The Chrysler Howler should have gone into production
What if the Plymouth Prowler really had the muscle and ease of use to go with these looks? It was the Chrysler Howler. There were things that could have made the Prowler a success, but it came too late. But, before you look at what the Howler misunderstood, you need to examine what the Prowler misunderstood.
The Plymouth Prowler was a marvel when it debuted in 1997, with a hot rod look straight from the factory. With a design written by Chrysler Chief Design Officer Tom Gale (who designed the LH cars, the Viper and the 300 / Magnum among others), it certainly looked the part. But the look of the hot rod is all it was. While the design offered a hot rod of tire shredding, the drivetrain resulted in a mid-90s family sedan.
Early Prowlers were powered by Chrysler’s 3.5-liter V6. Borrowed from LH cars, it produced 214 horsepower and was paired with Chrysler’s four-speed automatic transmission with Autostick. Even though it had a lightweight aluminum body and weighed only 2,862 lbs, 214 hp was not enough. Sixty came in seven seconds with the quarter mile in almost 16 seconds.
In 1999, the 3.5-liter V6 had been massaged to 250 hp. This reduced the time from 0 to 60 to just under six seconds. But it still didn’t marry anyone. Combine that with an impractical trunk that only measured 1.8 cubic feet and no manual transmissions and a lot of buyers would pass it up. The optional trailer didn’t help matters. Granted, it looked cool, but who wanted to tow with a hot rod?
It didn’t have to be that way though. Enter the Chrysler Howler. (Plymouth was discontinued in 2001, and every Plymouth-branded model became a Chrysler by that time.)
The Howler owes its existence to two separate projects at Chrysler that had nothing to do with each other. Of ConceptCarz.com:
Howler is the result of two internal projects. At DaimlerChrysler’s Advanced Packaging studio, designer Christopher Schuttera, just two years from the University of Cincinnati, created his vision based on a modern take on classic shapes incorporating a collection tray into the sleek design and pure from Prowler.
At the same time, Jon Rundels, Concept and Specialty Vehicle Executive, was looking for ways to merge the Prowler platform with the all-new Jeep® PowerTech V-8 engine and a Borg-Warner T5 manual transmission.
The result was performance and packaging improvements that made the Prowler the car it should have been from the start. I contacted Howler’s trunk space designer Christopher Schuttera for more information on the car. He gave me some interesting design information, including that the car was a leftover pre-production mule:
A designer by the name of Cliff Wilkins was the genesis, he sketched the original idea. It was sort of a meeting between Prowler and T-bucket. The project was put in the studio I was in, Advanced Packing, because it was the one who was responsible for the Prowler production car. I was lucky enough to be given the task of developing the idea in real size. We basically modeled the new back end on a preproduction mule. Fun fact, we had to put solid bars in place of the rear shocks on this mule because automotive plasticine is heavy.
He also pointed out that one of the Howler’s intentions was to make it more user-friendly. Chrysler also played with various V8s before settling on the 4.7:
And, yes, one of the intentions was to give it real trunk space. The transaxle setup really stole any part of the original car. How much is a number I’m not sure, although the requirement was to have two golf bags in it, because of course it was. The other intention was to study the introduction of the new 4.7-liter V8 and a 5-speed manual transmission in the chassis. The 4.7 was the only V8 that would fit easily, the older 5.2 and 5.9 were too wide. It was a fun project to work on for sure. We tried a few other ‘truck-like’ executions on the bed, but the body really wanted the more integrated version in the end.
Schuttera also mentions that the redesign of the production car’s trunk was under consideration:
Ironically, the 4.7 and manual trans are paired with a traditional rear differential at the rear, so the bulky transaxle is gone and we could have considered redesigning the original car’s interior trunk instead. But, obviously, it wouldn’t have had the same level of visual impact when it was presented at SEMA. It’s such a shame that none of this went anywhere because with the 4.7 in it the car finally had the extra sound and grunt it needed.
It wasn’t, as the Prowler was discontinued in 2002. Still, it’s cool to look back at what could have been a great American hot rod, backed by a factory warranty.