The Plymouth Prowler is a unique-looking and memorable car, especially for those of us who were impressionable adolescents circa Y2K. But for a car that was designed to be a collector's item as soon as it left the factory, it took its time to ripen into something one might consider an investment.
The Prowler came out in 1997 but the concept, which was pretty darn closely followed for production, was on display at the 1993 Detroit Auto Show. It's not much of a stretch to say we can celebrate the car's 30th anniversary right about now.
Hagerty publishes an annual rundown of old cars its staff reckons are headed up in value. It calls this the "bull market list," and while I don't love the vibe of flipping cars like stocks, that kind of horse trading always has and always will be part of car culture.
Credit where it's due: Hagerty's staff is well-equipped to make such a list, having access to a deep well of classic car valuation data. And for what it's worth, I think the sheet metal profiled this year are all pretty solid financial bets as far as old cars go. One caught my eye in particular, however. The Plymouth Prowler.
"Perhaps surprisingly, members of Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980) are now trickling into the Prowler, slowly supplanting the boomers who were the initial target when the car was conceived," Joe DeMatio wrote for Hagerty. The Prowler list entry ends with pertinent insight:
So-called restomods (old cars with modern guts) are big business these days—customizers regularly charge six figures to fit a fuel-injected engine, disc brakes, etc., into an old rig. It’s only a matter of time before enthusiasts discover the Prowler, which is essentially a factory-built restomod offered at a bargain price.
With Prowlers trading hands between $15,700 and $45,500 these days, I'd say that assessment is logical. So why did a car so clearly born to be a car show queen take over two decades to be validated by collectors?
My fellow car fans who were alive when this car was new know exactly why. The Prowler is a cereal box toy—all show and no go. And while this feels weird to say about a retro design, it aged very quickly and poorly.
Old-school Americana had a little resurgence around the year 2000. The Ford Thunderbird, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Chevy HHR, and SSR, all had this kind of techno-rockabilly vibe that was really in back then. The Hard Rock Cafe look was going crazy. I even remember having toys of fictional cars with a similar "American Graffiti but make it plastic" aesthetic.
The Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, and Dodge Challenger that dropped closer to 2010 had strong hints of that but stayed shy of going full-caricature like the cars I just mentioned. Because as quickly as alt-future 1950s became cool, it went back out of style. And style was all the Prowler had: between those novel exposed front wheels sat an anemic, 215-horsepower V6 saddled with a four-speed auto-tragic transmission.
All these years later though, the Prowler's powerplant doesn't seem like nearly as much of a credibility killer. We live in an era of 300-horsepower Toyota Camrys. Modern commuter cars could smoke some of the aspirational sports cars we used to have on posters. Once a car gets old, it no longer needs to be fast to feel fun compared to most daily drivers.
Now when you compare a Prowler to the rip-snort street rods it was emulating, the fact that it's a knock-off becomes an asset. Many people are realizing that whether they're driving a fire-breathing rod from the 1930s or a pretend version from the '90s, they're still going to be plodding along at pedestrian speeds just enjoying the vibe. So the version with fuel injection, stereo, climate control, and maybe even an airbag, is suddenly a lot more appealing.
On top of that, 25 years is the cutoff for "classic" license plates in many states for a reason—once a car's survived this long, it looks so out-of-time among regular traffic that it might be worth celebrating just for the fact that it's still on the road.
The Prowler's novelty didn't last long out of the gate, but now that it's back, I think the car is here to stay among collectors' items. So welcome, Plymouth Prowler, to your era of veneration.