For those of you drawing a blank, John Milner was the hero in George Lucas’s 1973 ode to ’60s cruising culture, American Graffiti. Milner, played by Paul LeMat, cruised the darkened streets of Fresno, California, in a lemon yellow 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe defending his title of King of the Strip. The climax of the movie, you may recall, is when Milner wins a drag race against an evil-looking ’55 Chevy Bel Air, driven by some unknown actor named Harrison Ford.
Cruising the streets in a 2004 Chevy SSR, I was channeling John Milner in a big way. This high-horsepower retro rod is a head turner, to say the least. But you can’t misbehave when you’re behind the wheel of an SSR, because no matter where you go, you’re definitely the center of attention. Horns honk, other drivers gawk and their passengers point and wave as the SSR rolls by. People flag you down in parking lots and gather around it at service stations to ask questions about it. Kids on school buses jam the windows to peer down at you as you rumble past, headers roaring and the wind in your hair. Had Milner lived (you’ll recall he gets killed in a collision with a drunk driver after the movie ends) he would have heartily approved of the SSR.
General Motors is doing a lot of things right these days. One of them is infusing some fun into cars and trucks, and the SSR is a direct result of that philosophy. Orders to put it into production came from the top: GM’s president and CEO personally ordered Chevy to build this retro cruiser after it debuted at the Detroit Auto Show in 2000. And Chevy did just that, making only four styling changes to the truck’s exterior in the process. Equipment World first previewed the SSR way back in our March 2000 issue. At the time, it was a concept vehicle touting an Internet connection and constantly updated weather information among its high-tech features. In the end, Chevy engineers went more for muscle and style over Buck Rogers gee-whiz technology. And the end result is infinitely satisfying for anyone with a love of classic American muscle cars. The front end and flare fenders are lifted straight off ’40s and ’50s vintage 3100 Series Chevy pickups. The rear end conjures up a ’30s street rod look with a dash of Auburn boat-tail panache. The two-seat cockpit feels like you’re riding in an antique Jag with the top down and a deuce coupe when it’s up. Interior appointments are a satisfying blend of ’60s muscle car memorabilia (right down to the chrome, golf-tee door locks, just like the ones on my Dad’s ’69 Bel Air) and an Art Deco fusion of chrome-appointed controls, dials and switches. And (with apologies to the Beach Boys) when you hear those head pipes roar, you can’t help but get a big grin on your face.
The result is a vehicle unlike anything you’ve ever driven – or seen – before. But before I give you my review of the SSR, we need to get a few things out of the way. Let’s start with the most common questions I’ve been asked since GM loaned me one earlier this week: