Test: 2005 Chevrolet SSR
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The Chevy SSR pickup is certainly not for wanting of attention. It is, however, wanting for more buyers.
The SSR, 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.
Yet, through 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.
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