Plymouth Prowler gets dissected by Jay Leno and Chip Foose

Designer Chip Foose recently stopped by Jay Leno’s Garage to pore over one of the most controversial projects he’s ever been involved in: the Plymouth Prowler.

The Prowler shocked the automotive world when it entered production as a 1997 model. While Plymouth had telegraphed the two-seater with a 1993 concept car, it was still surprising to see its hot-rod-inspired styling on a car actually being sold at dealerships—particularly those of then-declining Plymouth. That styling was definitely of the love-it-or-hate-it variety, but the Prowler lasted until the 2002 model year, ending its production run as a Chrysler following the death of Plymouth.

While he didn’t design the finished product, or have any influence on the decision to get the car into production, Foose helped lay the groundwork for the Prowler’s design. Then a student at California’s Art Center, Foose presented the idea of a retro model to then-Chrysler design boss Tom Gale, in response to a prompt to create a new niche vehicle.

In the video, Foose says his rationale was that many hot rod and muscle car enthusiasts wanted to combine the classic looks of older cars with new technology that would allow them to be used every day. One of his proposals, based on a 1930s Plymouth hot rod, caught the eye of Gale, who pushed for the Prowler to become a production car.

The production car kept many of the wilder elements of Foose’s proposal, including cycle fenders covering 20-inch wheels that were gigantic at the time. But it was let down by uninspiring mechanicals, including an automatic transmission and 3.5-liter V-6 shared with other Chrysler models. The V-10 from the Dodge Viper also being sold at the time probably wouldn’t fit, but there is room for a V-8 under the hood, Foose notes.

The driving experience doesn’t provide the same level of excitement as the styling, but the V-6 provides a reasonable 253 hp, and Leno was impressed by the lack of cowl shake. It’s hard to say if the Prowler is sports-car-level fun, but the cramped cockpit and tiny trunk are definitely sports-car-level impractical.

These factors, combined with a relatively high price (about $32,000 in the late 1990s) limited the Prowler’s appeal, but the lack of a V-8 was likely the biggest turnoff, Foose believes. Attitudes may have changed over time, though. The stigma against V-6 engines has abated somewhat, and the Prowler has even been tipped as a solid collector-car investment by insurer Hagerty.