Home » The Chevy Trailblazer-Based SSR ‘Pickup’ Was Made For Customers Who Didn’t Exist

The Chevy Trailblazer-Based SSR ‘Pickup’ Was Made For Customers Who Didn’t Exist

No Stalgia Ts2
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Every so often, a vehicle comes around that’s truly groundbreaking. The Lexus RX, the Ford Maverick, the Chrysler minivans, and the Mazda MX-5 all either invented or rejuvenated a segment thoroughly enough to be sales successes, spawn a raft of competitors, or both. However, just as often, a segment-breaking vehicle can be a complete dead-end. Remember the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet? The Chevrolet SSR is a curious case, because it was truly unlike anything before or since. Can you think of another power retractable hardtop convertible pickup truck hot rod made by a mainstream manufacturer? However, a novel idea is nothing without both execution and a need. Welcome back to GM Hit Or Miss, where we clear the fog of pre-bankruptcy General Motors product planning and see what worked and what didn’t. You know the drill.

Chevrolet Ssr 1

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

In order to understand why the Chevrolet SSR came into being, we have to understand the trends of the time. By the new millennium, the ouroboros of postmodernism had firmly established a cycle of impenetrable nostalgia, and Chrysler was making money hand-over-fist on PT Cruisers. The Volkswagen New Beetle had captured the heart of every ex-hippie who emerged from a ditch weed-fueled haze as a white collar Reaganite, and even BMW was hopping on the bandwagon with the reborn Mini. It seemed that GM had no idea what to make of this retro-look gold rush, but being the myopic beancounters they were, knew there was money in nostalgia, and began doing the bare minimum analysis.

Chevrolet Ssr Cutaway

To make the SSR anything approaching an economical business decision, Chevrolet decided to base it on the Trailblazer midsize SUV. Now, the Trailblazer wasn’t bad for what it intended to be, but turning that platform into a sporty convertible is a bit like telling The Aristocrats in a convent — it’s just a bad idea. You’ll never get the center of gravity, ride height, or the weight right, and in the beginning, GM didn’t even try to compensate with horsepower or gears.

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Chevrolet Ssr Lm4 Engine

When the Chevrolet SSR launched for 2003, it got the same 5.3-liter LM4 V8 from the Trailblazer EXT. While 300 horsepower and 335 lb.-ft. of torque, once hitched to a four-speed automatic transmission and saddled with 4,760 pounds of retro styling, pretty much every performance car on the market could wipe the floor with the SSR in a straight line. The testing professionals at Motor Trend managed a zero-to-60 mph run of 7.49 seconds and a quarter-mile ET of 15.36 seconds at 91.35 mph, slow enough to get creamed by every 17-year-old in their parents’ V6 Altima.

Chevrolet Ssr 2

Things finally perked up in 2005, when Chevrolet dropped some more gusto into it’s retractable-roofed financial morass. The LM4 and standard four-speed automatic were out, the six-liter LS2 and a six-speed manual gearbox were in, horsepower leapt to 390, and the zero-to-60 mph time fell to a respectable 5.5 seconds in Car And Driver instrumented testing. Unfortunately, two model years is long enough to build a reputation, and this newfound turn of pace was tempered not just by the model’s reception, but also by poor handling despite a re-jigged steering rack. As Car And Driver wrote:

The steering does feel a bit more accurate, and it’s easier to maneuver the SSR around town, but the truck still isn’t any fun for slaloming through corners. Push the SSR, and its truck roots are quickly revealed by its bouncy ride. The SSR pulled 0.82 g on the skidpad and stopped from 70 mph in 185 feet, the same distance as the one we tested in 2003.

Unsurprisingly, the SSR was glued to the showroom floor. While Car And Driver reported sales forecasts of 12,000 units per year, when Chevrolet only shifted around 24,000 in total throughout a four model year production run. However, the sales disappointment didn’t just happened because the SSR didn’t do the roadster thing well, it also happened because GM was targeting a particular customer without having a clue what that customer wanted.

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Chevrolet Ssr 5

According to an internal GM sales training video, the the targeted SSR buyers were “dyed-in-the wool automotive enthusiasts with a deeply-ingrained affinity for style. They consider themselves innovators, and if it’s a choice between style over pure performance, they’ll most often opt for style.” In addition, the ideal SSR customers were “image-conscious, upscale, and opinion leaders.” In short, they were also the sorts of people who bought Audi TTs. However, Chevrolet completely failed to realize why fashion-forward early adopters rarely gravitated towards anything based on the Chevrolet Trailblazer.

