A purple roadster built for 2 Hot rod: Chrysler's retro-styled Prowler draws whistles at the Inner Harbor.

October 31, 1997|By Samantha Kappalman | Samantha Kappalman,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Truckers on Pratt Street blew their air horns. Pedestrians craned their necks. And Chrysler-Plymouth dealers smiled in anticipation of increased traffic to their showrooms.

The Prowler had arrived -- finally -- in Baltimore.

The two-seater convertible roadster was on display outside the Hard Rock Cafe at the Inner Harbor yesterday afternoon, and most of the 100 or so folks who came by for a look liked what they saw.

"It looks like the hot rods I used to like," said Paul Harmon, 55, a tourist from Atlanta.

Tony Senturk wasn't saying much. The 34-year-old from Delaware just kept shaking his head and whistling -- at the car -- as he videotaped it.

"I'll buy a dozen if they'll let me," Senturk said, never taking his eyes off the Prowler.

And it's not just prospective purchasers who are impressed with the car.

David Healy, an analyst who follows Chrysler Corp. for Burnham Securities, said the Prowler is to Chrysler what the Corvette is for Chevrolet. He said it attracts people to showrooms with dealers hoping that they'll buy one of the other vehicles.

"It's kind of a neat vehicle. They haven't made anything else like it since the '30s," Healy said. "But it's a traffic builder and a loss leader. It's not a product that Chrysler hopes to make money off of, or hopes to make a lot of."

Edward Lapham, executive editor of Automotive News in Detroit, said the Prowler is a low volume car, but it does what it's intended to do -- catch someone's attention. He said Chrysler won't earn a large profit from the Prowler, but at $39,000 fully loaded, everybody will want one.

"Chrysler uses it as an icon of what they are doing," Lapham

said. "They're not up to full production speed yet. It's going slowly, but they're getting them out as quickly as they can. They did not produce it solely to be an eye-catcher."

He said the car is a test vehicle for several ideas such as widespread use of aluminum.

Aluminum accounts for 900 of the Prowler's 2,900 pounds, said Scott Hoffberg, field marketing specialist for Chrysler. This is because the company is always looking for materials that could be of use for future vehicles, he said.

"The idea for the Prowler came out of the Pacifica Design studio in California during a brainstorming session in 1990. The concept vehicle was shown at a car show in 1993," he said. "Seven hundred Prowlers are being made this year. We've shipped 70 since June."

William Moore, zone manager of the Baltimore/Washington area for Chrysler, said the car attracts many different types of people.

"This is a fun, cool, retro-looking car that's on the cutting edge of technology," said Moore, who was lucky enough to drive the Prowler up Interstate 95 yesterday after the Washington launch.

Not everybody liked what they saw yesterday. Candy Harmon, 51, Paul's wife, said she just doesn't "care for" the car.

"It looks like a toy," she said. "I don't care for the color too much."

If you don't like purple, you'll feel the same way. For now, that's the Prowler's only color.

"We plan on just keeping it for a while to use it as a traffic builder," said Glenn Jackson, general manager of Tate Chrysler-Plymouth. "We waited so long to get it, we're not anxious to let it go."

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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