Performance: 2004 RSI Chevrolet SSR

The SSR Chevrolet should have built

John Kiewicz
Jun 28, 2004
There's no denying the new-wave retro age is here, as evidenced by the probable return of such nameplates as the Dodge Power Wagon, Jeep Wagoneer, and VW Microbus as well as the emergence of modern-day street rods like the Chrysler PT Cruiser. The latest modern-tech rod to hit the scene is the Chevrolet SSR. With its bulging fenders and vintage grille, the SSR looks like something from 1953. There's a lot of good in the SSR, but there's also some bad--not enough power and it's too heavy (4760-pound curb weight...ouch!), due to its street-rod-like all-metal bodywork. In short, the retro SSR looks sharp, but its performance is dull.

Texas-based tuner Racing Solutions Inc. recently released three power packages to add performance edge to complement the SSR's edgy looks. We tested RSI's base Z500 package, which combines a nice mix of added power and increased grip--all for a fair price. With the Z500, RSI installs a new Corvette Z06 crate motor in place of the SSR's stock 5.3-liter, 300-horsepower V-8. 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, a freer-breathing intake tract, and a reprogrammed computer. RSI's custom-made stainless-steel headers shuttle spent fumes to a high-flow catalytic converter that vents to a three-inch-diameter stainless exhaust system shod with twin four-inch chrome tips. RSI claims the mods unite for a stout 500 horsepower (200 ponies over a stock SSR) at the flywheel and a solid 410 measured at the rear wheels.
Photo 2/3   |   2004 Chevrolet Ssr Rsi top Engine View
Want more? Also available is a Z600 package that makes use of a 427-cube (7.0-liter) stroker LS6 V-8 that cranks out 600 horsepower on pump gas. Still not enough? Soon arriving is RSI's Roots-style supercharger package ($8495 installed) that can be applied to a stock Z06 engine, the Z500 package, or the Z600 package, for an added boost in power.
Playing up the Corvette Z06 theme, RSI offers custom Z06 wheels in 18-, 19-, or 20-inch diameters (wrapped in grippy BFG g-Force T/A radials) that deliver truckloads more attitude than the ho-hum stock SSR alloys. The rolling stock teams with revalved Bilstein shocks and 1.5-inch drop coil springs for increased attitude and cornering prowess. In 600-foot-slalom testing, the Z500 wares generated a big 2.1-mph increase in average speed and a sizable jump in lateral g-force. During hard cornering, a stock SSR exhibits understeer that's difficult to overcome with the factory 5.3 V-8's measly 300 horsepower. Such is not the case with the Z500, as the ample power on tap easily converts hard-cornering understeer into tire-smoking oversteer simply by mashing the throttle. The added power (and ability for tail-out oversteer) affords for faster romps through mountain twisties, but requires more-advanced driving skill to keep from spinning off the asphalt.
Although increased handling often leads to a harsher ride, on the street the RSI combo remains smooth and predictable. RSI's more-aggressive shock/spring combo lessens a stock SSR's tendency for white-knuckle-inducing off-throttle oversteer, but the condition still exists when the truck is pushed hard. In acceleration, the Z500 package proved potent as it chopped one full second off quarter-mile times and a big 1.5 seconds off 0-to-60 runs. However, with the SSR's girth, it feels like it could use even more power--we'd opt for another 100-plus horsepower from RSI's blower kit. While the Z500's custom Yank torque converter (with a 3200-rpm stall speed) makes the SSR more lively, the stock 4L60-E transmission still suffers from incredibly slow shifts; adding a shift-improvement kit would likely trim off another tenth in the quarter mile.

The big increase in acceleration prowess is grin-inducing, but quickly turns to sweat-inducing as the added propulsion proves too much for the stock brakes to handle. In truth, the factory brakes barely contain a stock SSR's power, and during a high-speed mountain road romp in the Z500, we smoked out the factory binders within a mile. Unfortunately, at the time of testing, no aftermarket brake upgrades were available for the SSR, but, when they do hit the market, SSR owners should seriously contemplate a switch.
Considering the extensive amount of upgrades, RSI's Z500 package (tweaked Z06 V-8, converter, exhaust, graphics) rings in at an almost-bargain price of $14,900, which includes a three-year/36,000-mile warranty. Add to the mix the attractive wheel/tire/spring package ($4995), and you'll still be under $20K. Since the 1940s, street rodding has been about combining distinct looks and big power--Chevy's SSR has the right looks and, RSI now provides the power. Retro has never been so cool.
Photo 3/3   |   2004 Chevrolet Ssr Rsi rear Side View
 {{{2004 SSR}}}2004 RSI SSR
0-60 mph, sec 7.4 5.9
1/4 mile, sec @ mph 15.3 @ 88.4 14.3 @ 97.2
Braking, 60-0, ft 122 120
Slalom, mph 63.165.2
Skidpad, g 0.790.88
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