Without benefit of CarBuzzard’s crack research staff (the 10-member team is on loan to Ken Burns) we can make but an educated guess; apparently, Chevrolet’s first use of the ‘SS’ moniker was on the Corvette SS. This was a race car exercise devised by Chevy’s general manager, Ed Cole, and Zora Arkus-Duntov (inventor of the hyphenated last name…). As Mr. Cole put it (from a quote in the August, 1957 issue of Sports Car Illustrated), the SS was “a research project to study advanced engineering characteristics in the field of performance, handling, braking and other safety features”. In short, it wasn’t Chevrolet going racing or envisioning a production variant of the SS; it was simply a race-worthy (they hoped) manifestation of a lab experiment.
Although the Corvette SS, in any guise, didn’t make it into Chevy showrooms, the SS descriptive made its presence known but a few years later. Initially offered on the Impala, the ‘SS’ trim provided interior and exterior enhancements, chassis reinforcements, upgraded suspension, power brakes and – this from Wikipedia – narrow-band whitewalls (to save weight?). At the very beginning of the muscle car era, this ‘SS’ wasn’t so much ‘muscle’ as ‘musculature’, more lean than mean, a tease on the street rather than a threat to mankind.
Of course, with the promise of Chevy’s small-block V8 and a generation of baby boomers about to get licensed (just as their parents started making real middle-class money), it didn’t take Chevrolet’s engineering and marketing team to bring Super Sport out of the lab and onto the street. Before you could say Jack-and-Jackie there was an SS for any and almost every budget, including Chevelle, Camaro, El Camino, Nova and Monte Carlo.
With an ability to recall 1965 as clearly – make that more clearly – than 1995, my first personal connection to Chevy’s SS was from a friend whose father purchased an Impala. That recollection doesn’t recall anything menacing; rather, it was a cleanly designed 2-door hardtop with an almost-athletic stance, bucket seating and console. With those minor mods it was so far removed from what most parents were driving (including my own) that it seemed almost alien – and Super Special.
Later, a good friend was blessed with ownership of a Chevelle SS 396. At that point I had graduated from a ’66 Beetle to a ’72 Fiat 128 – the car Enzo drove. And to suggest the Chevelle provided a contrast with either (or both) is to understate; the Chevelle was as brash as the Chicago Bears, faster than the Cowboys’ ‘Bullet’ Bob Hayes. Like most muscle from that era, it may not have steered and may not have stopped, but you really didn’t care…you had 396 cubes, an ‘SS’ logo and – inevitably – a girlfriend whose biorhythms were inextricably tied to the Chevelle’s tachometer. The ‘pill’ may have been most responsible for the sexual revolution, but big block V8s certainly moved the revolution along faster…
Most good things – of course – come to an end, and the onslaught of both tighter emission controls and higher insurance rates meant the end of anything more than cosmetic ‘performance’ by the mid-seventies. With Chevy’s Corvette reduced to 200 (or so) horsepower, ‘SS’ was less Super Sport and more Simply Silly. Eventually, the two-letter moniker was affixed to anything and (seemingly) everything, including Cobalts, Silverados and the Malibu/Malibu Maxx. (Really.) Hopefully, those responsible for the bastardization of the then-iconic ‘SS’ received their pink slips on or before Rick Wagoner, GM’s chaiman and CEO, received his.
Things got better in the mid-‘90s, when Chevrolet’s boat-like Caprice gained the SS moniker, along with cleaner (after a fashion) sheetmetal, beefed-up suspension and – for the time – a honkin’ V8. There was a lot (something around two tons) to love, but at least a bit of the mojo and swagger were back. Its success didn’t save the GM plant in North Texas from converting to SUV production (by that point the die was cast), but its production did a lot to revive hope for ‘Super Sport’, even if the Malibu Maxx worked against all hope.
Fast forward a generation, and Chevy is once again teasing our intellects – and stroking our pocketbooks – with their newest iteration of this iconic tag. Cross-pollinated with Australia’s performance sedan class, and with actual manufacture taking place Down Under, Chevy’s newest SS is arguably the best (and certainly the most global) example yet.
Notably, this isn’t a recreation of anything previously offered. Rather, this new SS represents a substantially new architecture for the U.S. market, a crazy-good 6.2 liter LS3 V8 under the hood, and an impressively taut chassis to handle both the Chevy’s 415 horsepower and whatever idiocy might be installed behind the wheel.
With all of that, you won’t confuse this with anything else from GM other than – perhaps – the Police Special already offered. And if stopped by a similarly-mounted cop, we can’t think of a better conversational opening – beyond giving the officer a beer – than to compare notes on bow-tie performance.
We simply didn’t perceive any negatives in several days of driving. The SS suspension is on the firm side of firm, but not so jarring as to loosen fillings. And while we enjoyed the lack of cosmetic addendums (there’s so little in the way of ‘adds’ it makes a Camry look positively pimped out…), some might wish for a little more visual drama. Drama, of course, can be found under the hood, where the lusty, gutsy V8 supplies all of the entertainment you and your attorney (and/or marriage) can handle. Given our Beetle/Fiat roots, we so wish we had access to something similar in our decidedly stupid youth.
With an MSRP of about $45K, we were initially wondering if dealers could get that much money – for a car – on a Chevy showroom. But when compared to small Cadillacs (the well-equipped CTS is but one example) priced roughly $20K above the SS, the Chevy is an absolute no-brainer. The heartbeat of America, ladies and gentlemen, is still beating…