Home » The Chevrolet SS Might Be The Most Underrated Sport Sedan In America: Holy Grails

The Chevrolet SS Might Be The Most Underrated Sport Sedan In America: Holy Grails

2016 Chevrolet Ss
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Here’s a sad reality faced by many car enthusiasts: You see a lovely car for sale overseas and wish its automaker would just bring them to the United States. Sure, they may not have mass appeal, but think about the fun! I feel you; there’s not a day that goes by that I do not dream of owning a Smart Roadster. Some of these enthusiasts had their wish granted at least for a few years with the Chevrolet SS. This sport sedan–which started life as a Holden–doesn’t just have four doors and a 6.2-liter V8 making 415 HP, but you can have it paired with a manual transmission. Already a rare car, just 2,645 customers decided to row their own gears before Holden, and thus the SS, went belly up.

Last time on Holy Grails, reader tacotruckdave took us on an adventure with the Isuzu VehiCROSS. Perhaps known best to Americans for its cabover commercial trucks, Isuzu went through a period where it built outlandish vehicles. The marque even experimented with a V12 engine, putting in a bid to supply power to the McLaren F1 supercar. One often-forgotten vehicle from Isuzu’s period of dreaming is the VehiCROSS. Launched with few changes from its concept, the VehiCROSS looked weird but had some forward thinking. This was a late 1990s SUV with all-wheel-drive technology that you’d find in an SUV today. It’s the kind of vehicle that you’d think would never see production, but Isuzu did it, even if it was just a limited-production vehicle.

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Today’s entry follows a similar idea. This car is rare, though, unlike the VehiCROSS, it’s not because it was built in a manner that would naturally limit production numbers.

2016 Chevrolet Ss 012

Instead, just 12,924 examples of the Chevrolet SS exist and of those, only 2,645 were equipped with a manual transmission. The Chevy SS is sort of like a case study. The automotive press adored it and practically sang its praises from the rooftops. Those who bought them also seemingly couldn’t get enough. Yet, sales were a slow burn, only picking up some steam after General Motors, like a bartender, announced a last call before you wouldn’t be able to buy them anymore.

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This suggestion comes to us from reader JBeckman, who makes a good argument that the Chevy SS isn’t just a holy grail, but maybe even the most underrated sport sedan in America.

Bob Lutz Looks To Australia For Fun

2005 Pontiac Gto

This story first takes us back to the mid-2000s. As Hagerty writes, General Motors’ former Australian division, Holden, had long been the odd one out in GM’s brand lineup. With exceptions for vehicles like the Cadillac CTS, if you wanted a fast sedan from GM you had to be ok with front-wheel-drive. The Chevy Monte Carlo, once an iconic rear-wheel-drive coupe, became front-wheel-drive in the 1990s and stuck with it. The Buick Regal, once famous for the sinister Grand National, became a sedan that you might associate with your grandparents. Pontiac had the Grand Prix and the Bonneville while Chevy also had the Impala.

If you wanted to have a rear-wheel-drive sporty car that could also carry your family, you were largely limited to the Cadillac CTS. In 2001, Bob Lutz was recruited by General Motors as product vice chairman. Part of his mission involved breathing some new life into GM’s lineup. Lutz would eventually have his hands in everything from the Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky to the Chevy Cruze, the Cadillac CTS-V, and many more.

2007 Saturn Sky

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According to Hagerty, when Lutz was brought on in 2001, Holden was making waves with its Monaro. Unlike a lot of the fare from GM’s brands in America, Australia’s Holden was still smoking tires with rear-wheel-drive. This came after Lutz learned about the Commodore, from Hagerty:

“When I was still at Chrysler, and later at Exide,” he later related, “I kept reading U.S. car magazines. And every now and then one would have an article on the Holden Commodore. They would say something like, ‘Commodore is the GM car that can take on a BMW M5 … the best car General Motors has ever made.’”

Upon his arrival, Lutz got to work striking a deal with Holden to bring the Commodore-based Monaro over to America. When Lutz drove a Monaro, he felt that it was a car worthy of reviving the GTO name:

“I arranged to borrow a Commodore SS sedan, which had the same Corvette engine and gearbox as the Monaro, from GM’s U.S. engineering fleet, and we loved it. My wife got used to driving on the wrong side of the car, and I couldn’t pry her out of it.”

And when Lutz got a chance to drive a Monaro CV8 in early 2002, he was very impressed. “The more we looked at it,” he said, “the more we realized that, for the first time in 30 years, we actually had the basic structure to create a car worthy of the name GTO.”

