Learn The Chevrolet SSR's Strange Story

Jan 30, 2022 4 min read
Learn The Chevrolet SSR's Strange Story

We may never see a vehicle like this ever again.

At the turn of the century the hot trend in the Motor City was to make a retro-styled vehicle to play off the nostalgia Baby Boomers craved in a big way. Chrysler did this with the Plymouth Prowler and so did Ford with the restyled final-generation Thunderbird. General Motors needed to jump on the bandwagon, but it did so in a way nobody could anticipate. When the Chevrolet SSR (Super Sport Roadster) was unveiled at the 2000 Detroit Auto Show it was treated by most auto journalists and the public as just a design study, something crazy that would never be sold but might influence future car designs. They were all wrong.

image credit: General Motors

There were some automotive journalists who at the time told Chevy to build the SSR since buyers would supposedly flock to it. After all, the truck screamed for attention and had a 6.0-liter V8 from the Silverado, so it would obviously be a true hot rod pickup. They were also wrong.

By 2003 a Chevy HHR was pacing the Indy 500 and Americans were left trying to figure out what exactly the vehicle was. The front end styling was obviously inspired by the Chevrolet Advance Design pickups of the late 1940s and 1950s, so that combined with the bed in the rear hinted at a utilitarian nature. However, the SSR sits low to the ground, the bed is shallow as well as covered by a hard tonneau, plus the retractable hardtop storage area takes away from the payload space.

image credit: General Motors

To make things more confusing, the muscular fenders and name hinted at it being a performance vehicle. This led to many consumers thinking the Chevrolet SSR was a factory hot rod, but performance out of the box left much to be desired. It wasn’t nearly as quick as the muscular, low-to-the-ground designed suggested. Many felt the design was false advertising and were turned off by the reality of the Chevy SSR, even though their interest was initially piqued.

Under the skin the Chevy SSR was just a Trailblazer EXT. It came with the same 5.3-liter V8 with 300-horsepower on tap, plus an uninspiring 4-speed automatic transmission. That kind of powertrain certainly didn’t square with the hot rod styling of the vehicle, so enthusiasts were understandably disappointed.

image credit: General Motors

With some pointed feedback from shoppers, Chevrolet used an LS2 starting with the 2005 model year. It was the same 6.0-liter V8 found in the Pontiac GTO and C6 Corvette of the time with a nice 90-hp bump versus the previous engine. Buyers could opt for a Tremec 6-speed manual, which fit the sporting image of the SSR far better. This was definitely an improvement, and some declared the vehicle to be more entertaining to own than a ‘Vette, but it wasn’t enough to rescue the SSR’s damaged image.

image credit: General Motors

One of the many fatal flaws of the Chevy SSR was what killed Japanese sports cars in the late 90s: pricing. At about $40,000 MSRP many found the cost of the confusing hot rod truck hard to justify. Sales suffered.

GM shelved the hot rod truck in 2006 and most people didn’t even notice. Ultimately, the Chevrolet SSR only racked up about 24,000 sales throughout its run, making it a market disappointment.

That’s not the end of the tale. There are plenty of collector cars which were failures during their production run, like the Plymouth Superbird and Dodge Charger Daytona. In fact, small production figures even if they’re due to a lack of market interest can later fuel collectability. We say “can” because it doesn’t always go that way.

image credit: General Motors

With the SSR on the collector market things have been a mixed bag. At any given moment you can find a clean, low-mileage example from someone who likely snatched up the hot rod truck up when it was new, thinking they would cash out once values soared. However, most sellers are lucky to get back what they paid originally, with few exceptional examples selling for a little more. Values have been fluctuating up and down in the past couple of years, but not by much, showing tepid interest from collectors and enthusiasts.

You never know what the future holds for the Chevy SSR. That’s the thing with collecting cars is a sudden shift in the market fueled by any number of factors could turn a vehicle that was once practically tossed aside a hot commodity – we’ve seen that happen plenty of times. However, the fact this odd vehicle was geared at Baby Boomers doesn’t bode well for its future. There’s always the chance that Gen Z buyers will fuel a rise in values, if they’ve fantasized about owning one, but we haven’t seen any indications of that yet.

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