The Pickup Truck Chevy Has To Build
1953 continues to be a good year for Chevrolet.
In 1953 Chevrolet unveiled its first Corvette. Almost fifty years later the two-seater sports coupe is still the 'halo' around Chevrolet's passenger car lineup.
What's the secret to the Corvette's staying power and the goodwill it brings to the Chevrolet brand? The Corvette has remained true to its design heritage, yet its looks are still very modern and fresh in the eyes of consumers and enthusiasts alike.
Chevrolet has traveled back again to 1953 for inspiration and produced the stunning Super Sport Roadster concept truck that debuted earlier this year at the North American International Auto Show.
Based on the highly popular and radically styled Advanced Design pickup trucks of that era, the SSR wears the same full-width, barred grille and rounded headlights and fenders as its fifties predecessor.
Ed Welburn, Director of GM's Corporate Brand Character Center, told PickupTruck.com that the SSR concept shown in Detroit was actually selected from one of a total of four design proposals created by GM's Advanced Portfolio Exploration (APEX) Team.
The first proposed SSR concept was a 'what if' truck, as in, "What if GM had created a pickup truck for its Motorama car show back in the 1950's?" In the 1950's car shows were elaborate productions created to showcase exotic, futuristic dream cars, test consumer reaction to new design trends and sell the more pedestrian styled automobiles displayed nearby. The traveling GM Motorama (which ran from 1949 to 1961) was the most impressive. Cars shown at the Motorama included the turbine powered Firebird I, an aluminum and magnesium bodied Buick LeSabre and the concept version of the Corvette.
The second proposed version of the SSR was a stripped down work truck with design cues from the 1930's.
A contemporary pickup truck with a 1950's look was the third SSR proposal. This truck would have had the same functionality and portfolio position as today's Silverado.
The fourth version, that became the SSR all of us are now familiar with, was inspired by taking a 1953 pickup and slamming it. It also borrowed the retractable top concept from the Motorama truck to create the sleek roadster we see today. Most of all, this version of the SSR, "...captured Chevrolet's rich heritage in a new kind of crossover vehicle with an open air, sports car feel and unparalleled storage and flexibility."
Welburn also mentioned that at least one of the three other concept proposals is still being toyed with for a possible future concept or production truck.
PickupTruck.com was invited out to GM's Milford Proving Grounds, located just outside Detroit, to take a drive in the SSR and the GMC Terradyne. (Editor's note: the Terradyne drive will be covered in a later article)
GM took us out to a huge tarmac at Milford which led to a short course for us to drive the vehicles on. Fresh off the Auto Show circuit the SSR sat before us alongside the rest of GM's Y2K concept cars and trucks.
Even though it had been raining the night before and most of the morning we caught a lucky break in the poor weather. The SSR had its hardtop down and the tonneau cover in place for the drive.
The SSR is respectable in size, seemingly about the same as the Corvette. It is absolutely dwarfed by the Terradyne. It is also surprisingly functional in contrast to many concept vehicles which are no more than foam or clay mockups.
We hopped into the SSR's spartan interior, which perfectly matched its sporting nature and heritage. The design is Chevrolet's trademark twin cockpit, also echoed in the Corvette. The only gauges and controls you readily notice are the speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and PRNDL. The stereo is concealed under a flip-up panel in the center of the dash.
The leather seats in the cockpit are very comfortable, but in the SSR concept they were not adjustable so it was a little awkward to drive. Nevertheless, the driving position is very good in the SSR.
Keeping Chevrolet's tradition as a family car, the SSR is able to seat three people rather comfortably. Ideal for mom, dad and a child to take a drive to the local burger joint.
To allow additional room for a middle passenger the SSR uses automatic transmission controls set on the steering wheel. Two buttons control shifting. The button on the right shifts the SSR from park to reverse to neutral to drive and the button on the left reverses the process. A cool fluorescent light behind the PRNDL informs you what gear you are in.
The sonorous thrumming of the SSR's 6.0L stock V8 engine begins as soon as you start the truck. You can feel as much as hear the 300 horsepower Vortec 6000 based engine beneath your feet.
A quick note before we tell you about the drive. Before heading out to the driving course we were admonished in the nicest way possible not to let it all hang out on the track. It would not be good either for us or our GM hosts to so much as mar the finish on the $4M+ SSR or any of the other concept vehicles.
Finally we put our foot down on the aluminum drilled gas pedal and pulled away from the rest of the concept vehicles. Understatement of the year begins here: There is lots of power in the SSR just waiting for the downward pressure of your right foot.
We took the SSR out for two laps of the designated three-part course. The first part of the course consisted of some gentle turns through coned-off curves leading into a long stretch of two lane asphalt and then back into a series of coned-off S-curves before coming back to the starting area.
On the first lap it was pretty conservative because it took a few minutes to get used to the SSR's driving characteristics. The hand made SSR is still not as refined in the handling department as most production vehicles available today but it does drive quite well for a concept car.
On the second lap we drove the SSR with more confidence through the cones, further exploring its low speed handling characteristics. Moving into the second part we powered the SSR up to around 45mph on the two lane portion of the track and backed off on the speed as we headed into the S-curve area. It was quite clear we had not yet begun to really test the limits of the aggressive engine but as far as handling was concerned, the SSR concept was moderately far into its dynamic limits of stability. Visions of a $.99 orange cones accidentally damaging the SSR's deep violet finish also bounced through our head but luckily not against the truck.
The ride over, our experience with the SSR can best be summed up that this is the truck Chevrolet has to build. The SSR's head turning looks, powerful engine, sports car-like performance and pickup truck functionality beg to be brought to production.
Though not officially confirmed, whispers abound through GM that the SSR is slated for production to take its place as a halo vehicle, like the Corvette, for Chevrolet's truck lineup. And if that's not enough of a hint, Welburn also made note that GM has performed some preliminary aerodynamic and crash testing of the SSR on the computer where it was first designed.
We look forward to seeing the SSR on the road in 2004.
Chevrolet SSR Specifications