Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Danville Street Sighting - 2005 Chevrolet SSR Indy 500 Parade Truck

In 2002 General Motors decided to discontinue the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. The F-body coupes and convertibles were popular budget sporty cars, especially among young buyers looking for rear-drive V8 power. But the body and chassis dated to 1993, the interior was hopelessly antiquated and the competition was upping their game. So what did GM build to replace them? Well, in the case of Pontiac, nothing. Pontiac had things like the Grand Prix GTP, but no sporty coupes that could truly replace the Firebird and Trans-Am in the middle years of the 2000s. Nobody thought a Sunfire or Grand Am GT was a substitute for a Trans-Am. For Chevy, though, GM was readying an all-new performance two-door. Hoping to take advantage of the retro styling craze popularized by the 2001 Chrysler PT Cruiser and 2002 Ford Thunderbird, Chevy rolled out the SSR (Super Sport Roadster).
A pickup truck.
...With a retractable hardtop.
...Patterned very loosely after the 1947-1953 Advance Design Series pickups.

The new truck was based on the Trailblazer SUV chassis and debuted with a 5.3 liter V8 engine and either a 4-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission. I rode in one on a handling course in 2004 at a GM "Auto Show In Motion" event, and was disappointed by the truck's roly-poly nature, heavy weight and high center of gravity. This was supposed to replace the Camaro? And then there was the price. The old Camaro was considered an affordable muscle car. The new SSR seemed destined for middle-aged men only at a cost north of $40,000.

Chevy tried to bolster the SSR's image by pacing a few races with it. It paced the 2003 Indianapolis 500 and several NASCAR events. In 2005 an Indy 500 edition was produced, apparently in a run of 100 vehicles. All were painted Slingshot Yellow and equipped with a 390 horsepower, 6.0 liter V8. According to sources at SSRFanatic.com, only 33 were used as parade lap trucks, one for each driver who participated in the race. A total of 74 were used at that year's '500 Festival' for various purposes, after which approximately 40 were sold and the rest re-used for other races with different decals. This particular vehicle is #55 as indicated on the windshield and (hidden) behind the rear license plate. The actual pace vehicle at the '05 Indy 500 was a Corvette; no SSR ever paced the 2005 Indy race.

This truck is still relatively new, so it's understandably in very good condition except for one thing. The door graphics have faded significantly, the rich red now a dull pale pink. The owner has also added a trailer hitch. These trucks are not altered from stock form apart from the striping and stickers; the paint is a regular production color and even the wheels are stock. The windshield banner is original. I've read that reproduction decals are available for the body but in an effort to deter 'counterfeit' pace cars the original supplier will not sell them unless a customer can provide proof of ownership of a legitimate vehicle.
The SSR was an unusual footnote in performance car history. Not many were sold due to high price and impracticality. It wasn't really that useful as a truck, either. I still see them from time to time, but they rarely blip my radar. This is the first one I've seen on the street that was affiliated with a famous race event. I must admit I'm disappointed it didn't turn out to be a real pace vehicle, but if it carried a famous Indy driver for the pre-race parade lap it could still be something special. It's too bad I couldn't track down which driver rode in which numbered truck.

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