- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2003

The Chevrolet “Bowtie” folks have for decades specially labeled cars and trucks that possess an added level of spirit.

The SSR or Super Sport Roadster falls into this category, epitomizing the “crossover” ideology while capturing the rich heritage of Chevrolet in a new kind of vehicle that provides not only an open-air sports car feel, but an unparalleled level of storage and flexibility — it’s a little bit car and a little bit truck. Technically, it’s a roadster pickup.

The top is a retractable steel unit that folds and stacks vertically behind the seating area beneath a hard tonneau cover. Operation is at the touch of a button and takes place in about 20 seconds either way. The bed features a hard tonneau as well, hinged at the front.

The architecture, contemporary in nature, is based on the platform of Chevrolet’s mid-size Trailblazer SUV, while immortalizing the classic essence of the 1948-1953 Chevrolet truck. The cab fenders and bed are so artfully integrated that they appear as a singular unit with highly sculpted surfaces. The nose incorporates both a current style, full-width grille bar and the familiar Chevrolet badging of old.

The exterior color and sculpted theme wrap into the interior, completing a harmonious blend of the two elements. The real surprise is that despite the complicated contours and shapes that make up the SSR, all major body panels are executed in metal. Many observers perceived it to be a chopped-and-channeled, full-custom, early Chevrolet pickup.

The SSR’s power is delivered to the rear wheels via an overhead-valve Vortec 5.3-liter V-8 engine, connected to a four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. The engine develops 300 horsepower and 331 foot-pounds of torque. Seating consists of two very comfortable and supportive sport buckets and the automatic gear selector is located in the center console. For now, there is no clutchless manual shift mode gearbox available.

Early 2003 SSR production consisted of 25 special units as part of a Signature Series, each signed by development team members and suppliers, and each numbered on a unique badge that appears on the body-colored “waterfall” seat separator. All are destined to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, with proceeds going to various worthwhile charitable causes — except for Numero Uno which stays with GM as part of its historical collection.

Number Two was donated to the Society of Automotive Engineers, and has already sold on EBay for $137,850. The balance of the Signature Series will be sold as used, after refurbishing, with a specific “pedigree” and related memorabilia associated with its use as part of the package.

The test SSR was Number 22 in the Series and was finished in a chameleonlike Ultra-Violet metallic, sometimes appearing to be purple and at other times, blue. The interior was done up in black with silver stitching, and sporting trim with a brushed aluminum look. It is scheduled for auction late in the year — if you’re able to catch 22, consider yourself lucky. Signatories for No. 22 are Tom Wilkinson, director of Chevrolet communications and Dick Raymond, GM integration manager for general assembly.

The MSRP for normal production models will be $41,995 including the destination and handling fee, should you be able to actually find one at the window sticker price.

The SSR is a knockout to behold — it is way out custom cool with a retro flavor, but with modern technology and dependability. It is literally a turn-key showpiece. Drivability deserves similar praise, keeping in mind that the test SSR was a very early production model, and that final quality will be more refined.

The ride is comfortable and handling is fairly nimble considering the 4,760-pound weigh-in. The 0-60 mph time is 7.6 seconds.

Essentially, everything about the SSR makes it a joy to cruise your favorite haunts in.

Expect to have you picture taken by cell phone/camera users on the road.

Expect to be followed until you stop, and then expect a crowd to gather with a myriad of questions from “what is it?” to “how much is it?” and virtually every query in between. Expect to demonstrate the top a lot.

Surprisingly, many observers were savvy and knew exactly what it was, while others perceived it to be a totally custom creation.

The SSR is a worthy “halo” vehicle for the Chevrolet brand and will no doubt be next in demand to the Corvette.

Don’t forget to register for the auction — if you don’t, your acquisition chances will improve with time. 2003 production will yield 3,500 (including the 25 Signature Series units), plans for 2004 call for 10,000 and 2005 calls for between 14,000 and 15,000.

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