Chevrolet Ssr Interior

See, fashion-seekers gravitate towards craftsmanship and sophistication in addition to style, and the SSR had neither of those two things. It had an exceptionally plasticky interior, poor handling and a Budweiser image, yet was priced for platinum. As Car And Driver put it, “there are a number of roadsters out there that offer better all-around performance at the same price.” What was that figure? Try $41,995 in 2003. For reference, a 2003 Porsche Boxster had an MSRP of $43,365, a 2003 BMW Z4 3.0i had an MSRP of $40,945, a 2003 Audi TT Roadster Quattro had an MSRP of $39,660, and a 2003 Chevrolet Corvette had an MSRP of $43,895. If you were already walking into a Chevrolet dealership, why wouldn’t you spend the extra $1,900 and get a ‘vette? Likewise, if you were style-conscious, why not drink the Chris Bangle Kool-Aid and go with a Z4?

Chevrolet Ssr Bed

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Well, maybe you needed the extra utility of a pickup truck. Indeed, with a bed length of 4.1 feet and a standard plastic bedliner, the SSR seemed like it could plausibly be a stylish way to haul DIY supplies back from Home Depot. However, look a bit deeper, and you’ll find some glaring compromises. For one, the SSR’s bed was only 14 inches deep from rail to floor. Even though the hard tonneau cover was removable, that’s not a brilliant figure. Here’s an even worse one: Minimum bed width clocked in at 39.8 inches. Ouch. It certainly didn’t help that many SSRs were also equipped with carpeted beds, a truly perplexing decision. Oh, and with a towing capacity of 2,500 pounds, the SSR is officially less practical than many SUVs.

Chevrolet Ssr 3

It’s pretty safe and easy to call the Chevrolet SSR a miss. It wasn’t a great roadster, it wasn’t a great pickup truck, and it went out of fashion quicker than lip fillers. Was it novel? Sure, but in the slow-paced, tight-margin world of new cars, trading on trends is an easy way to end up on the back foot. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a company as bull-headed as GM, the SSR wasn’t the firm’s last crack at a retro car, and each successive attempt had better success. The Chevrolet HHR was a copy of the Chrysler PT Cruiser’s homework cheap enough to sell in volume, and the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro was genuinely both desirable and competitive. However, even in that last, best-case scenario, sales success didn’t continue for another generation. Nostalgia is fleeting, to the point where a trip down its rose-tinted hallways typically only works once.

(Photo credits: Chevrolet)

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Hondaimpbmw 12
Hondaimpbmw 12
8 months ago

My late buddy and neighbor bought a 5,3/autotragic, in black, before he bought a last gen Thunderbird mit liftoff hard top, in black. Before that he bought a C3 Corvette after buying and selling (or wrecking) a C2, C3 and C4. The last one was a clapped out 427, 4 speed w/ no power steering, brakes or A/C. But it was a convertible.

Myk El
Myk El
8 months ago

I think everyone was asking “who is this for” when it was released. In 2004 you could have the Holden Monaro Pontiac GTO with the LS1 for $10K less, though it wasn’t exactly beloved itself. At least the GTO could make an argument for itself in a power per $.

DialMforMiata
DialMforMiata
8 months ago

It’s funny how whenever auto execs try to tailor a car to a specific customer base it almost universally fails. Honestly, the SSR was always going to be the ride that some old fart drags out to car shows on Saturday and props one of those horrible “time-out kid” dolls up against.Even the slowest version was good enough for that purpose.

It’s like the Corvette. Every successive generation has become better and better until the c8 has eventually become a “budget supercar”. You still mostly see them being driven at 5 under the speed limit on I-75 with the blinker on.

Amschroeder5
Amschroeder5
8 months ago

It looks like crap, it drives like crap, its expensive, it’s impractical. Wow weird that it failed.

“But retro”

Vee
Vee
8 months ago
Reply to  Amschroeder5

It looks like crap good, it drives like crap, it’s expensive, and it‘s impractical needs the Vortec 5300.

