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The Prowler could only have been created in an atmosphere where car guys called the shots - car guys who could look back with personal affection on the early American hot rods and at the same time look forward to technological advances in the manufacture of the automobile.
Chrysler executive Bob Lutz and Tom Gale, then head of design - car guys extraordinaire (and both now gone from Chrysler) - were uniquely situated in the early '90s to unite those seemingly disparate visions into a sincere homage to the hot rod and at the same time create a test-bed of non-traditional materials. (The Prowler is the most aluminum-intensive car built and puts magnesium, urethane and polymers to work as well.) Lutz and Gale could say, "build it." And they did.
The first-year Prowler drew some carping for being a mere V6. (Many of the Prowler's components are modified LH bits, including the transaxle transplanted to the rear - nice for balance.) Real rods have V8s, detractors said, but the Prowler power was soon improved.
The current 3.5-liter 24-valve V6 offers 253 horsepower at 6400 rpm (and a well-placed 255 pounds-feet of torque at 3950). That power has to whup only 2838 pounds off the line. So wimpy it is not.
Sound, which is what noise is called when it's agreeable, is important in the Prowler: the big rear tires on the road surface, the top-down wind whipping by, the rise and fall of the engine's contralto drone sounding like mammoth bees approaching in intimidating numbers. Don't expect the shriek or fabric rip of a V12 or even the rumble of a V8, but the sound this V6 makes is music. You could dance to it.
Other things to dance to aren't the stuff of traditional hot rods: independent suspension fore and aft and four-wheel disc brakes. With no room for spares, the Prowler is shod with run-flat tires; a cluster light warns when tire pressures are low.
The fun of driving the Prowler is not just in being noticed. The independent suspension is wise to the ways of holding the road. Take a nice sweeping bend and accelerate through it feeling the Gs mount, the tires grip. Play open-wheel race driver watching the front tires work. Zip-zapping through tighter turns and chicane-like corners produces a smile.
Some have decried the automatic transmission in the Prowler. I shrug. This is an excellent four-speed automatic and it has AutoStick, Chrysler's semi-manual shifter. I actually prefer its side-to-side selection motion (rather than fore and aft). The driver can casually backhand it to achieve a gear change. Or hug it inward when it's time to gather the forces for a brisk canter up the green hillside, meandering amidst the trees.
Any no-compromise car will have notable shortcomings. Like most convertibles, which lack a hard top and the rigidity it adds, cowl shake is more than evident. Roughen up the road surface and there's a whole lot of shakin' goin' on. Still, the 2001 Prowler rides notably smoother on proper pavement than the rather nervous original Prowler (which I nonetheless happily piloted from Santa Fe to Monterey and suffered not at all).
The Prowler's brakes are not sterling performers. Discs are all around, but no ABS is available. (Remember your threshold-braking techniques!) The front brakes grabbed now and again, particularly at crawling paces and not consistently. Braking hard from speed takes more territory than you might anticipate so drive accordingly. And the headlights are not up to the best available today. Anyway, the Prowler is a sunshine car. Go forth in daylight and prosper.
In short, the Prowler is delightful. It can parade and it can party. It looks like a real hot rod, but boasts all the creature comforts of modern automobiles. It's fun to drive.
It is to DaimlerChrysler's credit that real hot rodders generally like and admire the Prowler. They recognize it as the tribute to their cars that it was meant to be.
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