Growler

It’s what Plymouth should have done all along – put a V8 in their Prowler. They probably wouldn’t have used Chevy power, of course, but it certainly turns the Prowler into a …Growler
Words & Photography: Andy Willsheer

Readers who are into the sport of drag racing will probably know the name Chris Andrews; a Top Fuel driver who got into the straight-line wars a few years back, behind the wheel of one of the late ‘King Knut’ Soderqvist’s stable of dragsters.

Not many people know that Chris has a particular passion for the retro-styled Plymouth Prowler, which was introduced in America to mixed acclaim in the late Nineties, based on the 1993 concept car of the same name. The hot rod-style coupe was offered with an aluminium 3.5-litre V6 engine hooked to a rear transaxle, a combination that endowed the model with ideal 50-50 weight distribution. Following the demise of the Plymouth marque in 2001, it was marketed as a Chrysler offering, up until the model’s discontinuance in February 2002, with a grand total of just 12,000 units being sold.

Chris’s dad, Vince, who works in the copper mining business in Zambia, bought a good used example that he initially envisaged as being a novel tow car for his son’s Fueller, but Vince really wanted a Prowler that came with the factory option of a tag-along trailer that was available for around $5,000 extra. “I did find an example that was being offered for sale, albeit together with the Prowler itself, the vendor being unwilling to split the two,” he said. So, having become the owner of two Prowlers, he decided to make a rather special edition of one, the task being entrusted to Pro Mod standout Andy Robinson, proprietor of Andy Robinson Race Cars in Hampshire, somebody Vince knew through having some components for the Fuel dragster fabricated at ARRC.

The remit was to keep the vehicle looking kind of stock, but with sufficient grunt to more than keep pace with other road warriors when circumstances dictated. Vince initially thought along the lines of shoehorning a late-model Hemi V8 between the frame rails, though this notion was discarded after Andy stated it would be impractical due to the engine bay being too narrow, but did suggest he invest in an LS3 6.2-litre 430hp motor. The E-rod crate motor was duly procured, supplied complete with fused wiring loom, catalytic converters and ECU. Purists may find the choice of a bow tie powerplant something of a heinous offence, but it ideally suited the application.

This transplant involved use of chrome-moly engine mounts and quite extensive modifications to the alloy chassis, with box-section T6 ally bracing being employed to accommodate the heavier engine and TCI Outlaw-shifted 4L60E overdrive automatic transmission. A custom propshaft is hooked to a Strange Engineering Camaro third member with Dana 60 internals, and torque is transferred through 105mm CV joints and custom beefed 33-spline halfshafts, manufactured by the Driveshaft Shop across the Pond.

The body shell itself was modified to accept the Chevy bellhousing and transmission tunnel behind the replacement motor that, incidentally, was installed as low as practical in order to keep the centre of gravity close to terra firma. There’s now a custom aluminium radiator with dual cooling fans and shark gill-type vertical grilles on each side of the coachwork to facilitate egress of heat from the engine bay.

One of the most difficult parts of the assignment was the wiring. Andy said, “This was a very lengthy job and in hindsight we should have discarded the Prowler’s OEM ECU and completely rewired the car. Instead, we endeavoured to amalgamate instructions from each of three ECUs – those supplied with the new engine, gearbox plus the original – and this turned out to be quite an arduous task.” It was eventually sorted, albeit something of a nightmare at times…

The vehicle’s fuel system was updated through incorporation of a new pump and Brown & Miller race-spec braided fuel lines. There’s now also a custom stainless steel exhaust system with solenoid-operated waste gates to allow direct exhalation of spent gases should the occasion arise. Er, what excessive noise, officer? With the go department sorted, the whoa part is ably handled by installation of Wilwood four-pot calliper disc brakes with 13″ vented rotors at the front, complemented by another Wilwood setup at the rear.

The protracted project duly involved stripping the car down to the last nut and bolt prior to its being repainted from the factory purple hue to a striking shade of orange that’s normally found only on very expensive supercars built by McLaren at their Technology Campus in Woking, Surrey. Andy said, “The paint is not only pricy but is kind of ink-like. This part was undertaken by Bodytone (Warfield, Bracknell, Berkshire) and the finish is of a very high standard.”

Adhering to Vince’s remit of keeping the uprated Prowler in street sleeper guise, the standard unequal-size rolling stock – 17″ on the front and 20″ aft – has been retained, albeit with the ally rims powdercoated and outfitted with Pirelli P Zero 225/45 and 295/40 ZR rubber, respectively.

Interior treatment is similarly of the subtle variety; Andy opting to install in the colour-keyed instrument nacelle US-made Speedhut bespoke gauges that neatly incorporate NITRO lettering. The stock seats have been left in situ and along with the set of new floor mats the cabin package offers personalised practicality rather than any indulgence in extravagance.

Opening the bonnet, the appearance remains factory stock, except for the V8 Prowler nomenclature on plates affixed to the LS3 fuel rail covers. To say that the owner was delighted with the way this exercise in excellence turned out would be an understatement, and the only drawback for Vince, and wife Cindy, is the fact that he has to leave the Prowler in England while the couple return to Zambia for work purposes. Oh well, at least he has a unique street machine to drive during the next trip home to Blighty, hopefully when it isn’t raining, which was the case when these photos were taken at Santa Pod!

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