The Chevy SSR, part classic hot rod, part sports car, part truck, all attitude.
Oddity or collector car? You decide.
In our article “Totes Utes: the Subaru Baja, El Camino, and Car-Trucks”, I likened Chevy’s SSR to a camel, an animal designed by committee where no idea had been vetoed. I meant this in a good way. If more is more, which it is, then cars combining too many ideas to appear coherent are de facto awesome. Or so it goes with the SSR.
The SSR was a retro-inspired muscle car-truck combo. Likening it to the El Camino or Subaru Baja, both excellent car-trucks, doesn’t come close to accurately describing the SSR. If those cars are bold, the SSR is BOLDED in caps lock.
Evoking the “Advanced Design” Chevy trucks of the late 1940s and early 50s, the SSR was one in a series of retro inspired designs of the late 90’s and early aughts. The Plymouth Prowler, Ford Thunderbird, and Chrysler’s PT Cruiser all drew from classic car designs. And like the SSR, the public felt these cars looked really cool … in someone else’s driveway.
Reviews and buzz had been overwhelmingly positive coming out of the 2000 Detroit Auto Show. The sight of a retro styled muscle car-truck hybrid had people excited. The flared fenders, oval door handles, Hurst-style shifter provided heaps of attitude. Its planned rear-wheel drive, rack and pinion steering, and independent front and multi-link rear suspensions all hinted that a serious roadster was on its way.
But the myth of perfectly marrying form and function came crashing down rather quickly once the SSR started rolling off the assembly line and into showrooms in 2003. Oddly, Chevy opted for a rather pedestrian 5.3-liter V8 putting out some 300hp. Which doesn’t sound too bad for the time until you hear that the SSR weighed in at over 4700lbs. Acceleration wasn’t terrible, but neither was it exciting.
In 2005, Chevy came to their senses and lent the SSR the Corvette’s 6.0-liter (also seen in the Pontiac GTO of the time). This V8 granted another 90hp, upping the SSR’s grand total to 390 and 405 pound-feet of torque. The new engine also brought with it a new optional Tremec 6-speed manual. While it was nice to finally have some real power under the hood to match the muscle car look, the new engine wasn’t enough to save the SSR.
Horsepower aside, the biggest hurtle to survival for SSR was its price. By starting out at $42,000 (roughly $50,000 today), Chevy had priced the SSR into novelty territory. And without the justification of either practical application as a truck or agility and speed comparable with the average sports car, all the SSR had going for it was the head turning design.
This one redeeming quality wasn’t enough to sustain the SSR in its first life. But the attention-grabbing design has buoyed the SSR’s secondary market value. SSRs in good condition still command between $20,000 and $25,000. We can only speculate, but the oddity and short production run of the SSR may end up making it a desirable collector’s car in the years to come.
Maybe $20,000 sounds like a lot for a 15-year old car with a four-foot truck bed and a towing capacity of just 2,500 lbs. (this despite being built on the same platform as the Chevy Trailblazer which towed well over twice that). And yet, you can’t overlook some of the actually innovative details on the SSR.
Take the retractable hard-top designed by Karmann manufacturing. It’s a marvel of engineering with seams so subtle you have a hard time telling if the SSR is a convertible at all once the top is up.
Or take that tonneau cover. It matches the body paneling, opens with the key fob, and is entirely removable if you’ve oversold the SSR’s hauling credentials and promised to help a friend move (aw, that’s sweet of you). Maybe you liked the open bed of the El Camino and wonder what the SSR is trying to hide. Well … carpet actually. Yep, the SSR’s “truck bed” has carpeting and wood slats. Hence the tonneau cover.
And finally, consider the overall aesthetic Chevy was going for with the SSR. If execution of intent means anything (up for debate), then the SSR’s styling represents a resounding success. It’s like nothing else on the road, for good or ill.