Buy This Car If You're Rich And Enjoy An Uncomfortable Ride

Posted: September 17, 1999

I picked up the 2000 Plymouth Prowler test car in front of Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, where I had been covering the opening of an exhibition of cutting-edge cars.

By the time the man who brought the silver metallic two-seater had shown me how to raise and lower its black fabric top, a crowd of 35 to 40 onlookers had gathered on the sidewalk around it. Those who weren't smiling were taking pictures.

The car continued to turn heads as I drove west toward the Lincoln Tunnel - no small feat in Jadedville, USA.

Later, on the New Jersey Turnpike, heading south toward Philadelphia, I stopped in one of those service plazas that the state names after politicians and poets, and uses to refuel cars and people.

As I strolled toward the human refueling station, intent on buying dueling hot dogs and a redeeming soft drink, a man stopped me and inquired about the Prowler. I gave him the abridged history of Plymouth's computerized evocation of a '50s hot rod. As I turned away from him, I was confronted by two more male Prowler gazers - and the fact that this machine could even have a magnetic effect on the disdainful.

"That's rather frivolous, don't you think?" the 60ish Prowler peeker said, finally, to his younger companion.

The younger man had been smiling in the Prowler's direction until the older guy said that.

By the time I came out of the refueling station, a score of people in their teens and early 20s had gathered in the Prowler's presence. One guy was photographing a girl leaning against the driver's door and smiling like a tourist posing in front of the Eiffel Tower.

"I love your car," she said.

The Prowler first appeared as a concept car in 1993 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Chrysler began building the car in July 1997.

The Prowler is a wonderfully outrageous thing for a major automaker to do: bring the '50s hot rod back to life for a modern audience, using contemporary technology. In effect, Chrysler (now DaimlerChrysler) has done for the '50s street rod what the Mazda Miata did for the '50s British sports car.

The net result is the most head-turning car I've ever driven, a machine that out-rubbernecked even the Hummer and Volkswagen New Beetle testers I squired around.

Obviously, Chrysler never expected to make much money on what could be safely regarded as the most impractical automobile in North America. (It doesn't even have a trunk.) It has sold only 2,000 of these $42,700 toys.

What it does get from the Prowler is a test bed (for one thing, it is the most aluminum-intensive vehicle on the U.S. market), as well a "halo car" for the rest of the Plymouth line.

What the buyer gets is the motorcycle-fendered street rod I lusted after as a younger man - and can't afford this time around, either.

The Prowler is a car for an affluent person who has three or four other vehicles, and wants a showstopper for a Sunday drive.

It ought to be a fairly short Sunday drive, from my experience. Fitted this year with the powerful, new, 253-horsepower V-6 designed for the Chrysler LHS and 300M sedans, the Prowler is very fast and a whole lot of fun - for a while. But its essential discomfort catches up with it on a long ride. Like rods of old, it is as noisy and stiff-riding as it is exciting, and it has such a high beltline that you feel as if you're peering out of a manhole when you drive it.

Maybe I'd better stop talking like such a geezer. My friends will chip in and buy me a medieval drool cup, when what I really wanted was fuzzy dice.

2000 PLYMOUTH PROWLER Base model: Rear-drive, 3.5-liter engine, four-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting feature, power steering, power disc brakes, alloy wheels (17-inch front, 20-inch rear), run-flat performance tires (P225/45HR17 front, P295/40VR20 rear), front air bags, power mirrors, manual top, intermittent wipers, climate control, rear window defroster, day/night rear-view mirror, compass, outside temperature display, speed control, security alarm, premium stereo/cassette/CD, leather seats, leather-wrapped wheel, power windows, power door locks with keyless entry.

Test model: No extras.

Base price: $42,700

Test price: $43,400 (inc. shipping)

EPA city mileage: 17

Test mileage: 17.6

Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles.

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