Bob McDorman knew it wasn't going to be easy rolling one of those new Chevy SSRs into his Canal Winchester, Ohio, showroom this summer. Part roadster, part pickup and all-outrageous, the SSR would not only be the hottest new domestic to roll off the lot since Chrysler made a PT a must-see, the SSR was going to be hard to fetch when customers came calling. "So I bought one," McDorman said from his dealership near Columbus. But not just any one. And not just at any price. McDorman, 71, waited until the last two minutes of a charity auction on eBay before placing two bids, one of which earned him a limited-edition SSR for just $137,850. SS-wow. "Sure," he said, "it sounds like a lot. But it's one heck of a vehicle." And you might be surprised where it shows up next. If you find yourself doing a double-take today when they drop the green for the 87th running of the Indianapolis 500, it's probably because the Official Pace Car is an Official Pace Vehicle. Not a 'Vette. Not a Monte Carlo SS. Not a Z28. A Pace Roadster-Truck? It's all part of a growing trend in the auto world to make the past part of the present and the present a whole new way to consider the future of vehicles - as radical as the Prowler, as practical as the PT Cruiser. Coming this summer to a dealer near you, the Super Sport Roadster is like nothing else in the market today. And for a company usually as straight-laced as General Motors, that's refreshing. Concepts have a funny way of going from pizzazz to pedantic. What was a designer's whim sometimes becomes wishful thinking, especially when too many CEOs get their hands on the plans. (Aztek, anyone?) Safety concerns meet production timelines that run smack into pricing. Meet the SSR. An SS-reality. Based on the concept car that was first shown to the public at the 2000 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the SSR is what Chevy calls a "production-intent" version of the concept - a real-life version of what was once only a theory. And the theory was different from the start. The original idea was to explore how a heritage design theme might manifest itself in a truck - not a car. Four options emerged, and the late 1940s/early 1950s stuck out. But something else happened first. "One of the options included an open-air cab," said Ed Welburn, executive director of GM Design's Corporate Brand Character Center. "The idea of a pickup truck that was also a modern convertible roadster held great promise." Inspired by Chevy's 1947-52 "slammed-design" pickups with the addition of a retractable hardtop, the design team also added large flared fenders, a sculpted hood and a wide stance. "From the start," Welburn said, "the SSR concept was designed to be a viable option for production." Because the production SSR is now based on GM's mid-sized truck platform, its proportions needed to be altered a little. It has the same wheelbase as the concept, but it ended up slightly shorter and wider. The windshield was pulled slightly forward and small alterations were made to the A-pillar and roof surfaces to maintain the "fast" forward-leaning, rear accented form. So how does it stand alone? Try on 19-inch wheels in the front and 20s in the back. Try an art deco-styled front grille. Try a covered pickup box that can be used as a cargo bed and a retractable hardtop roof that slips seamlessly behind the front bucket seats. Under the hood, the SSR arrives with a new version of GM's Vortec 5.3-liter V-8 engine, the first GM vehicle with an aluminum block, reducing the overall weight of the engine by 100 pounds over current versions. Expect 290 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque in the current models. The transmission on the SSR will be GM's Hydra-Matic, electronically controlled, four-speed rearwheel-drive automatic used on the Corvette, TrailBlazer and Camaro. With its boulevard-cruiser ride and refined roadster handling, the all-new Chevy's road manners should be a perfect compliment - sporty truck/sporty sedan. It arrives with thicker anti-roll bars, bigger brakes and retuned shocks, all of which should mean a sporty demeanor. But inside and out this will be a looker. A horizontal cross-car bar with the integrated Chevy bowtie continues all the way through the headlamps. Inside, there are sleek, rounded bucket seats in an uncluttered and sophisticated interior. But creativity won't come cheap. Chevy recently announced a base retail price of $42,995, which includes a $625 destination charge. It even gets its own traveling road show. The Signature Series SSRs, like the one that landed in McDorman's driveway, are a limited run of 25 vehicles that will be used for high-profile GM activities this year. The Signature models will carry VIN numbers 000001 through 000025. They will all be identical and will have features that aren't available on other 2003 SSRs. As each SSR Signature makes its way around the country, Chevrolet plans to collect memorabilia tied to its journey. From the Indy 500 to a Hollywood premier to a tour with a music group to the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, the SSRs will be on display. But buyer beware - No. 000002 is already gone. "And I've got it," McDorman said. Who's next? 2003 Chevrolet SSR Due for sale: Summer 2003 Base price: $42,995 (includes a $625 destination charge) Engine: 290 horsepower Vortec 5.3-liter V-8 Transmission: Hydra-Matic, electronically controlled, four-speed rear-wheel-drive automatic
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