The 2003-2006 Chevrolet SSR was a retro-styled convertible pickup truck, though the vehicles with which it shared its basic architecture were none of the above. It would not surprise me if the SSR was the product of a truth-or-dare game gone horribly wrong, and a group a General Motors engineers found themselves at the losing end of a sinister “dare.”
For cost-savings and logistical reasons that are all too familiar to auto-manufacturer product planners and production-utilization specialists, the SSR shared its GMT360 chassis and underpinnings with such SUVs as the Buick Rainier, Chevrolet Trailblazer, GMC Envoy, Isuzu Ascender, Oldsmobile Bravada, and the short-lived Saab 9-7X. The GMT360 platform was appropriate for a sport-utility vehicle, but it was hardly the first place most designers would turn when looking to build a low-production boutique convertible that was intended to have a sporty flair.
Whatever the SSR was, what it wasn’t was a sales success. Despite an extensive PR/marketing campaign that included pace-vehicle duties at the 2003 Indianapolis 500 and other big-leagure auto races, red-carpet celebrity photo ops, and even cross-country road tours of 25 “Signature Series” special-edition SSRs, the vehicle never found much of a foothold in the marketplace.
One reason for the SSR’s poor sales record was its somewhat dull performance—at least initially. Much like the Pontiac Fiero, which didn’t receive a V6 engine or a serious performance suspension until its was near the end of its lifespan, the SSR didn’t get interesting performance-wise until its last two model years.
For 2003 and 2004, the SSR came only with GM’s familiar Vortec 5300 5.3-liter V8 mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. Though they were reasonably peppy, SSRs equipped with this powertrain were generally timed doing 0-60 mph runs in the mid-7-second range—hardly the stuff of legend.
Things got much more interesting for 2005, when the 300-hp 5.3-liter engine was replaced with a 390-hp 6.0-liter mill that was available with the 4-speed automatic transmission or a hot-rod-appropriate 6-speed manual. The 2005 SSRs were capable of running from 0-60 mph in under six seconds, a serious improvement over the 2003-2004 trucks.
For 2006, the 6.0-liter engine was slightly tweaked, picking up 5 horsepower when mated to the automatic, and 10 when paired with the 6-speed. Alas, by then it was too late.
All told, around 24,000 SSRs were sold over the truck’s four-year run, about 14,000 of which were 2003 and 2004 models. Especially rare are the 6-speed-manual examples—just 1637 were built for 2005, and only 576 were produced for 2006.
I once called the SSR the ultimate parade-float tow vehicle, and I am sticking to that position. Having driven an SSR, I can report that the handling was uninspired, the cabin rather conventionally finished, and the general experience surprisingly joyless.
However, for cruising around at low speeds with the top down, this strange and generally unloved GM footnote might make some sense—provided you can find one.
Consumer Guide’s original 2006 review of the SSR appears below:
Chevrolet’s street-rod-flavored two-seat convertible gets slightly more horsepower for 2006. SSR has a retro-styled body over a frame based on that of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer SUV. It seats two and has a power-retractable metal top. A 6.0-liter V8 is the sole engine. It makes 395 hp with the standard 4-speed automatic transmission, 400 with the optional 6-speed manual. The ’05 made 390 hp with either transmission. ABS, traction control, 19-inch front wheels, and 20-inch rears are standard. Also included is a rigid tonneau covering a cargo bed of about 5×3 ft. Torso side airbags are standard; curtain side airbags are unavailable.
A real muscle truck. Chevrolet pegs 0-60 mph at 5.3 sec with the manual transmission, 5.5 with automatic. Automatic-transmission models smooth from a stop, upshift sharply under aggressive throttle. Manual transmission has precise, hefty feel and provides quicker launches. Towing capacity is 2500 lb.
Test SSR with manual transmission averaged 15.0 mpg in mixed city/highway driving. Chevrolet recommends premium-grade fuel.
Soaks up minor pavement flaws with little harshness. Larger bumps, ridges register abruptly, making ride choppy. Body quivers over surface imperfections with top down; slightly less with top up.
Steering is firm, but somewhat numb. Wide tires provide good grip in turns, and body lean is well-checked. But bumpy surfaces, especially corners, upset stability.
Throaty, prominent V8 exhaust note fits SSR’s street-cruiser image. Test vehicles have suffered squeaks and rattles, mostly from the top when it’s up, plus wind noise from rear pillars.
Retro-style dashboard has clear gauges, keeps controls to useful minimum, but radio requires a stretch. Leather upholstery impresses, but mix of faux-metal plastic, many unpadded surfaces imparts low-budget feel. Optional accessory gauges provide additional information but are buried at leading edge of console, difficult to see from driver seat.
Long doors complicate entry/exit in tight parking spaces. Limited hip and shoulder room due to narrow cabin. Short windows give closed-in top-up feel. Tall drivers get adequate seat travel, good top-up head clearance. Seat controls on outboard sides of cushions nearly impossible to access with doors closed, though driver-seat memory system available. Visibility hindered to front by thick roof pillars; to rear by roof, large headrests, and high tail.
Cabin storage limited to skimpy glovebox; small, difficult-to-open center-console bin. Cargo bed has 22.5 cu ft under rigid tonneau that lifts from rear, though angle of opening limits access, load-carrying ability. Tonneau is removable, though, and SSR has standard-type tailgate.
SSR is far from refined and has indifferent handling, though its covered bed offers a measure of utility not found in other 2-seat convertibles. It’s really all about style, and SSR’s brawny V8 gives it the horsepower to match its street-rod image.