Viva Las Prowler,
Pride and Disgust in Las Vegas
Colorado Mopar Newsletter, June 2002
Before we even checked into the Hotel/Casino for our vacation in Las Vegas, Laurie and I both knew what car we would be driving for our trip to the Hoover Dam the following day - a Plymouth Prowler. The van ride from the airport passes several exotic car rental outlets, promising fun in a Dodge Viper, Ferrari 360 Modena and more. Even with serious exotic metal available and displayed for our choosing, it was the Prowler that had our attention. Choosing a Prowler over a Ferrari? What can I say except that we are truly American. Baseball, or U.S. style Football still has my attention, and no amount of hype would get me glued to the TV for the World Cup. So a Prowler was what we wanted, and a Prowler it would be.
Once installed in the room, it was time to start dialing and order up our Prowler. Seven beeps (Las Vegas still only requires seven digits in a phone number) later we were discussing a Prowler with the first car rental business. In four phone calls we had secured our Prowler for pick up at 8 a.m. the following day, at a reasonable price (call around if you're interested, as the price between businesses for the same car varies greatly). "G, we're get'tin' a Prowler!" Laurie said that with a near maniacal smile that would put the Child Catcher character from Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang to shame. Even with all the distractions Las Vegas offers, our thoughts were on waking up early to pick up the Prowler as soon as possible.
Wake up and pick up
And wake up early we did. Packed and ready to go, we walked fast to the front door of the Hotel to meet the van of the rental business. The van swung into the parking lot and circled to the valet parking line, "You guys renting the Prowler?", the driver asked. Thinking fast, my reply was "Yup." (Note, if someone ever asks you this, just say yes. Don't think about it just say yes.)
Even at 8:00 a.m., driving "The Strip" takes too long, especially if you want to do something as bad as we did. The real time spent and the "seems-like" time to travel to the store was like the difference in actual temperature and wind chill temperature. Time dilates in situations like this, fully explaining Einstein's theories in a single, concise, experience.
Arrival meant charging into the office to fill out paper work. I asked, "Is that a Ferrari 512 BB under that cover over there?" The driver, thinking as fast as I did answering if we were the ones renting the Prowler, said, "Dunno, I just drive the Van." The paperwork was completed in rapid fashion, and within minutes, we were getting the "familiarization" tour of the bright yellow Prowler that was to be ours for the day. "The cruise control...", started the paperwork guy. "Yes, I know, it's the same as in my Grand Cherokee", Lauire broke in, attempting to speed up this part of the process. "The auto stick works like..." And I couldn't help myself, "an Intrepid/Concorde/300M, we know." "OK, the front end is really..." I can't remember if it was Laurie or I this time, "really low. Be careful over speed bumps. Got it." And so it went. The two most useful pieces of information this whole process imparted to us was how to raise and lower the top, and the fact that the gas cap is backwards. Yes, really backward. Some cars have their top speed limited electronically; a Prowler's top speed is backwards-facing-gas-caps-that-catch-the-wind-and-threaten-to-tear-off limited. When the car isn't really yours, and you'll have to pay for any nick or scratch, you tend to pay attention to things like this.
As soon as the tour was complete, and the guy handed Laurie the keys, we put the top up. It was 8:30 a.m., and nearing 95 degrees. The air conditioning would be put to the test keeping us comfortable in the desert called Las Vegas. A few turns, and we were on the highway, heading towards Henderson. While the border that defines the end of Las Vegas and the beginning of Henderson is totally unnoticeable, you instantly notice that everybody looks at a Prowler. Everybody. This is the first thing you learn about people and Prowlers. Doesn't matter what they are driving. Guys in near-defeated mid-70's pick-ups flash you a thumbs up. Drivers of Mercedes S-Class cruisers speed up to catch you, they then match your speed to look. A stop at Burger King for breakfast was a kick, because everybody walks around the car, pausing before finally walking away, with a glance or two back.
