According to GM, the Chevy SSR traces its lineage to the vision of Wayne Cherry, Vice President of GM Design. The original idea was to explore how a heritage design theme might manifest itself in a truck, as opposed to cars where heritage designs abound. Working with GM Design’s Corporate Brand Character Center, which defines and executes the vision for each of GM’s global brands, Cherry immediately made the connection to Chevrolet as a perfect fit for a heritage-inspired truck.
Ed Welburn, executive director of the Brand Character Center, led the effort to develop some options as to what this heritage truck might become. In the summer of 1999, a team of young designers began rendering creative ideas.
Four options emerged. Three were inspired by various eras of Chevy pickups, the 1930s, late-40s, early 50s, and the late 50s. A fourth was a futuristic design with more subtle heritage cues. Of those original four, two were selected by Welburn to go from sketches and digital designs to full-size physical models. The two ideas were the late 40s/early-50s inspired pickup and the futuristic design, dubbed “Nostalgia 2000.” However, an idea from one of the designs not selected stuck in Welburn’s mind.
“One of the options included an open-air cab,” Welburn says. “We were intrigued by the more contemporary and fun attributes of this type of vehicle, so the idea of a pickup truck that was also a modern convertible roadster held great promise.”
The sleek, “slammed” design inspired by Chevy’s “Advanced Design” 1947-1952 pickups – with the critical addition of a retractable hardtop — gained momentum as the designs went to clay. Many other tweaks and enhancements were quickly made to hone the styling further. The team paid particular attention to the vehicle’s large flared fenders, sculpted hood and rear accented stance. The combination of heritage cues mixed with a fresh take on a roadster proved irresistible.
“The result was a form that was very car-like, contemporary and relevant to today’s customer,” Welburn says. “Also, we were able to design the vehicle in a way that enhances the current and future Chevrolet brand character, rather than simply paying homage to the past.”
In August Wayne Cherry and Tom Davis, then Vice President of the GM Truck Group, reviewed the team’s work and authorized the SSR be built for the 2000 auto show circuit. Designers developed the vehicle solely using math-based digital tools, in preparation for the January 2000 Detroit Show.
Once the SSR concept vehicle was unveiled, the reaction was instant and positive. While the press and public experienced the vehicle for the first time in the auto show circuit in the first half of 2000, GM designers were already thinking of the future.
“From the start, the SSR concept was designed to be a viable option for production,” Welburn says.
This enabled the team to move quickly when, in August of 2000, the vehicle was put in GM’s future production plan officially.
The program then moved to GM Design’s production studio, under the direction of Vehicle Chief Designer Bill Davis. The team’s marching orders were straightforward – make sure the production SSR matches the original concept as closely as possible.