Pre-production mules are, by their very nature, strange, chimera-like beasts, made from whatever was handy with little regard to how they look. As a result, most look like crap. That’s what makes the test mule used for the Plymouth Prowler/Jeep Wrangler so special—it’s arguably the only test mule that looks better than the production car. It’s called the Prangler.
Yes, Prangler. Prowler-Wrangler. It was real. It just never got made.
If you’re not familiar with the Plymouth Prowler, let’s solve that right now: the Prowler was one of the last Plymouths ever built, and even outlasted the marque itself by a year (the Prowler was made from 1997-2002, and Plymouth was axed in 2001).
It was intended to be a modernized hot rod, and while it wasn’t ever really my cup of used motor oil, I do think it accomplished what it set out to do, and was much more daring than most other cars of the era.
The Prowler was a striking design, with front wheels outside of the bodywork, something just about unheard of in a production car. The mechanicals were pulled from Chrysler’s LH series of cars, but the front suspension, all exposed there, was a bit more novel.
The Prowler used a double wishbone suspension with upper and lower control arms, and the front spring shock assemblies were set up with a pushrod rocker, like an Indy car. Testing this setup was important, and seems to be the main purpose of the famous Prangler.
It’s called the Prangler because it seems to be half-Prowler and half-Jeep Wrangler. It’s like a Centaur that once owned a successful landscaping company and fetishizes ‘50s diners and now likes to go mudding on the weekends.
Incredibly, before the age of ubiquitous cameras in everyone’s pocket, someone just happened to have a video camera when they encountered one of these Pranglers testing, so we actually have some video of one!
The Prangler appears to be a Prowler chassis with a full aluminum Prowler front end, and a hardtop Jeep Wrangler body from the windshield back. Our resident Jeep geek David says the Wrangler part appears to be from a YJ Wrangler, with a custom, tailgate-less back.
The bumpers seem to be the inner bars of the Prowler bumpers, and the headlight/indicator units on the prowler look just like the kind you put on snowplows. I kinda like them better than the squinty production lights.
The Prangler, I think, looks its best in profile, where the contrast of the long, torpedo-like hood and the boxy rear of the Jeep is most apparent. It makes no sense, and shouldn’t work as well as it does, but the result is like a tough-but-weirdly-sleek-looking shooting brake kind of thing.
It also reminds me a bit of the Jeep DJ used by the U.S. Post Office as a mail delivery vehicle. One of these Pranglers, done up in Post Office livery, would have made a fantastic outreach/promo vehicle that they could have called the Mail Hauler or Haulin’ the Mail or something like that to get the teens all excited about rewarding careers in parcel delivery.
My guess is that Chrysler decided to make such a strange mule because the open-air, roadster design of the Prowler just didn’t mesh well with the Detroit winters it would be tested in, so they found the easiest possible enclosed body to slap on the back half. That easiest, non-unibody, bolt-on-able body was the cubic rear of a Jeep, and the Prangler is what happened.
Either four or five Pranglers appear to have been built, and there’s occasional rumors that one survives. The wheels from one have definitely survived, but little is known about the rest.
If it’s like most mules, it’s been crushed long ago, leaving only memories of the strange centaur made of roadster and rock crawler to haunt our dreams.
Good night, sweet, sweet Prangler.