Future Curbside Classic: Chevrolet SSR – Dodge Did It, We Can Do It Better

5889705406_70de0c6a66_zEvery so often, a manufacturer gets it into their head that what the market really wants, nay, needs is a convertible pickup truck. And every so often the market proves them wrong. The Chevy SSR is an interesting example because, as a good friend of mine once described it, it failed as a pickup, it failed as a convertible and was pretty terrible all-around.

It shouldn’t surprise me that the SSR started out in life as a concept car. The 2000 SSR concept did what every good concept should, get the press community excited and the people on the floors drooling so you can bring more of them to your stand and notice how good your products are. A small pickup (very loosely) inspired on the amazing “Advanced Design” pickups of yore and that’s powered by a big thumpin’ V8? Not only that, but it’s a convertible, and unlike that other attempt at making a pickup truck convertible, this one would have a hardtop so the idea actually, you know, worked. And work it did, receiving praise from journalists and fans alike. To the point where General Motors decided that it should be put on production as soon as possible.

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I have many questions regarding this decision but one of them stands out the most: How in all that’s good and holy did GM actually greenlight the SSR? This is the same GM that had been focus-grouping and second-guessing itself to irrelevance for more than a decade now. To go ahead and produce such a bold vehicle seems unthinkable. I’m guessing Rick Wagoner really, really must’ve loved that idea. For whatever reason, the SSR proceeded through the development process until finally, in 2003, the SSR was released to…nothing.

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The people behind the SSR must’ve dropped a brick when the sales figures started rolling in. They had done it, they’d done exactly the same vehicle they had done in the concept, sure, the headlights were a bit bigger and some of the detailing was different but it was the same car. Why weren’t all those people that clamored for it buying it?! “We did everything you asked!!”

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Indeed you did, GM. Unfortunately, the SSR worked as a concept, the same place where 46” rims and interiors from the world of Tron exist. When you actually bring it to the world of student loans and Fox News it loses much of its shine. When people are actually forced to put their money where their mouths are they won’t just want the looks, they’ll want practicality, reliability, a sense that they got what they paid for. Buying a car is subjective yes, but people still want to have some meat in their plate of sauce. And on that regard it failed.

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Let’s start at the beginning when it comes to a pickup truck, practicality. Now it doesn’t make much sense to brand something as a pickup if you can’t pick up things with it. The SSR was bestowed with a 4.05’ bed, an amount that pickup experts refer to as “not enough”, not that it mattered, the hard tonneau cover made sure that your limiting factor was volume and not weight. You got 23.7 cubic feet, or about the same as you get in a current Kia Soul.

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As for the convertible bit, there’s no hiding from the fact that it doesn’t matter how cool you thing look in an SSR, you’re still driving a pickup truck. A very useless pickup truck yes but a pickup truck nonetheless. And in any case, if you were in the market for a convertible the SSR was not very high on your list. The interior didn’t do it any favors either. Cheap GM plastic syndrome was still going strong no matter how much they wanted to hide it with aluminum bits and a retro-tuner style steering wheel. Engine-wise you had the 5.3-liter V8 used in the Chevrolet Trailblazer and many of its badge-engineered brothers mated to the ‘ol faithful 4L60-E. A six-speed manual was also available for those that wanted to row their own.

No good deed goes unpunished, they say. GM only managed to move 9648 Chevrolet SSR’s on the best year of sales (2004) and even though the plant making the SSR was closed in 2006 there was so many unsold SSR’s gathering dust on dealer lots that they sold some more in 2007 (244) and 2008 (13). The public that had hailed it to production had spoken, and if they wanted a small GM pickup truck, they would buy a Colorado or a Canyon.

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And traditionally this would be the point where I’d drive a(nother) stake through old GM’s heart, claiming it was hubris and nonsense and that they were idiots for building it. Unfortunately, I’m afraid this time the blame wasn’t on them, but on everyone that got far too excited about the 2000 SSR concept. GM may have committed many faults, but this one resides mostly on us.