2004 Chevy SSR - Full Circle

Concept to Concept

Mark Halvorsen
May 1, 2004
Photographers: Wes Allison
Photo 2/2   |   2004 Chevy SSR front Side View
Chevy's SSR was born a concept car a few years ago. When it flowered into a production model for 2004, it looked as if the god of low-slung car/truck hybrids - who might be related to the mythical deity that created the platypus - had driven down from the mountaintop to grace us with one of his children. Make no mistake about it, however, this chimera is almost a truck, built, as it is, on the TrailBlazer frame. While it is quite the departure from the SUV that spawned it and the truck it is supposed to be, the SSR has attracted the attention of those who would change it even more. Introducing the SO-CAL SSR by SO-CAL ASC, a joint venture of American Specialty Cars, in Southgate, Michigan, and SO-CAL Speed Shop in Pomona, California.
Platypuses are cool, and so is this truck. The factory SSR had already grabbed our attention when we tested it for our 2004 Truck of the Year competition, so taking a gander at the SO-CAL SSR was a no-brainer. SO-CAL ASC had only six weeks to finish this job, but wanted this SSR to be a hit, since it was their first joint project. And a hit it was - the SO-CAL SSR won the Chevrolet Design Award for best exterior at SEMA.
A design studio often takes a very methodical approach to building its vehicles, and SO-CAL ASC is no different. Rather than treating the project vehicle itself as a blank canvas and designing as they go, the SO-CAL ASC team began with a blank canvas of sorts: a pre-production mule. It allowed SO-CAL ASC president Peter Chapouris, studio director and designer Alberto Hernandez, and fabricator Rick Pearman to plan and ponder before committing their ideas to the project vehicle. Then, the pre-production SSR went to the folks at Magnuson Products, who used it to design and build a fully polished, inlet-forward supercharger that gives the SSR a 110-120hp boost at the rear wheels, for a total performance of up to 420 horses.
Back at SO-CAL ASC, the real SSR had arrived, and the staff commenced the transformation. A prototype lowering kit kicked 5 inches from under the front of the truck and 7 inches from the back. This wasn't easy, because the TrailBlazer's front suspension used an upright shaped like a giant C to accommodate the driveshaft. This strange configuration wouldn't hamper the usual 1- or 2-inch drop, but SO-CAL ASC's more aggressive lowering forced them to come up with a one-off spindle and spring solution that worked well for this project. In the rear, the staff rewound the coil springs and relocated the shocks to get the height they needed. But SO-CAL ASC continued to work on the suspension. Specifically, a chassis notch and a Panhard bar was planned to make the lowered SSR driveable.
SO-CAL ASC recruited Alan Budnik, who created SO-CAL Special wheels based on Budnik Wheels' Muroc model. The custom finish on the wheels matches that of the grille, bumpers, trim, and interior, taking advantage of the SSR's aftermarket rake with 19x8s in front and 20x10s at the rear. The rear wheels are wrapped in P295/40R20 Goodyears, and the front wheels are fitted with Goodyear P255/45R19s.
This SSR is pretty inside and out. Using PPG materials, SO-CAL ASC lavished the exterior of the SSR with pure orange toner offset by a one-off cream color that matches the SSR's creamy leather interior by Gabe's Auto Upholstery in Bloomington, California. Dennis Ricklefs laid the pinstripe around the SO-CAL ASC scallop. The blue stripe matches the handmade Bow Ties on the front and rear of the SSR. Hand-formed, brass beltline trim incorporates silver SO-CAL ASC badges and a third brake light. Trim outlines the license plate and running boards, as well. The door handles and fuel-filler door are gone, and the fuel inlet is now accessed from inside the bed.
Experiments with clay models led to retro body stylings like the swoopy running boards that follow the factory cutlines, tie together the front and rear fenders, and disguise the low-hanging frame and new front and rear aprons. While the grille looks similar to the factory model, closer inspection reveals the Chevrolet script on the front trim was replaced with a blue Bow Tie, three of the four grille bars were reconfigured, and the honeycomb mesh was discarded. The lower round driving lamps gave way for the hand-formed and V-shaped spring-steel bumper.
Customizing the hood presented a challenge. Punching louvers into the curved shape of the high-strength steel split the metal, which then had to be hand-finished. It was a time-consuming chore. The tailgate was louvered, as well, and serves as the backdrop for the license plate. Drastically shortening and reshaping the lower pan accommodated the new contoured spring-steel bumper and louvered aluminum pan. The rear fender openings were slightly closed to reduce the gap, and the mirrors were removed.
Music, of course, is a necessary component to every aftermarket job. But the boys at SO-CAL didn't get the usual deck-and-two upgrade. Thanks to Scott Beuhl of Fender Custom Shop in Corona, California, SO-CAL ASC has a $12,000 axe, but not for chopping wood. He made a custom Fender Stratocaster electric guitar painted and detailed to match the SO-CAL SSR. At SEMA, it leaned inside the SSR like an orange-flavored swizzle stick in a smoothie, a refreshing sight for passersby and a sweet finishing touch.
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