Modern hot rod meets 1953 Chevy pickup By Andrew Bornhop September 2003 The Chevy SSR looked stunning in its Ultra Violet purple paint with ghosted white flames as it paced this year's Indy 500. Weeks earlier and not so visibly, the folks at Indy struggled with what to call the SSR. It wasn't exactly "the official pace car." Nor was it "the official pace truck." So they simply sidestepped the issue and dubbed the SSR "the official pace vehicle." That difficulty in classifying the SSR is understandable, given its unique characteristics. On one hand, it's a retro-looking pickup with a small covered bed and a 2500-lb. towing capacity; on the other, it's a 2-seat roadster with a folding hardtop and rod-inspired billet-style trim. Both descriptions are correct, and Chevy doesn't care which you prefer. It works with me, largely because it proves the gigantic company with a sometimes stodgy image can bring a cool concept car to production very quickly. After the SSR concept starred at the Detroit show in January 2000, GM boss Rick Wagoner gave the go-ahead for production that August. And now, less than 3 years later, SSRs are rolling out of the Lansing factory at a rate of 14,000 to 15,000 per year. Impressive. And even at those small volumes, Chevrolet says the SSR will be profitable, perhaps because it's priced at $41,000. Also, 32 percent of its parts are carried over from other Chevrolets, helping keep costs down. The hydroformed frame, for instance, is a shortened version of the TrailBlazer EXT's. And the engine is Chevrolet's 5.3-liter V-8, an aluminum-block version that sends 300 bhp at 5200 rpm and 331 lb.-ft. of torque to the rear wheels via a 4-speed automatic transmission and a Torsen differential. The alloy rear wheels are massive 20 x 10s carrying huge P295/40R-20 Goodyears. The fronts are only a bit smaller, 19 x 8s wearing P255/45R-19s. A roadster with cargo room galore. As you'd expect, the front and rear suspensions of the SSR are taken from the TrailBlazer, with a double-A-arm arrangement in front and a 5-link live axle in back. The bushings, spring rates and shock valving are all unique to the SSR, which rides lower than the TrailBlazer and benefits from 52/48 weight balance, electronic traction control and large vented brake rotors at each wheel. It's not much of a stretch to envision the SSR as a modern interpretation of what the 1947-1953 Chevy pickups might have become. Separating the SSR from those old friendly pickups, however, is its retractable hardtop, whose roof panels move independently and stack vertically in a well just aft of the cab. Further differentiating the SSR is its covered bed. It's actually more of a locker than a bed, a lined and watertight storage compartment that's carpeted and fitted with decorative strips on the floor. On the road the SSR benefits from firm suspension tuning, accurate but heavy steering and a solidly mounted steering column. The SSR is much too agile to feel like a pickup truck, yet the ride height is much too high to be fooled into thinking you're driving a car. What's more, the V-8 has a pleasant burble that's especially audible when the top is down. Neither wind noise nor buffeting is a problem with the top down. My major gripe with the SSR is that it's not that quick. Chevy's 0-60 claim of 7.6 seconds is credible, but the SSR just doesn't peg the acceleration thrill factor. Perhaps it's because of the 3.73:1 final drive, or, more likely, its 4760 lb. curb weight. Evidently, that's the price to pay for having the rigidity needed to make the folding top line up properly each time. Where the SSR shines is in top-down cruising and looking cool. It's a weekend car, er, vehicle, with a hot-rod feel augmented by numerous gauges, including a strange one measuring fuel economy in gallons per hour used. More suited for a boat or an airplane, I mused, but then it dawned on me — it might be occupying a spot for an upcoming supercharger boost gauge. Wishful thinking, I admit, but shouldn't the SSR have the performance to back up its racy good looks?