Chrysler Actually Built This Crossbred Jeep Wrangler-Plymouth Prowler Test Car
Meet the mysterious Prangler.
Testing an in-development car can be a funny business. When things like a new model's powertrain and suspension components need to be worked out before the rest of it is ready, manufacturers will cobble together whatever spare body parts they have lying around to create what's known as a mule. Sometimes they look like skunkworks projects, like the two-door modern Range Rover caught testing the new Defender's air suspension in Moab last year. And sometimes they look like the Prangler.
"Prangler" may sound like the mascot for a brand of discount potato chips, but it's the agreed-upon name for a bizarre Plymouth Prowler prototype that Chrysler mocked up back in 1994 using the cab from an early-1990s YJ Jeep Wrangler. Better yet, they actually sent it out on public roads, which is why we have tangible proof today of its existence in the form of this VHS-quality clip legendary automotive spy photographer Jim Dunne filmed of one parked on the side of a highway.
Built in or around 1994 by Chrysler engineers, the Prangler is believed to be the combination of a near-production aluminum Prowler chassis and front end and a modified Wrangler cab pulling double duty as an effective disguise and insulation for all-weather testing (the final Prowler soft top is notoriously leaky). The mule likely ran with the production car's Chrysler LHS-sourced 3.5-liter V6 and a four-speed Autostick transmission out of the Dodge Intrepid.
Exceedingly strange stuff. But given the context of the whole Plymouth Prowler project at the time, it was pretty much par for the course. The car's entire development process was suffused with a "Why the hell not?" ethos you rarely see from billion-dollar corporations. On paper, the Prowler was part marketing ploy and part research testbed, a flashy product Chrysler could use to test out new aluminum construction techniques. But in the minds of its designers and engineers, it was a rare chance to cut loose in a pleasant-Midwest-car-guy sort of way, which is probably how you get to a point where Jim on the vehicle dynamics team eyes the Prowler floor pan and says "Hey Rick, you know, I think a Wrangler cab would fit back here..."
As a pre-production vehicle, the Prangler was never meant for the public eye, meaning documentation is as cobbled together as that buck wild body. Fewer than five are known to have existed, and there are just two photos of them floating around the internet. Popular Mechanics originally published the spy photo of the red car embedded above, which some Prowler die-hard scanned from the original magazine spread and shared online. Jalopnik also shared one in 2018 that appears to show a few proud Chrysler engineers posing with the yellow car. If it weren't for the video, the Prangler would be a ghost.
From some angles the two halves look completely incongruous, the twisted result of two different species mating, an impression not helped by its unfinished bumpers and rear fenders. But from others, particularly the rear three-quarter shot, it almost looks more like an authentic hot rod than the finished product, maybe what George Barris would've done with a Wrangler back in the day. The fact that the Prangler makes the same face we did when we learned it was a thing doesn't hurt either—you've got to love a car that's as amused by its own existence as you are.
Just how many Pranglers were built—and what happened to them—is the subject of debate. The two seen here likely went the same way as other pre-production Chrysler sports cars of the era. At least one, possibly two sets of the Prangler's unique wheels were somehow salvaged by Prowler owners according to a forum post, but rumors that a complete Prangler is still out there somewhere remain unsubstantiated. We can only hope that they're true, and to one day gaze on its delighted little face with our own eyes.
Got a tip, or even the rumored survivor's location? Send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org
h/t: Michael Klotz