New pickup brings factory hot-rodding roaring back to life

Story and main photo by Bruce W. Smith

No doubt there’s been one spotted driving along Highway 90 or parked at one of the many venues reserved for the classics during this week’s Cruisin’ The Coast. But spying one of Chevrolet’s new SSRs is a rarity; first-run production numbers for 2003 are said to be just over 900. Next year that number will climb closer to 12,000. That makes the two-seat roadster rare, indeed. 

So getting the opportunity recently to sit behind the wheel of a 2004 model for an hour was a thrill for this die-hard pickup lover. And, it didn’t disappoint.

The SSR’s unique late-‘40s, early-‘50s retro-style body is masterfully done. The flared fenders seem to flow effortlessly into the sculpted hood and stepside-style bed. Adding to the styling is the distinctive 19-inch front wheels, and 20-inch rear wheels that give it a low, wide stance of a true a custom street rod.

But the appeal of the SSR goes much deeper. As the cruisers say, “This lil’ pickup has plenty of go with the show.”

"No other manufacturer has a vehicle like SSR," said Brent Dewar, Chevrolet general manager. "And no one has this much fun and function in one package. We’ve combined the heritage of the 1947-1953 advanced design pickup with the latest in product and manufacturing technology to enhance the Chevrolet brand.”

The frame and chassis of the rear-wheel-drive SSR are similar in design to Chevy's mid-size TrailBlazer family of sport utilities. All exterior panels are of stamped steel. Power comes from a new 300-horsepower, cast-aluminum 5.3L small-block V-8. It’s backed by four-speed automatic transmission that delivers crisp, velvet-smooth shifts.

Overall driving impression us that of a C-5 Corvette with a bed and more attitude. Want to impress anyone in earshot, turn off traction control and hammer the throttle. The small-block Chevy is more than capable of melting the pavement—even with the Torsen locking differential.

The bed is very functional and totally cool looking with the hardwood rub strips and carpet. The interior of the2003 Chevrolet SSR Signature Series SSR is just what you’d expect from its looks: Seating is tight and space in the cab is limited to the essentials. Like a great sports car, you kinda wear the SSR.

That’s not to say you aren’t comfortable. The seats and placement of the controls is very well-done for either short or long drives. You immediately feel at ease behind the wheel. The ride is firm, but not harsh, and the steering is precise and weighted so you have a good feel of the road.

Need space? Push the control to drop the retractable hardtop and within 30 seconds you have the sea breeze blowing your hair. Also called a “top stack,” the retractable hardtop on the SSR is the first ever applied on a pickup-styled vehicle. It is the only system of its kind where the roof panels move independently to “stack” vertically behind the passenger compartment – a design that ensures quick operation and minimal stowage requirements.

All in all, the SSR is a true hot-rod roadster that is ideal for the person who wants to drive a classic while being covered by a full factory warranty.—Bruce W. Smith

Basic Specifications

Chevy SSR

Base Price: $41,370

Wheelbase (in / mm):    116 / 2946

Overall length (in / mm):  191.4 / 4862

Overall width (in / mm):   78.6 / 1996

Overall height (in / mm):  64.2 / 1631

Curb weight (lb / kg):    base: 4760 / 2159

Weight distribution (% front / rear): 52 / 48

Seating capacity:  2

Trailer towing maximum (lb / kg):2500 / 1134

Fuel tank (gal / L):25 / 94.6


0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) (seconds):7.6

¼-mile (seconds):15.9 @ 90 mph

*Factory numbers

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