My Car Quest

September 16, 2021

The Lana Turner of American Cars: Plymouth Prowler Roadster (1997-2001)

by Wallace Wyss –

Everybody who loves Hollywood legends knows the story of Lana Turner, a bombshell actress who crossed the street from her classes at Hollywood High to go to the soda fountain at Schrafts drugstore, sits down on a bar stool and gets discovered.

Lana Turner

Lana Turner

Here’s a similar story about a designer who tosses off a sketch in a brainstorming session conducted by his employer, an automaker, and it ends up being not only a concept car but a production car. The designer was Kevin Verduyn. The design chief Tom Gale told The Wall Street Journal “At that time, we used to have management reviews where we would go out to the Chrysler design studio in Carlsbad, Calif. The designers there knew I was into hot rods, and during a management review, a great artist named Kevin Verduyn presented a sketch. That was the genesis for the Plymouth Prowler concept car, and probably the most unusual adventure of my career in the car business. The concept car took a couple of years to develop, and it was during those same years I was finishing my 1933 Ford, so I was working on both at the same time.”

Plymouth Prowler Roadster

Gale got it through because Chrysler needed to experiment with aluminum frames and body panels. So this baby became the learning session. They got it done from under $60 million because they used parts from many different Chrysler cars. The Plymouth Prowler, later became the Chrysler Prowler (after the Plymouth nameplate was deep sixed). The first production car was in 1997 and then it was brought back for 1999-2002. It took four years for it to “gestate” into a production car. I’d like to say that it became an instant future collectable, similar to the Ford GTs of ’05-’06 but it didn’t. It was roughly $40,000 new and today you can find some for $25,000.

Maybe they made too many (over 11,000). Like the Ford GT a lot of its value today depends on what color it is, some colors worth 50% more than another color. The car had flaws. The biggest one was only a V6 under the hood. But at least they upped the power between the first year and later models. And no manual shift. What hot rodder of the ’59s would want a slushbox?

Plymouth Prowler Roadster

Another flaw? No trunk. The gearbox and gas tank take up the trunk area, so much so that I’ve seen Prowlers with an old fashioned “trunk” hanging off the rear like I used to see on ’30s cars. One thing they did the really old fashioned way was the pin striping. Done by hand. I talked to the guy that did it. All 11,000-plus cars.

I drove one once. It was an attention getter. It was slow for a hot rod. I hated how unreliable the gas tank gauge was. But it had great lines. Now that I see how good it looks when you dismount the front bumpers, I like it more.

I want one.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss has authored 18 car books and comments on cars on Autotalk, a weekly show emanating from KUCR FM Riverside, California.

 

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Summary
The Lana Turner of American Cars: Plymouth Prowler Roadster (1997-2001)
Article Name
The Lana Turner of American Cars: Plymouth Prowler Roadster (1997-2001)
Description
The Plymouth Prowler Roadster is a production made "hot rod".
Author

Comments

  1. Glenn Krasner says

    Lana Turner was discovered at Schwab’s Drug Store in West Hollywood. Otherwise, great article. It was amazing that Chrysler Corporation put such a crazy (in a good way) car out, no doubt a CEO Robert Lutz passion project. Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

    • Bob Wachtel says

      They should have dropped a V-8 into it along with a 4 or 5 speed manual transmission. A removable hardtop would have been a nice option too. Regarding the transmission, it’s funny that the Viper never had an automatic and the Prowler never had a manual.

  2. Glen Durmisevich says

    Kevin Verduyn is a talented and creative designer. He graduated from College for Creative Studies a couple years after me and his illustration skills were apparent then. He was responsible for many great designs that came out of Chrysler’s California Studio. The Prowler is just one of them.

  3. Didn’t Chip Foose try to lay some claim to that design as well, or does anyone know the story behind that.

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