It was the summer of 1999 when Wayne Cherry, General Motor’s vice president of design, presented a team of GM’s best and brightest designers with a challenge to explore and create a design for a pickup based on Chevrolet’s rich heritage in trucks and performance vehicles.
Ed Welburn, executive director of the Advanced Design Center, was tasked with leading the effort.
“We began with images of Chevy trucks from the 1930’s to the 1950’s and displayed them around the studio for influence,” said Welburn.
Over the next several weeks, as the teams got underway, four ideas began to emerge from this inspiration: a 1930’s highboy / farm truck; a late 1940’s / early 1950’s street machine; a late 1950’s Motorama-inspired truck and a retro-futuristic pickup with 1930’s design cues.
In the mid to late 1930’s Chevrolet’s Master Series pickups were considered as stylish as they were capable haulers. They featured prominent vertical grilles, sharp V-shaped hoods and gracefully arched front and rear fenders. It was the Master Series in 1939 that took the best selling truck in America title away from Ford and helped Chevrolet hold that position for another 30 years, so it’s not surprising to see how much inspiration the design team must have gotten from this truck. Their extremely attractive highboy rendering is pictured at the top of the story.
At the end of World War II, after several years of extremely limited production and no new designs, Chevrolet was the first manufacturer to produce an all new pickup with fresh styling. From 1947 to 1953 Chevy Advanced Design trucks were highly coveted and ground-breaking in both looks and capability. This is the truck that would inspire the design for the SSR.
In the 1950’s General Motors created one of the best ways ever devised to mass market their vehicles – the Motorama. This was before there was a television in every living room and during these optimistic times GM’s Motorama crisscrossed the country showing buyers all-new car and truck models plus a glimpse into the future with some of the first concept vehicles every created. And these concept vehicles were stunners. With jet power, bubble cockpits, two-way radios and more, the sky and the imagination were the only limits. But out of all the concepts there was never a pickup so one of the design teams asked ‘what if’ and from this a Motorama-inspired truck was designed.
“Its styling was very unique but not as strong as the SSR’s. What the Motorama truck did have was a mechanically retractable top that we thought would be perfect for the SSR so we incorporated that idea from the Motorama into it,” said Welburn.
The fourth truck was a futuristic design blended with subtle Chevy heritage cues. Known officially as the Nostalgia 2000 it quickly took on the new name "Funkstalgia" with team members as its design progressed. As you can see in the picture below its lines are eerily similar to those found on the Dodge M80 concept pickup that first appeared at the North American International Auto Show in 2002. If it had been given the green light for production, the Funkstalgia was intended to have a 6-foot bed and $22,000 price tag.
All of the designs were rendered as math models in computer workstations and from the four candidates two were picked by Welburn for presentation to Wayne Cherry and Tom Davis, then vice president of GM’s Truck Group. Those two pickups were the SSR and the Funkstalgia.
The math models of the trucks enabled them to be quickly converted into full size foam models by mid-August and when the covers came off for Cherry and Davis it was clear the SSR was the winner.
By the end of September the SSR was approved for the 2000 North American International Auto Show and the rest, as they say, is history.