Lutz eventually got the green light after he was able to convince GM’s North American Strategy Board that Monaros could be brought over for cheap. Unfortunately, the GTO wasn’t a strong seller. It was praised for its performance but some felt that it didn’t have the visuals to back up the name. Ultimately, just 40,808 examples were sold over three model years between 2004 and 2006.

Second Chances

2009 Pontiac G8 Gxp

This didn’t stop General Motors and the company went back to Australia again for another car. This time, GM would come back to America with the VE Commodore, badging it as the Pontiac G8. This time, Pontiac would right some wrongs with a more aggressive style. Out of the other end, Pontiac would have a sport sedan and after a year of production, you were able to grab it with a 6.2-liter 415 HP LS3 V8 making 415 HP and paired to a manual transmission. And that wasn’t all, as GM even planned to bring over the Holden Ute as the G8 ST.

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Perhaps it was a stroke of bad luck because the G8 released just in time for the Great Recession. The G8 sold for two model years between 2008 and 2009 before it was canceled. Pontiac itself wouldn’t survive the recession, either. Through that time, around 30,700 G8s found a home in America. Lutz, not wanting to give up on a good car, considered slapping Chevy badges on the Commodore and continuing sales.

Giving It One More Go

2014 Chevrolet Ss 026

It would take until the 2014 model year for GM to give it another go. In 2014, Chevy unveiled the SS as its first V8 rear-wheel-drive performance sedan since 1996. Chevy touted the SS as having racing DNA thanks to its NASCAR debut at the Daytona 500. From Chevy:

“The Chevrolet brand was largely built on the strength of rear-drive performance sedans, yet it’s been 17 years since we’ve offered one,” said Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America. “The all-new Chevrolet SS fills that void and fills it better than any other vehicle in the brand’s rich history. The comfort, convenience, spaciousness and V-8 power make the SS a total performance package unlike any other on the road today.”

Chevy wasn’t the only one excited about the SS. Motor Trend called the SS the spiritual successor to the Chevelle SS 454 and the first five-passenger car with more than 400 horses to be sold Chevy since that Chevelle. The SS had a big job, too, as it was supposed to be Chevy’s entry against the Dodge Charger.

The Grail

2015 Chevrolet Ss 035

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This time, there would be just one engine available. You got a 6.2-liter LS3 V8 making 415 HP and 415 lb-ft torque. At first, your only choice for transmission was a 6L80-E six-speed automatic, but in 2015, a six-speed Tremec TR-6060 manual became available. This is the one that reader JBeckman says to get:

The Chevy SS (2014-17) deserves to be a Holy Grail. Only around 12k total imported from Australia, they were the follow-on to the G8 (also a good candidate). From 2015 on you could get it with a 6-speed manual. RWD, LS V8 with 415 HP, 415 ft lbs of torque, 4 doors, 4 usable seats, a decent size trunk, sat nav, heads-up display, dual zone climate, heated/cooled seats, Bose sound, Brembo brakes, Automated Parking Assist (the first Chevey to have it) and GM Magna Ride with Tour/Sport and a track mode. All for $45k list, and then usually had discounts. And all STANDARD equipment. The only options were the color, the sunroof, the transmission (manual or auto), and spare tire or inflator kit.

2014 Chevrolet Ss 040

All the stuff enthusiasts claim they want, but hardly anyone bought one (I did). People would come up to me not sure if it was a Malibu or an Impala since Chevy didn’t advertise it (even though it was their NASCAR car for a short time). If that’s not a Holy Grail I don’t know what is!

So far as I can tell, the paragraphs above were true! Chevy didn’t give you a bunch of options. They came more or less fully equipped for $45,770 after the added $1,300 gas guzzler tax. Car and Driver summed it up like this:

What We Like: A lot. The Chevy SS is one of the most underappreciated driver’s cars on the market, a lazy-day cruiser in the softest of its three drive modes (Tour, which slots below Sport and Track) yet equally at home on a challenging mountain road in its more aggressive settings. The ride quality can be firm, but the chassis’s overall poise is reminiscent of some of the great BMW M cars from the 1990s and 2000s. Despite some on-center vagueness, the electrically assisted power steering is precise and rich in feedback as the chassis loads up in corners. While the big Chevy is well equipped for the tire-smokin’ muscle-car thing, its understated appearance is welcome in heavy traffic, as are its quiet cabin, comfortable seats, and myriad amenities. Leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, lane-departure warning, and much more are standard; besides transmission choice, the only options are paint color, a power sunroof ($900), and a full-size spare ($500) in place of the standard tire-inflation kit. And with a paltry 2895 sales in the U.S. last year, SS buyers are in an exclusive club.

