As I roared along I-66, straight men honked and gave me the thumbs up. As I sat in an idle rumble at stoplights, they rolled down their windows to ask me how I liked it. In parking lots they leered as they stole surreptitious caresses of the voluptuously curved fenders.
After just one week behind the wheel of the Chevy SSR, I finally know how it feels to be a waitress at Hooters.
Long-awaited by fans of hot rods and retro styling, the SSR -- short for Super Sport Roadster -- is finally rolling out of showrooms and onto the streets, where it turns more heads than anything other than an exotic Italian sports car (although the SSR turns heads for a few hundred thousand dollars less).
Those rounded fenders, along with the winged grillwork and tapered nose, are derived from the Chevy pickup truck designs of the late '40s and early '50s. It's a look grounded firmly in the American hot rod tradition, but without the preciousness that has come to overwhelm other familiar retro-styles such as Chrysler's PT Cruiser. Having grown up surrounded by custom-painted hot rods from that bygone era, I never expected to see a completely new car that would make me think, "Wow, that would look sweet with some flames on the front."
You think that way when you're in an SSR because it screams "Fun!" With the push of a button, the hard-top splits apart and retracts neatly between the cab and the truck bed. Just watching the thing fold and unfold brings oohs and ahhs from passers-by.
One of the worst trends in retro styling is the appropriation of hot rod styles for use on underpowered platforms -- all show, no go. Thankfully, the SSR goes as well as it shows with the latest version of Chevy's long-running small block V-8. Punch the accelerator to hear it growl -- and it's a deep, pleasing growl, not that high-pitched popping, farting sound that far too many home tuners inflict on the streets.
With a stiff suspension and a low stance, the SSR handles well for a car that's obviously big and bulky, although it's not the car you would choose to race through S-curves. But for the roadster the point is cruising, not racing, and that's where the SSR excels -- it moves fast and looks good doing it.
One downside of the stiffness is the very rough ride over even moderately bumpy roads -- uneven roads can be exceptionally jarring. And the SSR comes with far too many indeterminate rattles and shakes.
If you're looking for a lot of room to maneuver in the interior, then the SSR isn't for you. The seats themselves are comfortable and supportive, while the brushed aluminum and leather treats you to a plush experience. But beyond the roomy seats, space is at a premium. That's because the tapered design of the exterior cuts down on available interior room.
To keep the passengers comfortable in their seats Chevy sacrificed console and glovebox storage, cupholders and any other space that could be shaved. There's so little room between the seat and the door, you can barely slide your hand between them to adjust the seat position -- you'll want to stop the car and open the door to make the adjustments comfortably.
But then you put the top down and all these minor concerns fade away underneath the flow of the wind and the roar of the engine. I could barely stop grinning while I was driving, and I found myself coming up with as many excuses as I could to keep on driving -- the SSR is the kind of car where you'll constantly find yourself taking the long way home, and loving every minute of it.