The Chevy SSR pickup is certainly not for wanting of attention. It is,
however, wanting for more buyers.
which stands for Super Sport Roadster, started out as a highly publicized,
highly praised concept vehicle
at the 2000 Detroit auto show. Response was so enthusiastic from the press
and public that GM practically started taking orders that week. The concept
was edgy, distinctive and downright captivating. The production SSR came
out in 2003 but has been selling an average of fewer than 1000 units a
month? On more than one occasion last year, Automotive News reported a
300-day supply of SSRs was sitting idle on dealers’ lots; about
60 days inventory is ideal.
Early complaints focused on the lack of power. The first SSR was quite
anemic with about 5000 pounds of mass and a 300-horsepower 5.3-liter V8/standard
4-speed automatic combo pirated from the regular truck lineup. For 2005,
Chevy boosted the SSR’s performance with the 390-horsepower Corvette
engine and made available a Tremec M10 6-speed manual transmission. The
all-alloy 6.0-liter engine made the SSR a little lighter on its feet and
the 6-speed put a little more spirit into its gait.
the first four months of 2005, Chevy had sold just 3514 units. Lots of
folks at GM are scratching heads over these numbers. So I spent a week
in a new SSR to find out if there is a problem. Basically the truck is
a beautiful show vehicle with a strong street-rod heritage and a healthy
dose of hot-rod performance. But it also has the drawbacks of both street
rods and hot rods. It’s expensive and only really serves as a third
or fourth vehicle in a high-end garage. The SSR is built to cruise, not
commute. It’s designed with much more style than function. In other
words, it’s a chance for mainstream buyers to own a real concept
vehicle normally found only at car shows.
There is no denying the magnetic appeal of the retro design. The production
SSR exterior holds true to the concept that drew rave reviews. The full-fendered
lines and horizontal-bar grille based on a ’53 Advanced Design Chevy
pickup were shaped and smoothed with all the care of a master craftsman
getting ready for the Oakland Roaster Show. The truck comes bathed in
a vibrant, monochromatic color that is complemented with brushed aluminum
trim and 5-spoke alloy wheels (19-inch front, 20-inch rear). Chevy blended
in modern technology by adding a power retractable hardtop, wide-track
rubber and updated suspension. But Chevy did not add much in the way of
utility, and that strategy was intentional. Officials have said there
are other Chevys designed for hauling and towing; this one is designed
for the driving experience and ownership of a unique vehicle. They weren’t
kidding, either. Towing capacity is 2500 pounds. Payload is a generous
1290 pounds, but there is no room under the hard tonneau and in the carpeted
bed for anything other than luggage and golf bags.
My weeklong trip took me up the California coast highway where the SSR
could be the perfect surfboard hauler for any trust-fund baby. It fits
in with the beach crowd as comfortably as any woodie or Honda Element.
The retractable top takes less than 30 seconds to bring in a full array
of sunshine. Push a single button and the hardtop drops into its own storage
area; the top doesn’t impede the limited cargo space in the bed.
Driving with the top down is not only refreshing but ego-building. The
looks, stares and comments increase four-fold while in convertible mode.
This is not a truck for the introverted. It draws attention with ease
and there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of enthusiastic onlookers.
Trips to the market take twice as long because of the conversations in
the parking lot. Most people are shocked to hear that the SSR is a regular
production vehicle. The unique design and resulting reaction from the
public is one reason that of the eight or nine SSRs I’ve seen on
the road, more than half have been dressed with business signs and graphics.
It’s a great advertising vehicle for small stores.