This Hellcat-Swapped 1999 Plymouth Prowler Rights a Historic Wrong
Chrysler's postmodern hot rod was cursed with a gutless V-6. Enter the 707-horsepower Hellcat.
There are no do-overs in life, and few things exemplify that more than the Plymouth Prowler. The nouveaux hot rod was supposed to be a daring sequel to the howlin' Dodge Viper when it launched with great fanfare in 1997. It was one of the wildest designs to ever sneak past the bean counters at a major manufacturer—and saddled with a gutless V-6, it never had a chance. The Prowler stumbled out of the gate. Four years later, Plymouth was dead.
That's the real tragedy of the Plymouth Prowler. History is littered with the husks of good cars felled by a few bad decisions, but the Prowler is confounding in how close it came to greatness. The hard part of building a modern homage to a Thirties hot rod shouldn't be deciding whether or not to stick a giant engine in there. That's a non-negotiable. Why go 95 percent of the way with a wild exterior, then give it a V-6 from a Dodge Intrepid and call it a day?
It's one of history's great mistakes. And it's finally being fixed at a small shop in Tusla, Oklahoma, where they're making the world's first Hellcat-swapped Plymouth Prowler. The six-person team at Brand New Muscle Car is known for cranking out beautiful continuation Yenko Camaros, Eleanor Mustangs, and bringing all manner of midcentury American classics back to life. The Prowler was never high on their list, but when a valued client asked about building one with a modern V-8, it seemed like worthy challenge.
"We’ve done some oddball stuff before, so it wasn’t out of our realm. But it’s definitely the most outrageous thing yet," Richard Morgan, head of Brand New Muscle Car's mechanical department, told The Drive. "We're talking 700 plus horsepower in this thing."
The year-and-a-half process, periodically hinted at on their Facebook page, has been far more involved than your average swap. In addition to its wimpy 253-horsepower engine, the Plymouth Prowler also featured a curiously fragile rear transaxle setup that's been known to crumble in the face of a massive power bump. That wouldn't have been a big problem as the project was first conceived: a car show cruiser with a third-generation Hemi and a dummy blower sitting on top.
But the build took a hard turn last fall when Mopar unveiled a crate version of the famed 6.2-liter supercharged Hellcat engine, which puts out 707 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. Ordering one was a no-brainer; getting it to fit in the Prowler's narrow nose required extensive modifications to the headers, fuel and cooling systems, as well as a completely custom radiator. But the block itself slips in there with surprising ease and all ancillary systems like air conditioning and power steering will work as intended. As Morgan put it, "Now it has enough power to hurt itself."
As everything started to come together this summer, the client authorized converting the Prowler to a traditional RWD layout with a new, stronger transmission attached directly to the back of the motor—in this case, a two-speed Powerglide often used in drag cars. Meanwhile, the rear axle will be replaced with a Getrag limited-slip differential and sticks from a 2013 Dodge Challenger SRT8. Morgan said that with a few tweaks to the firewall, there's actually plenty of room behind the dashboard to put the gearbox up front.
For now, the plan is to retain the original interior in all its plastic glory, right down to the stock shifter. The Prowler Purple Metallic paint job and original alloy wheels will also remain untouched, making it something of a sleeper (if that can be said about a car that looks like this regardless). The only hint that this Prowler is a truly sinister one will be a different hood, since the supercharger pokes up through the stock clearance by about an inch. Brand New Muscle Car hasn't settled on a final design for the accommodating scoop. Oh, and the unfortunate front bumpers are also going.
Those mechanical changes should make the Prowler strong enough to handle the fire within. Morgan estimates the Hellcat engine adds about 260 pounds up front, which he partly offset by seating the block as far back as possible and moving the battery to the trunk. With a new curb weight of around 3,100 lbs, Morgan told us it some napkin math has the thing running a quarter mile in the 9's at 160 mph. He's not sure the wheels would actually hook up properly, or if the Prowler's aero is designed to handle those speeds, but he's confident that the end result will be a mid-ten-second car "all day."
Of course, it will never see an NHRA-sanctioned drag race, since it's still a convertible with zero rollover protection. Morgan said they discussed adding a rollcage but opted against it because it would require a complete teardown. Plus, even with a two-speed transmission, the Hellcat Prowler is being built as a potential daily driver rather than a drag strip star. A 3.06 rear axle ratio means it'll be able to cruise down the highway without working itself to death, Koni shocks will help keep everything settled, and the fully-functional interior will make it as livable as a late-90's Chrysler product can be.
As it sits now, Morgan plans to have the car done in time to display at this year's SEMA show in December. There are still a few kinks to work out between the Hellcat's computer and the factory instrument panel, but things are progressing. With parts arriving this week, the rear axle surgery is imminent—soon after that, everything will be hooked up for the first test drive. The world is this close to finally seeing what the Prowler was supposed to be from the beginning. And Morgan? He's not worried.
"I've been thinking about this for eight months. I’ve got three backup plans for everything," he said. "Next week, we're really gonna see what we're dealing with."
Rest assured, we'll be watching. It's not every day you get a do-over like this.
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