1998 Plymouth Pronto Spyder

When the engineers at Chrysler designed the Plymouth Pronto Spyder, a concept car unveiled at the 1998 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, they tailored it for a cost-savvy consumer who “wanted to have some fun,” according to John Herlitz, vice president of production and design for Chrysler.

One of the challenges in keeping the Spyder affordable was to lower manufacturing costs yet provide quality where customers really wanted it. The result was to spend less on building materials and more on the engine and stylistic details. The Chrysler f olks accomplished this by borrowing a materials application from Spyder‘s cousin, the Plymouth Pronto, which was displayed at the 1997 NAIAS, and from Chrysler’s Composite Concept Vehicle shown at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show.

The plastic used on these concept vehicles is called polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and is the same material used to make plastic drinking bottles that store soda or spring water. The introduction of PET technology in the automobile industry has the ab ility to reduce manufacturing costs by 80 percent, leaving a chunk of money leftover for things like … a really cool supercharged engine.

Housing a mid-mounted 2.4-liter dual overhead cam transverse engine with 225 horsepower, the car is designed to drive like an exotic sportsracer with a low center of gravity. The Spyder is also equipped with 18-inch cast aluminum wheels, 225/40R18 Goodye ar tires and a 5-speed manual transmission.

Moving away from the boxy car look, this aerodynamic convertible is modeled after classic sportscars of the 50s and 60s, incorporating chrome accents and a plastic tortoise shell steering wheel rim that is reminiscent of the wood trim on cars of yesteryea r. The Platinum Silver concept car also sported an aircraft-inspired windshield, lightweight drilled pedals, and a tubular, low-slung fuselage.

The Plymouth Pronto Spyder was designed to help renovate the Plymouth brand by going back to basics: retaining Plymouth’s “value for price” mantra, while providing best in class performance.

We test-drove the Pronto Spyder concept car in 2004, when it was six years old – keeping in mind that few companies intend their concepts to last this long, or be driven this much. The engine seemed out of tune, and after we drove it, the designer took it out and opened the throttle wide – something we hadn’t dared to do, given the nature of most concept cars – which seemed to help. Even without pushing it, the power came through clearly, just as it does now on the SRT-4, which uses the same engine.

The steering is firm and tight, the center of gravity low, and the suspension firm, for a fun and stable feel. The driver is in a traditional low sports-car position; it’s easier to get into and out of than the Sling Shot, and about even with the Toyota MR2. It feels as though it would be more enjoyable (and comfortable) than the MR2, and feels as though it can deal with zigzags more easily. However, it’s really too narrow for everyday use; we’re not fat, but had to move out of the way of the stick, as did our slender passenger.

One of the amusing facets of the Pronto Spyder – which, despite the Chrysler license plate, did indeed wear a Plymouth badge – was the experimental use of color inside, a friendly, warm, deep red which works quite well, though the fact that it was spray painted is fairly obvious when you look at the stereo and climate control up close (it’s the standard Chrysler stereo). The metallic surface on the instrument panel was also used extensively in the beautiful Chronos; the wheel ended up looking better than the production 300C wheel. The odometer is painted on.

The engine is familiar now to SRT-4 and PT Turbo buyers, but at the time, it must have been seen as a pie-in-the-sky concept gizmo: the 2.4 liter dual-cam 225-horse powerplant, mounted behind the seats. The Spyder was designed to drive like an exotic sports car, helped by a low center of gravity and 18 inch aluminum wheels with 225/40 tires and a five-speed stick.

Also debuting on the Pronto Spyder was a plastic tortoise-sheel steering wheel rim, later used on the 300C, and extensive chrome accents. While the ideal would be to have the paint pigments directly injected into the plastic, the actual concept car has a silver paint sprayed onto it to make it look like molded-in-color plastic.

Weighting in at 2,700 lb, the mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive Pronto Spyder was probably capable of 0-60 times around 5.5 seconds, but that’s hard to say.

Before actual production, the Spyder would require a windshield that met crush rules, better body stiffness (the undercut A-pillar hurt it there), suspension travel clearance to the wheelhouse, and, of course, an inside mirror. It did have high-mounted door handles which worked quite well (we first saw them decades ago on the Chevy Berretta).

Scribbled on November 17th 2008 in Plymouth, Plymouth Pronto Spyder
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