Plymouth Truck) was the next vehicle of the revived Plymouth with brand identity. Eventually, all the models under the Plymouth name would have been similar in appearance to the Prowler and PT. Unfortunately, executives decided the Plymouth plan was not viable, just before the PT Cruiser was unveiled to the public; funds for the revised Breeze and minivan were withdrawn, and the PT was converted to a Chrysler.
The Standard Catalog of Chrysler noted that production goals were 3,000 for 19997 and 4,500-5,000 for 1998, but that Chrysler only reported 120 calendar-year-1997 Prowler sales, and did not report 1998 Prowler sales. The Standard Catalog was withdrawn from publication after the 2000 edition, which only went up to 1998 sales. Automotive News reported the following United States sales figures (their source was Ward’s); the Prowler was presumably sold in Canada and possibly Mexico and Europe, but those sales would not be reflected in this chart.
2000 Plymouth Prowler test drive
We were fortunate enough to be able to test out a 2000 Plymouth Prowler at the Poconos Raceway test track. Though our run was brief, we were able to compare it to a number of other notable cars, and it came out rather well. For sheer performance, it's hard to beat a Corvette or M5; but for both style and performance, the Prowler stands above.
Driving a Plymouth Prowler immerses you in the hot-rod setting. The exhaust is loud and seems to come from all around. The tachometer is the only instrument directly ahead of the driver; the huge AutoMeter tach has a strapped-on look, emerging from a hole cut into the standard corporate steering column. Other instruments are spread out around the direct center of the car, with the gas gauge all the way on the driver's side, and the speedometer - barely larger than the tach - dead center. It's a daring setup, and an odd one.
The seating position is sporty, which is to say you lie down as much as you sit down. It is comfortable and supportive once you're positioned. The stereo and vent system are large and easy to operate, straight out of Chrysler's LH parts bins. The AutoStick (one of the other LH components) was jazzed up a little, but was otherwise identical to the corporate standard. There is good visibility despite the low driving position, and the displays, even though they are off to the center, are easy to read.
The Prowler is very loud, hard shifting, and hard riding. However, now that it has the full 250 hp version of the 3.5 V6 engine (it originally had only 214 hp), the Prowler feels fast. The transmission has been tuned to let you feel the power of the engine, rather than to hide it, so each shift comes with an impossible to miss bump. The stiff suspension allows for very tight, quick turns, and it feels confident whipping around a curvy course.
The Prowler is not easy to drive, and it is not comfortable on broken pavement or city streets. But it is fun. How many Prowler owners bought it to be their daily driver? It delivers as a cool second car, as well as a style and technical pioneer for Chrysler. Thanks, guys, for letting us take a turn behind the big AutoMeter tach.
Plymouth Prowler technical details
The aluminum story
Production of the Plymouth Prowler started in early 1997 at Chrysler's Conner Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit. First year volume was projected at 3,000 vehicles. Though it was set to be phased out after four years, production was extended - making the Prowler not only the only "excusive to Plymouth" vehicle in decades, but also one of the two Plymouth nameplates to continue past the demise of the brand itself (the other is the Voyager). Though the Prowler seemed to fit in the Dodge lineup, it was a Chrysler Prowler for the 2001 models, joining the also-not-really-Chrysler PT Cruiser and Voyager.
More than 900 pounds of the 2,780-pound roadster was aluminum including body, frame and suspension parts. Saad Abouzahr, Materials Executive for Team Prowler, said, "If we can take 25 percent of the weight out of tomorrow's cars and trucks, we expect dramatic gains in performance and fuel efficiency. [The Prowler is] a test bed for new material technology. From the welded aluminum extrusions and castings used in the vehicle frame to the metal matrix composite brake rotors, Prowler will accelerate the pace at which these materials and processes move forward."
The Prowler followed a "Neon Lite" project in the mid-1990s and an aluminum composite H-body (EEK) in the late 1980s. The Neon Lite was expensive, but only three quarters the weight of a standard Neon.
The Prowler was made of a high-strength aluminum alloy, as used in airplanes and boats, to resist degradation, noise, and oxidation. A new joining process provided the same body stiffness as steel cars, and careful design allowed for similar safety. Cost was still an issue, since aluminum was four times as expensive as steel per pound, which was why the Prowler was made of aluminum and the mass-produced Neon was not.
Because welding aluminum was complicated and demanded a lot of energy, Chrysler chose to use rivet bonding, in which a shank of metal was driven into two sheets of aluminum and epoxy adhesive was applied for extra hold. The company estimated that body stiffness increased by 40 percent by using both adhesive and the rivet.
The magnesium instrument panel, which combined more than 20 stamping and plastic components in a single casting, was eight pounds lighter than a conventional instrument panel construction. An aluminum seat saved another seven pounds. Composite brake rotors took out another 15 pounds of weight. Several aluminum drive line components not only reduced weight but also vibration.
Plymouth Prowler Suspension
The front and rear suspensions were multi-link systems. The front was a double wishbone suspension with upper and lower control arms. The front spring shock assemblies were set up similar to Indy cars, using a pushrod rocker. The rear suspension used a lower control arm and a three-bar-link upper configuration.
The control arms, rocker arms and knuckles (both front and rear) were made using aluminum that was pressurized into a die, similar to plastic injection molding. The process was called semi-solid forming, and it was stronger than traditional casting with less tendency to weaken over time.