If the El Camino was a car that thought it was a truck, the Chevy SSR was a truck that thought it was a convertible. And it was. More or less.
First introduced at the Detroit auto show in 2000, the Chevy SSR, or Super Sport Roadster, received rave reviews and enough positive attention to convince Chevrolet that this was one concept worth constructing.
So construct it they did.
Created entirely on a computer, the Chevy SSR was built in 2003, but had a short production life of only a few years before officially being discontinued in 2006.
Although rare, you can still find a Chevy SSR if you can find the right Chevy dealer.
The Model Mashup
Some refer to the two-passenger Chevy SSR as a hotrod, which is a complete misnomer.
A hot rod is a production vehicle that has been significantly modified off the assembly line by some creative garage artist.
And while some Chevy SSRs were rather creatively modified – one owner customized his apparently in honor of “Shark Week” – the SSR itself was a manufactured model in its own right.
But, it had that hot rod look about it.
That look that begs of the viewer, “What am I?” Or, “What was I?” What indeed.
Well, the SSR combined the stylings and body of a 1950s-era classic American pickup truck, particularly evocative of those pickups made by Chevy between 1947-1953, with a classic convertible.
Complete with a two piece power-retractable convertible hardtop, which retracted seamlessly into the narrow space between the cabin and cab.
To put it bluntly, the Chevy SSR was a topless truck.
The truck bed offered 24 cubic feet of cargo space and 2,500 pounds towing capacity.
Although it had that sports car look, the SSR was built on the frame of a mini-SUV, the Chevy Trailblazer EXT.
So, we’ve got a convertible, a pickup truck, and a mini-SUV, all conspiring in the creation of something completely new, with nothing else like it seen since.
Powered by a rear-wheel drive sports car powertrain, the initial SSR models, manufactured between 2003-2005, were outfitted with a 5.3-liter 300 horsepower V8 engine, and operated by a four-speed automatic transmission.
In 2005, the SSR was given a power upgrade in the form of a V6 engine, the same engine found in the C6 Corvette and Pontiac GTO, backed by 390 horsepower with an available six-speed manual Tremec transmission.
Despite its considerable heft, weighing in at 4,764 pounds, the Chevy SSR could zip from zero to sixty miles per hour in seven seconds, and make the quarter-mile in 15.4 seconds.
Even with that bulky speed, the SSR was able to drop from seventy miles per hour to zero in a rather competitive 185 feet.
Fast and fierce looking, or at least funky, the SSR turned heads, whether stopped at a light or speeding by on a backroad.
A backroad, you know, because that’s where pickup trucks like to hang out.
And this was, after all, a pickup truck…depending on your vantage point.
Perspective is everything.
The single-generation Chevy SSR was produced in only one trim level.
Standard features included a leather interior, power accessories, keyless entry, and cruise control. And, of course, we can’t forget the power-operated retractable convertible hardtop, which was operated via a push-button on the center console.
Options included an upgraded audio system – hey, if you’re already going to make an entrance, you might as well boost it with some serious beats.
Heated seats and automatic-dimming mirrors were also available.
Standing on 19-inch front wheels and 20-inch rear wheels, cosmetically, there was plenty of customization potential.
We’ve got the aforementioned shark-styled SSR, but the possibilities of personalizing your SSR were also presented by color-keyed bed strips, chrome interior and exterior trim, matching chrome wheels, and two-tone paint choices.
As for the exterior paint choices, even the names sound ready for action: Aqua Blur Metallic, Pacific Blue Metallic, Redline Red, Richochet Silver Metallic, Ultra Violet Blue Metallic, Slingshot Yellow, Smokin’ Asphalt, and Smoking Asphalt Black.
All of these exterior colors came complemented by the standard leather interior in Ebony.
So, even though it was a one and done trim level, the Chevy SSR offered some fun personalization.
But safety came standard.
Even though this convertible truck was speedy, it was well equipped with safety features, including the front and side torso airbags, traction control, and antilock brakes.
We’ve got speed, style, and safety in one uniquely designed package.
So, what’s the problem?
Why did Chevy stop making the SSR in 2006?
The Numbers Don’t Lie
Chevy only sold 25,000 SSRs over the course of its lifetime.
Not exactly what they had projected, especially after such an enthusiastic reception at the 2000 Detroit auto show.
And it was priced a little high for a car that wasn’t quite a car, but not exactly a truck either.
For this neither-fish-nor-fowl vehicle, consumers were asked to shell out a base of $41,995, and this proved way too high.
Too many bucks for not enough bang.
Fifteen Minutes of Fame
Despite the Chevy SSR’s short production run, it had its moment in the limelight.
According to IMCDb, the Internet Movie Car Database, not to be confused with IMDB, the Chevy SSR made an appearance in 23 films of various length and genre.
Perhaps the most recognizable, at least among those traditional pickup-driving country music fans, scene was during the music video accompanying the song, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy,” by the singing duo Big & Rich.
Even funnier was the marketing team that came up with the commercial for the Chevy SSR, which featured a series of boys and one girl, all with bars of soap stuck in their mouths.
Their mothers were attempting to wash their mouths clean of the filthy language they used in response to seeing the Chevy SSR for the first time.
But the coolest SSR on-screen moment came in the form of a 2003 Chevy roundup of sorts, a commercial showcasing the year’s ten new Chevrolets, directed by Michael Bay of big-budget action film acclaim, like Transformers.
Airing on New Year’s Eve, this sixty-second spot introduced the SSR to the world.
A new car…uh…truck…or convertible…for the new year.
In the commercial, a Corvette leads the way, in hot pursuit of a car transporter, followed by an Aveo, and a pickup truck, all in blazing fire engine red, each one taking its place on one of the transporter’s two decks.
Joined by other Chevy models, it is the SSR that finally brings up the rear by zooming down the highway and making a quick reverse before backing into its place, the last one available, on the car transporter.
Unlike the other cars, the SSR was the only one showcased in yellow, “Slingshot Yellow,” and that quick maneuver calls to mind the snapping action of a slingshot as if the SSR was rocketed into the Chevy lineup by an unseen force.
All of this movement is choreographed to some rather menacing-sounding, techno-driven music, which then morphs into a more recognizable version of Steppenwolf’s retro, 1968 hit, “Magic Carpet Ride.”
This, Chevy declares, is an American Revolution, a nod to Chevrolet’s heritage as a top American car manufacturer, and a signal that innovation is on its way.
Sadly, the creative, albeit somewhat Frankenstein-like innovation of the SSR is only available now in the form of a used or pre-owned car, at your local Chevy dealer.
But taking the time to track one down might just might be worth it.
Some automotive enthusiasts believe that the SSR’s short life and small production size will eventually help to establish it somewhere in the ranks of classic cars.
Only time will tell.