The concept of a hot-rod truck isn't particularly new, but the previous generation of American sleds helped push the idea to new frontiers. Ford started this recent quest for power when it gave us the Lightning, a supercharged standard-cab brute with impressive power and decent handling. Dodge cranked it up to 11 with the Ram SRT-10, which packed a detuned version of the famed Viper engine under the hood. Between those milestones, Chevy created the SS from its popular Silverado, borrowing a performance moniker that's near and dear to every enthusiast's heart.

While Ford and Dodge took extreme risks, Chevrolet remained conservative. Using the Silverado extended-cab platform, the SS added a 6.0-liter pushrod V-8 that pounds out 345 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. This is basically the same large V-8 from the heavy-duty trucks placed in the 1500-series chassis. More power plus less weight equals better performance. (That's the theory, anyway.)

For its first seasons--the SS arrived near the end of the 2003 model year--the mandatory four-speed automatic played through Chevy's excellent all-wheel drive, which was dropped in favor of rear drive in 2006. (The SS stays in Chevy's lineup as a Silverado Classic model for 2007.)

While Ford stuck with the standard-cab arrangement for the Lightning and Dodge took until 2005 to drop the V-10 into the Ram Quad Cab package, the Silverado SS always had the more practical extended-cab platform using a 6.5-foot-long bed. While the SS gave up power and torque to its crosstown rivals, it was undeniably a more useful truck.

Through the 2005 model year, Chevy sold the SS only in upmarket trim, with 20-inch wheels, midlevel LT interior package, all-wheel drive, and disc brakes front and rear. However, it noted a distinct dropoff in sales after the initial surge, which Chevrolet figured was due to the SS's price tag: the pickup easily cost $40,000 when reasonably optioned. Therefore, 2006-and-later models were decontented, with rear drive only and a disc/drum setup.

Because there's essentially one model of the SS, the only variations in used models come from options, which include leather seating, a Bose stereo system, an in-dash CD player, and an electric sunroof. Externally, a new fascia with highlights help distinguish the SS from run-of-the-mill Silverados. GM succeeded in making it look different from the mainstream truck without giving it a boy-racer feel.

Chevy sold approximately 11,000 SS models in the first year, with sales in subsequent years about half that. Because of the low numbers, the SS isn't exactly common on the used market, but the early AWD/four-wheel-disc models are more desirable than the more recent economized versions. According to owner reports, the brawny Vortec V-8 has been a good fit in the 1500 Silverado and the stiffened suspension is only mildly firmer than stock--the Chevy's traditionally good ride hasn't been sacrificed. Expect to pay a lot more to replace those 20-inch tires, though; a check on tire condition will be worth the effort. The Silverado line as a whole has had significant issues with brakes and steering: broken hoses, cracked ABS accumulators, and so on. Be sure to check for compliance with Technical Service Bulletins before purchasing a particular truck. When you buy any high-performance model, note the age and temperament of the seller. Perhaps because of its more practical nature, the Silverado SS is less likely to have been in the hands of an abuser than some of the other ueber-trucks--and that's the one you want.

2003-2006 Chevrolet Silverado SS
Body type 4-door pickup
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD/4WD
Airbags Dual front
Engines 6.0L/325-hp OHV V-8
Brakes, f/r Disc/disc (through 2005), ABS
Price range, whls/ret $16,200/$22,661(2003); (IntelliChoice) $20,770/$27,894 (2006)
Recalls Too many to list; see www.intellichoice.com
NHTSA frontal-impact rating,driver/pass Four stars/three stars