There's no denying that the new-wave retro age is here, evidenced by the return of legendary nameplates such as Ford's Thunderbird and VW's New Beetle. The latest modern-tech retro-rod to hit the scene is the Chevrolet SSR. With its bulging fenders and vintage grille, the 2004 SSR looks like something straight out of 1953. Performance, however, is hampered by mediocre power and too much weight (4760 pounds).
Texas-based tuner Racing Solutions Inc. recently released three power packages to add a performance edge. We tested RSI's base Z500 package, which combines a nice mix of added power and increased grip for a fair price. RSI starts by removing the stock 5.3-liter, 300-horsepower V-8 in favor of a new Corvette Z06 crate motor. The LS6 5.7-liter V-8 bottom end gets upgraded with Manley steel rods and Wiseco pistons for added strength, while the top end receives fully ported heads, a custom roller camshaft, and a reprogrammed computer. RSI's stainless-steel headers shuttle spent fumes to a high-flow cat that vents to a 3.0-inch-diameter stainless exhaust system. RSI claims the mods result in a stout 500 horsepower (200 ponies over a stock SSR) at the flywheel and 410 measured at the rear wheels.
Also available is a Z600 package that makes use of a 427-cube (7.0-liter) LS6 V-8 kicking out 600 horsepower on pump gas. Still not enough? Soon arriving is RSI's supercharger system package ($8495 installed) that can be applied to a stock engine, Z500, or Z600 package.
Playing up the Corvette Z06 theme, RSI offers custom Z06 wheels in 18-, 19-, or 20-inch diameter (wrapped in grippy BFG g-Force T/A radials) that deliver truckloads more attitude over the ho-hum stock SSR alloys. The rolling stock teams with 1.5-inch-shorter coil springs and revalved Bilstein shocks for increased attitude and cornering prowess. In slalom testing, the wares generated a big 2.1-mph increase in average speed and a sizeable jump in lateral g-force. Although increased handling often leads to increased harshness, on the street the RSI combo remains smooth and predictable. The Z500 package also chopped one full second off quarter-mile times and a big 1.5 seconds off 0-to-60 runs. Another 100-plus horsepower from RSI's blower kit would really make the SSR feel like the street rod it emulates so well. While the Z500's custom Yank torque converter makes the SSR more lively, the stock 4L60-E transmission still suffers from incredibly slow shifts; adding a shift-improvement kit likely would trim off another tenth in the quarter.
Considering the extensive amount of upgrades, RSI's Z500 package (tweaked Z06, converter, exhaust, graphics) rings in at an almost bargain-priced $14,900, including a three-year/36,000-mile warranty. Add the great-looking wheel, tire, and springs package ($4995), and you'll still be under $20,000.
| ||2004 SSR||2004 RSI SSR|
|1/4 mile||15.3 @ 88.4||14.3 @ 97.2|
|Braking, 60-0, ft ||122 ||120|