From Henderson to Boulder City, the drive was uneventful. We tested, without meaning to, the limits of the gas-cap-speed-limiter. We also found out that a driver (Laurie) can't see the cap rising and flapping in the wind, but a passenger, looking through the right side mirror can watch the show and describe, in detail, the rising and falling of the gas cap until the driver tells the passenger to please shut up in language unacceptable in polite conversation but somehow completely acceptable when the passenger happens to be the husband of the driver, and interfering upon an experience. But the gas cap show pales in comparison to the dance being put on by the cycle fenders. The cycle fenders are possibly the single coolest feature on the entire car. Up, up, down, up, down, down they dance in response to road irregularities. It's like a strange native dance from the wonderful undiscovered land of Asphalt brought back to the kings and queens of civilization, somehow it connects with something unremembered, deep down in the remaining reptilian part of the human brain. A "normal" car just doesn't entertain this much. It's so distracting and fun to watch, that you can miss beautiful views of natural features that took mother nature thousands of years to create to watch this one fender that took Detroit a day to make bounce up and down.
Can I take a picture of your car?
A missed turn led us into the business district of Boulder City, which consisted of two stop signs and a few knick-knack shops with signs promising, "Everything is for sale". Given the history of Boulder City, I understood this to be true. Outside of Boulder City, you can get the first view of Lake Mead. From this rest stop, I learned the second thing about people and Prowlers: everybody looks, but nobody understands the Prowler better than teen-age girls. "Can I take a picture of your car?" said a 16 year old whose mother really would rather that she look at Lake Mead and Hoover Dam, but relented and said, "Don't use all your film yet" in only a mildly annoyed voice and waited patiently as her daughter carefully framed the shot from several angles before deciding which angle was best and committing the vision to film. Laurie and I smiles at each other, fully understanding the effect of this car. You can get the view of Lake Mead on a postcard.
How fast does it go?
From the rest stop to the parking garage at Hoover Dam is a short ride. It really takes longer to park a car in the new garage than it does to drive from Boulder City to the Dam. The cement in the garage is finished to a shine that makes every car's tires squeal like they are going fast. Finally, on the next to last level, we found a space where we could park the Prowler without risking scratches and dings. This was the classroom for the third lesson about people and Prowlers; everybody thinks its fast. As soon as we had the car parked, a few guys quickly swarmed around the car, "How fast does it go." To which there is only one truthful answer, given the gas-cap-speed-limiter, "About 75." Still, when you are honest about a Prowler, it doesn't matter. Comments on how cool the car looked, questions about just how big are those wheels, and tires, and simply "Whoa! Look at this" rain around a Prowler. No one really cares how fast it goes or not, it is just the coolest factory job ever.
But I have to commend the Prowlers' air conditioning. When we arrived at the Dam, it was over 100 degrees, and still climbing. The air conditioning functioned flawlessly. Yes, it does sound like the worlds hottest Intrepid rather than a true hot rod V-8, but with the top up and the A/C on, you really don't care that the engine is dropping 100-300 rpm in an attempt to inhibit overheating.
Hoover Dam itself is incredible. Huge. American. On a scale only Americans and ancient Egyptians understand and could execute. Like the Prowler, Hoover Dam is something that could only be built in America. The Prowler puts out just about 200 horsepower at its peak. Hoover Dam can put out a few hundred mega-watts at zero MPH. Yet Hoover Dam resonates with something that connects with a Prowler, something that says, "Only in America." Makes you proud to be part of something that built this huge thing called Hoover Dam.
When we left the Dam, the temperature had risen to about 115 degrees. This is near the melting point of, well, everything. I think the only time I have felt more heat was on a field trip to a steel mill and standing as close as allowed to a Bessemer Furnace.
We dropped part of the top, not to drive with the top down for it was too hot, but to carefully place a book purchased at the Dam into the "trunk" of the Prowler. You have lower part of the top, unlatching the rear to gain access to the clamshell trunk. The trunk held the book, and was full. You might fit a slim brief case back there, but unless your golf clubs could do a shrinking act worthy of a circus, you're totally out of luck storing anything else in the trunk of a Prowler. A Prowler trunk is really just a pretty cover on a carpeted area. The top was secured, and it was time to leave.
The Prowler responded fantastically, cooling in a matter of moments. The A/C is just great. You really appreciate A/C in heat like this. The top was still up, shading us from the sun. After ten minutes of driving, I made the mistake of reaching up to see just how hot the top was getting and was rewarded with a scalded hand. "Ow" best describes the temperature of the fabric top, and this was while the car was in motion. It was hot, and we needed ice cream.
