If a Prowler pulls up next to you at a stoplight, you can't ignore that," says Steven D. Bruyn, Chrysler Corp.'s Plymouth National Brands Marketing Manager.

Folks attending the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this month aren't likely to ignore the Plymouth Prowler, either.

Indeed, Prowler proved to be an instant hit when a fully operational concept version was unveiled two years ago. That warm reception inspired Chrysler to earmark $75 million, pocket change by today's standards, to develop the production version that makes its world debut at the Detroit show. It will not be available, however, until the first quarter of 1997.

Prowler is a throwback in looks and appeal to the famous California hot rods of the '50s built on chassis of cars from the early '30s; it's especially reminiscent, for example, of the 1932 Ford rods.

The low-riding Prowler with its tapered nose, lurking "cat-eye" headlamps, open-wheel front-end design, exposed front control arms and huge 20-in. (50-cm) rear wheels -- 17 ins. (43 cm) up front -- is an instant grabber. It's equipped with Goodyear run-flat tires, so it has no spare. A tire-pressure sensor on the instrument panel signals if the tires are losing air.

Unlike the rough-riding, fire-spitting classic rods, Prowler is a mild-mannered machine with most of the comfort, convenience and safety features you'd find in any other modern car, including dual air bags and side door beams. Prowler has 4-wheel disc brakes, but antilock braking is not available.

Prowler is loaded with advanced technology including massive use of aluminum throughout that shaved something like 700 lbs. (318 kg) compared with the same car built with traditional steel and iron components. First-year output is targeted at around 3,000, rising to 5,000 the next year.

Over its full life-cycle, perhaps 25,000 to 30,000 will be produced. Price: The mid-$30,000 range.

Weighing in at around 2,800 lbs. (1,270 kg), Prowler contains a whopping 900 lbs. (410 kg) of aluminum in the drivetrain, frame, body panels and chassis components. It's powered by Chrysler's 3.5L, 24-valve single overhead cam V-6 that generates 214 hp and produces 220 ft.-lbs. (298 Nm) of torque.

A rod wouldn't be a rod without rear-drive, so Chrysler engineered an aluminum driveshaft connected to the rear-mounted transaxle, which was borrowed from its LH full-size cars.

Although much of the materials technology is leading edge -- it has flexible sheet-molding compound (SMC) front fenders and a magnesium instrument panel support beam -- some 40% of Prowler's components (based on variable costs) are carried over from other Chrysler vehicles.

To keep costs down and reduce complexity, Prowler will have no options. It will come in only one color: A deep purple-red, with a black convertible top. But it will have fully functional side-door windows.

Prowler's mission is not to make big profits, although Prowler Team Executive Engineer Craig Love says that's a distinct possibility. Rather, it's to fire up Plymouth's sagging image while adding to Chrysler's overall cache.