For stupid cars justification is not needed. Otherwise it leads you to hate on awesome quasi-truck things like the Subaru Baja, the GMC Cyclone, the Ford E-series Centurion, or the Matra Rancho.

Amschroeder5
Amschroeder5
8 months ago
Reply to  Vee

Just make a maverick then.

Mike B
Mike B
8 months ago

I hated these so much when they first came out. They had killed the F-Body the year before, and I was like “THIS is what they replace it with????”

Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
8 months ago

I have a neighbour with one of these. He is retired, about 80. Likes a convertible.

05Mil Machine
05Mil Machine
8 months ago

I was restoring a 53 Chevy truck at the time these came out. I can see what GM was doing here. Maybe a good idea with poor execution? I only remember seeing old people bring these to car shows and nowhere else.

Oldskool
Oldskool
8 months ago

Though more El Camino looking, this reminds me of the Dodge Dakota convertible. Was an experiment and niche market as well. Especially the Shelby version that was made. I’ve seen a Shelby Dakota at a show.

Mike B
Mike B
8 months ago
Reply to  Oldskool

Came here to mention the Shelby Dak, you beat me to it.

Elanosaurous
Elanosaurous
9 months ago

I once worked with a guy that was at a design consultancy that did the intial design work on the SSR for GM. He was so embarrassed by it, it was enough to get him to leave car design altogether!

Brockstar
Brockstar
9 months ago

I still want to have one of these parked next to a Chrysler Prowler. It’s why I can never be rich. I’d have the ultimate garage of mediocrity, because that’s far more interesting than a single new exotic car.

JunkInTheFrunk
JunkInTheFrunk
8 months ago
Reply to  Brockstar

I love this idea. I am all in on idiosyncratic dream garage. I’m adding the Saab 9-7x, a Lexus SC430, a Honda Del Sol and a Chevy Blazer Chalet.

Brockstar
Brockstar
8 months ago
Reply to  JunkInTheFrunk

Idiosyncratic garage is a much better term, I’m going to adpot that. Those are all great choices and why not throw the rare 9-4x in for crossovery goodness. I actually own an SC430 so I have gotten a small start on my idosyncratic garage.

Fuzzyweis
Fuzzyweis
9 months ago

I love the retro-future car category, this, the Plymouth Prowler, PT Cruiser, HHR, New Beetle, NEW new Beetle, Gen 5 Camaro/Mustangs, Mini, Fiat 500, Challenger. Out of all that the Camaro/Mustang/Challenger are kind of still there, for another minute, Mini still going, and now we have the Bronco, and I guess the Wrangler kind of counts?

I thought with the EVs taking over we’d have more of this but seems like only Europe/China get the cool stuff like the Funky Cat and the Honda E. I guess we have the Ioniq-5? Hopefully they get the N74 made though I’d never be able to afford one 🙂 Everybody else is like, “we’re building an EV, and as is the way it will be a 5 door hatchback jelly bean of a various size.” Getting to be like compact cars in the 80s, it’s a box with 4 doors, we’ve removed the badges, can you guess what it is??(no, no you could not)

VW May start selling the ID Buzz, slowest roll-out in history. The Dodge electric charger is basically just a rolling concept. The Buick Wildcat concept looked great, build that instead of the handbuilt Cadillacs with the phat a$$. Opel’s Manta concept looks amazing, give us that as an Electra! It’s just sheet metal, VW did it for years with the Beetle/Golf, Hyundai/Kia are doing it now with the Ioniq/EV models. Local motors was going to have 3D printed neighborhood EVs you could have look however you wanted! Maybe in 10 years we’ll be drowning in cool ev options but for now it’s mostly bleh, you want the small blob or the longer blob or the taller blob?

Ana Osato
Ana Osato
9 months ago

Combining the drawbacks of multiple categories is what the SSR does, and it does it well.

Think of it like a BMW X6. The drawbacks of a saloon (no, BMW, not a coupé) combined with those of an SUV.

The SSR combines the drawbacks of a 2-seater with the drawbacks of a small pick-up, cleverly circumnavigating the inclusion of any advantages of either.

It may not be pretty, but at least it’s impractical.

Wait…

ObeyThe Noodle
ObeyThe Noodle
9 months ago

Two of my neighbors have one of these. It’s so weird to see cuz they live only a couple of houses apart.

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