Loose ice cream in a rented Prowler isn't a good idea. So, pulling into a Dairy Queen for a snack was the ticket. Remembering the first lesson of people and Prowlers, I learned that the addendum to the first lesson is that you need to be aware that they are watching the car, not what the car is doing. Slowing into the Dairy Queen parking lot nearly got us rear ended by a Chevy S-10 who had been following, frantically pointing while describing the car to a passenger. The bounce of the S-10 front end when the brakes were finally applied almost trumped the cycle-fender dance due to what I'd expect were hideously worn shocks. I had to slow down, the curb was more than an inch high, and I didn't want to scrape the nose of the Prowler as I pulled in. Sorry, S-10 driver, I started braking and slowing way in advance to give you notice.
As we ate our sundaes on Wednesday, an older couple, at least over 70, in a Tarus Wagon checked out the Prowler. It was just too much fun to watch them. The man was pointing to the Prowler, and the woman was shaking her head. The man pointed to the cycle fenders, and she nearly walked away. Something was said, and slowly she walked back, body language speaking loudly, "OK dear, but just for a bit, it's dang hot." He walked around the Prowler again; she smiled gracefully, nodding her head at appropriate moments in motions practiced in years of marriage. One more trip around the Prowler, and he was done, walking back to his wife, wrapping an arm around her and bending to kiss her forehead. "Thank you dear." "OK, let's get some ice cream now." We couldn't hear the words, but postures spoke for them.
It was still hot, even after our ice cream. It was also vacation-nap-time. So a steady drive back to Las Vegas was in order. Chit chatting about the Dam, and really just keeping each other awake long enough to make it back to the hotel. Laurie napped, and I drove, noticing that a Prowler is really a nice drive. Yes, the wheelbase is fairly short, but I'm used to that from a Jeep Wrangler. Power is actually acceptable, you can pass anything you really want to, and have no problem keeping up with traffic. Acceleration from a dead stop isn't terribly impressive, yet 65-75 MPH jumps are done with an easy competence that fits right with the Intrepid/Concorde heritage of the engine. Brakes are quite good, and while I had no way of measuring stopping distances, the feel was perfect and worked as expected. Steering is a bit heavy at slow speeds, feeling a bit like an early power steering system that works better with increasing engine RPM and speed. A bit of wander is noticeable on a highway with grooves worn in the tracks, but given the width of the tires this was forgivable. Pedal placement was a bit narrow, but even my size 14 feet could work the pedals without interference, and that is a rare ability today for I have been car shopping and several seriously considered cars have been eliminated because my feet did not fit. A Prowler feels bigger than it is, wider mostly. You think a lot about those expensive wheels way out on the sides and how easy it would be to mark one on a curb. It's a completely competent car, performing everything as expected in a modern car, and looking damn good while doing it.
Pulling in to the hotel, you automatically go to the valet parking line. This service costs you $5, but that is money well spent. A Prowler gets parked away from other cars, even by jaded Las Vegas valets. The car is safe in valet parking. A Las Vegas valet is responsible for the cars in his care, and somehow, there may still be "a guy" watching to make sure nothing happens in Las Vegas.
Did you restore it yourself?
A nap, and it was dark. Time to go cruising The Strip. Wave the valet to go fetch the Prowler, and the Prowler is fetched. Take the top down in full view of the assorted guests watching the arrival of the Prowler and who is getting into it. Kids tug at their mothers dresses to turn around and look. Finally two late middle-aged men walk up and ask Laurie two questions: "Did you restore it yourself?" and "How long did it take you to restore it?" are blurted out simultaneously. It would just be too cruel to lie to these guys, as clueless as they were. It's disgusting that two, supposedly guys, did not know what a Prowler was. We kindly explained that it was a new car, and yes, if you have the bucks you can go buy one today at your local Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep dealer. Shaking my head that two men did not know what a Prowler was started Laurie chuckling. She asked, "Do you think they were 'intact'?" Ouch. Guys, please, know a little about cars. It's like power tools, lawn mowers, Baseball and grilling. These are a few of your favorite things.
