Collector Classics: Plymouth/Chrysler Prowler

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Ken Grahame couldn’t wait to get his first Plymouth Prowler. He was the dealer principal at Coquitlam Chrysler when he heard in the early 1990s that Chrysler Corporation was planning to turn its retro concept car, an homage to the hot rod roadsters of the past, into a production sports car.

The car would have modern power and accoutrements but would have that chopped and channeled motorcycle fender look of the world’s best-known hot rods.

“I told Chrysler that, if you build this car, I have to have one,” he says looking back more than 20 years. “I guess I pestered them enough that, when they decided to build it, I got one of the first ones.”

Grahame’s new Prowler was one of only two delivered to British Columbia, with less than two dozen sold in Canada.

Chrysler made only 396 Plymouth Prowers in 1997 – all were Prowler Purple, so not surprisingly Grahame was mobbed when he took his car to its first Mopar show for special interest Chrysler products.

The Prowler was created as a brand image-maker for Chrysler’s Plymouth division. Like most hot rods, it used a lot of parts off the shelf, including those used to build the Caravan people mover. But the Prowler was unique with its all-aluminum body and sheet metal composite bumpers. Although the 1997 models were introduced with cast iron V6 engines making 214 horsepower, the 1999 Prowler models showcased Chrysler’s new all-aluminum 3.5 litre V6 engine producing 253 horsepower. There were no 1998 Prowlers built.

When Chrysler killed the Plymouth brand in 2001, the cars became Chrysler Prowlers.

Grahame’s love of hot rods came from his teenage years in Teulon, Manitoba where his restaurant-owner father bestowed a well-used 1935 Chevrolet coupe on his 16-year-old son who had just gotten his driver’s license.

The young man had the car painted and then sold it to buy a low-mileage 1949 Ford coupe. While working part-time in a body shop, he had that car customized and painted and equipped with a higher horsepower Pontiac V8 engine.

He drove the ’49 Ford to university and then to Montreal where he began a career in the finance industry. Later he brought his love of automobiles to B.C. to become a partner in a dealership and later a Chrysler dealer principal where his fascination with the Prowler continued.

He and his wife Patti joined the Northwest Prowler Group, got a colour-matched trailer from Chrysler and began to run up the mileage on their purple Prowler thanks to monthly tours with fellow Prowler owners as far away as South Dakota and Las Vegas.

“When the mileage started getting up on the 1997 model, I bought a two-year-old Inca Gold 2002 Prowler with only 500 miles on it,” he says.

That car had originally been purchased for an investment as a 2002 Prowler had sold at a charity auction for $200,000. But that was the last of the 11,700 Prowlers, and was signed by the workers who built it and came with a time capsule and trailer.

The huge price didn’t represent the value of other 2002 Prowler models. The Prowler that the first owner thought would be worth a lot of money, kicked around for awhile and Grahame was able to buy it for a very reasonable price.

Inca Gold was the least popular colour for a Prowler, so Grahame had his painted high voltage blue and installed a custom white leather interior with blue accents.

As the club tours continued, the mileage began to creep up on his second Prowler so he went looking to buy a third. The 2001 model in Prowler Orange was available in the Tacoma area with only 2,700 miles on the odometer. The purchase was made and Grahame had the car two-toned with a black hood and deck with orange accents.

The fourth Prowler was bought as an investment: a 2000 Woodward Edition in two-tone red and black. There were only 155 built. It had only traveled 4,000 miles and Grahame drove it a few hundred miles before trading it in on a new Jaguar F Type.

“I was lucky in that the Jaguar dealer had a buyer for the car, so it was a good opportunity.”

Now back to three Prowlers, with the original 1997 hitting 34,000 kilometres, the blue 2002 model with more than 80,000 kilometres and the black and orange 2001 driven 15,000 miles as a U.S. car, Grahame looked for another Prowler that would be extra special.

He had learned that a few owners had installed Hemi V8 engines in their Prowlers but had experienced problems with overheating and transaxle breakage caused by the extra power. But an enthusiast in Southwestern Ontario, who had stretched a Prowler for four passengers, had also installed a 6.1-litre Hemi engine from a Dodge SRT in a 1997 Prowler. It was for sale. Grahame had the car inspected by an expert from Detroit and bought it.

This is the Prowler that Chrysler should have built. The 6.1-litre Hemi engine looks like it has been installed by the factory with everything neat and tidy under the hood. It uses a beefed-up transaxle from a 2001 Prowler to handle the near double horsepower of the original Prowler. This Prowler, painted in 2017 Viper Stryker Orange, is a rocket ship.

“It’s everything I hoped it would be and more,” Ken Grahame enthuses. “Modifications like the side vents are subtle but interesting and it suits me just fine.”

Grahame had just returned from a trip with fellow Northwest Prowler owner to Moses Lake, Washington where the feature was a tour of a Hutterite community. He was driving Prowler number two – the orange and black 2001 model.

He has driven his Prowlers tens of thousands of kilometres, in all kinds of weather including pouring rain and blistering heat.

“The tribute to hot rods is very meaningful to me. But these are the cars that got us going on tours, making new friends and doing social things,” he reflects. “I think it’s the combination of retro styling with modern running gear and electronics. You feel very confident in driving it anywhere.”

For more information about the Prowler group check out nwprowlers.com.

Alyn Edwards is a classic car enthusiast and partner in Peak Communicators, a Vancouver-based public relations company. aedwards@peakco.com

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