2015 Chevrolet Ss 045

The magazine’s noted downsides were the fact that more enthusiasts didn’t scoop them up and the fact that General Motors was killing off what Car and Driver thought to be America’s most underrated sport sedan. Though, if you had to force its testers to find something wrong, they weren’t amazed by the vehicle’s styling or their observed fuel economy of just 14 mpg. That could be forgiven by its 4.5-second sprint to 60 mph.

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Ultimately, the Chevy SS would die at the end of the VF Commodore’s run in 2017. GM would later announce Holden’s death in 2020. In the end, the SS found fewer buyers than even the G8. Just 12,924 examples went home, of those, only 2,645 of them were manual. Enthusiasts have broken down production by color, year, and transmission choice. Some variations, such as purple and manual, are so rare that production numbers are in the dozens.

2015 Chevrolet Ss 019

Despite the low production, you can expect to pay a lot of money for one of these. I found a dozen manual transmission-equipped Chevy SS for sale in America and all of them are $35,000 and higher.

(Photos: General Motors)

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J Money
J Money
8 months ago

I had a black 2014 (automatic). It really was a fantastic car and I only got rid of it b/c, honestly, my wife hated that I didn’t have a truck anymore. If this played out right now, I’d have it in storage while I drove something else….waiting for the right time to put it on BaT or just occasionally enjoy it.

CTSVmkeLS6
CTSVmkeLS6
9 months ago

A guy at my work daily drives one of these- blue and manual – for the last 3 years. We work downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He drives it in the snow, salt, etc. I need to remind him that it’s on of ~2000k or so.

Joe Ryan
Joe Ryan
10 months ago

Maybe a hot take but I thought the reason this car had no presence in a consumer or marketing sense is the name, SS is a trim level, not a model name. What they should have done, IMO, was plan a phase out of the Impala name and revert the car using it back to being a Lumina or something else. This car should rightfully have been called Impala SS and I think if they’d embraced that history and gone all the way with it, it might have sold a lot more units.

J Money
J Money
8 months ago
Reply to  Joe Ryan

I agree. Nobody every understood if you said it was an SS. “An SS what?” you might get back.

Don Mynack
Don Mynack
11 months ago

Been looking at these for awhile and its true there are very few bargains out there, and usually with an auto.

CravenMoorehead
CravenMoorehead
11 months ago

Great article! I am actually one of the lucky people to own one of these in manual. This January (2023) I decided I had to have one and found one being kicked around a dealership network in Illinois. A 2017 with 22k miles, 6 speed, in slip stream blue (the exact car in the articles opening photo) and boy do I LOVE THIS CAR. I live in Metro Detroit and have decided to daily drive it because it was expensive and I want to enjoy the car I worked so hard to obtain. Yes the gas mileage is poor averaging 15mpg city but honestly I romp on it quite a bit so I chalk it up to Smiles Per Gallon.

I actually had an encounter with a younger man in traffic court when I got my first speeding ticket at 17 in my 98 GTI. He was also in for speeding but in an E46 M3 (my dream car at the time). We chatted and I remembered him saying “Yeah man I was just so sick of seeing 50-60 year old dudes driving around in my dream car, so I saved up and got to a point where I could buy my dream car before I got old”. It was something that stuck with me and its partly why I made my decision to pitch my 2016 GTI for the SS at the age of 28.

Its one of those things where if I died tomorrow id be so happy I got to experience owning a car I lusted after for so long. If anyone is out there reading this and has thoughts about owning your dream car, (don’t over extend yourself financially but) just do it. You wont regret it.

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
11 months ago

I really wish they had given it a real name. SS was just kind of, half assed? Thats a trim level. It should have been a Chevelle.

Adam
Adam
11 months ago

I had a 2016 slipstream blue manual just like that lead picture. For whatever reason I ordered it without a spare. That was the best overall car I have ever had. I think I was actually one of the first in the US to black it out fully. You could get the front end and fake side vents in black from US GM but I had to order the window trim from a guy in Australia. I painted the bowties and SS logos in blue and black as well. I eventually fell victim to a long commute combined with California gas prices and traded it in for a Tesla. Ive only ever missed one car after selling it and it was my SS. I still have one set of keys that I offered up on the forum for the current owner but they never PMed me. I hope the car is still in use.

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