South bound on The Strip, in traffic, right in front of Treasure Island a young boy grabs his mom's hand and says, "Mom! Look! Cool! Plymouth Prowler!!!" Mother turns, "Wha...? Where? What? Turn around Jimmy, the pirate show is educational." Well, the kid is on the right track anyway.
Next block, the Mirage casino and we have to stop and go in to pick up tickets for Sigfried & Roy later in the week. The guard at the "Guest Only" parking waves us in without question, smiling.
Leaving the Mirage, we hear, "Cool Prowler!" Turn around, and yes, it was two teen-age girls. I'm telling ya, Chrysler totally missed the demographic for this car.
South for a bit more, then turn to the Rio casino to pick up our Penn & Teller tickets. If you have a Prowler in Las Vegas, take a cab to the Rio because it has the world's highest speed bumps. Las Vegas is the land of big, but the speed bumps at the Rio are Hoover damn big. Remembering how to navigate a boulder field in a Jeep, I was able to negotiate these speed mountain ranges by placing on tire, and then another very slowly until the Prowler was over. The Rio must have gotten a real brother in law deal, or maybe it was a Las Vegas "I know a guy" deal, on speed mountain ranges, because there was one every two feet. Get the tickets, back in the car, over a few more speed mountain ranges and we were off to Fremont Street.
Fremont Street is the original casino street. Now, it's like Disney Land meets downtown Denver's 16th street mall; streets dead end into Fremont Street trapping you in a cul-de-sac. But the big cowboy is there, and after coming this far, you have to see the big cowboy. It was also excellent to take pictures, and a gentleman, who had a few drinks, but not enough to impair his ability to use a camera, offered to take our picture. We accepted, with thanks. He knew what the car was, and even asked us if we had rented it. Being truthful, we said yes and chatted with him agreeing that it was fun to splurge like this once in a while. Handshakes, another "thank you", and he was gone, disappearing forever into the crowd that is Las Vegas. Cab drivers awaiting their next fare patiently let us take the pictures we wanted; no beeps of horns interrupted our brief reprieve.
Back in the Prowler, we smiled. It was after 2 in the morning. "Let's go home." Home, the hotel, it was, and after a quick valet park, we were upstairs and crashed into a deep, happy, sleep.
One bad thing about renting a car you would like to own is that you have to give it back. The really bad thing is that it was due back at 8 a.m. So, bright (this is Las Vegas, it's always bright outside during the day) and early, I got a get the car from a valet, take the top down for the last time, and make the somber drive to hand the car back to the real owner. Somehow, I got talked into performing this duty alone, without assistance from Laurie who was still asleep. I take my time, pulling into Mick-Dees for coffee, which after one sip you know was brewed on the surface of Mercury (the planet, not the car, I mean). I merge back into traffic, still not driving fast, making this last.
Turning off The Strip, I was on a road without much traffic. So, for the first time I turn the radio on. It's silent, no noise at all. Then I realize in that instant that a song it about to begin and think to myself, cool, I'm not catching anything in the middle. The song starts. And with the very first note, I know it is Randy Rhodes playing Crazy Train for Ozzy. But here I was, in a Prowler, with Crazy Train playing on the radio, one of my all-time favorites. Crazy, but that's how it goes... Yes, it does sometimes. Maybe, it's not too late... No it's not too late, I still have a couple of miles. goin' off on rails of the crazy train... Light's changing, gotta move. ...I know you think there's something wrong with me...you got to listen to my words... Yeah, tell 'em Oz-man.
I pulled into the parking lot of the rental outfit just as that strange baby-sounding voice says "crazy", and instantly reach down and turn off the radio, not another sound, the moment is perfect. The radio is also exactly like Laurie's Grand Cherokee so my hand knows what to do without thinking. I park, looking around the Prowler for anything we left and seeing nothing, turn it off for the last time. In a moment, a worker greets me ready to take the keys and complete some paperwork.
Reluctantly, I do hand over the keys, "Hey, is that a Ferrari 512 BB under the cover over there?"
"Yeah, it is. It's the owner's private toy. No one ever gets that car, they think it's a Testarossa or something, that's a good eye."
"Thanks." Crazy. But, sometimes, that's how it goes.