Chevrolet Silverado SS and ’06 Intimidator editions have ‘em smokin’

By Jim Meachen

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Think hard, what does a Chevrolet SS bring to mind?

If you thought “muscle car” then you are probably thinking along the same lines as a vast majority of Americans. SS is one of the terms that had become synonymous with the muscle-car era of the ’60s.
The SS moniker, which stands for Super Sport, was first placed on a hopped-up Impala in 1961. Later it was attached to such notables Chevy’s as Chevelle and Camaro, some with rumbling 400 horsepower V-8 engines.

In recent years, the SS badge has been stuck on some not-so-hot cars. An injustice to those power wagons of yesteryear. Nostalgia sells, so it isn’t much of a stretch for marketing types to slap labels on vehicles that don’t measure up to the originals. Marketing people should be forced into taking automotive history classes and a seminar or two on telling the truth.

Thankfully Chevrolet had created an SS version of the full-sized Silverado 1500 light-duty pickup truck in 2003 that does measure up to, in some sense, the SS name. At least it tries.

The Silverado SS is not a screamer like the now-departed supercharged 380-horsepower Ford F-150 Lightning or the Dodge Ram SRT-10. It’s more of a practical truck with a big dose of V-8 power with all-wheel drive that can be used for work or towing and can be driven in bad weather. (Try to drive your rear-wheel-smokin’ Lightning on a wet street. Best keep it in the garage for dry days). It’s an extended cab that can seat five people in relative comfort.

What powers the Silverado SS is a 6.0-liter V-8 churning out 345 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque with a towing capacity of up to 7,800 pounds. Sounds like a great combination — prodigious horsepower, all-weather capability and seating for five people.

But Silverado fans have expressed an interest in a two-wheel rear drive version with the ability to smoke the rear tires. Like a real SS.

So finally, at mid-2005 model year, a two-wheel drive Silverado SS has been added to the lineup. And it’s now in showrooms. And now you can smoke the tires.

Appropriately it was introduced to a small contingent of automotive journalists at the annual Dale Earnhardt Appreciation Day at Dale Earnhardt, Inc. a few miles outside this small rural town in the heart of NASCAR country.
The big noise though was the announcement that for the 2006 model year there will be a limited run of black two-wheel drive Intimidator SS Silverado trucks honoring Earnhardt, Sr. who was killed at the Daytona Motor Speedway early in 2001.

“We are very proud of the long-time association between Chevrolet and the Earnhardt family,” said Ed Peper, Chevrolet general manager. “Dale’s legacy is unique within racing, and we are excited about the opportunity to offer fans a vehicle they can so closely identify with one of their heroes.”

The Silverado Intimidator SS is the sixth signature edition vehicle offered by Chevrolet and is considered by some fans to be the ultimate NASCAR-themed collectible.

Previous editions were the 2002 Dale Earnhardt Monte Carlo (3,333 units sold), the 2003 Jeff Gordon Monte Carlo (2,424 units sold), the 2004 Monte Carlo Intimidator SS (4,000 units sold), the 2004 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Supercharged SS Monte Carlo (2,883 units sold), and the 2005 Tony Stewart Supercharged SS Monte Carlo (1,020 units).

Peper said that Chevrolet will make a donation from the sale of each of the 1,333 limited edition Silverado SS Intimidators to the Dale Earnhardt Foundation, the Earnhardt family charity.

The Earnhardt edition will have a lowered ride height, a black monochromatic color highlighted with “Intimidator” badge on the tailgate and doors, a racing-inspired tailgate spoiler and a silver grille inset. The Intimidator SS also has 20-inch chrome wheels.

It will also be set apart from the standard SS with a performance-tuned suspension and a stiffer front stabilizer bar. (Shouldn’t every SS have this?).

The interior will feature a black leather steering wheel along with the Dale Earnhardt Legacy logo embroidered on the front headrests. Optional dark charcoal leather seating surfaces are available. Other features will include Dale Earnhardt’s signature on the white, backlit gauge cluster, the “Intimidator” badge on the instrument panel, and floor mats with the “Intimidator” script.

The thousands of fans who showed up on the overcast Friday to pay homage to their late hero got to glimpse a copy of the new truck.

Before joining the Earnhardt celebration on this mild Friday morning, we spent a couple hours behind the wheel of the new SS on the rolling hills of south-central North Carolina. Since we didn’t have an all-wheel drive model for comparison, it’s hard to determine just how much faster the truck is in two-wheel drive.

But we determined that the new SS can negotiate a full-throttle run from 0 to 60 through the standard 4-speed automatic in around 6.5 seconds. If that indeed proves to be true, that’s about a half second quicker than the all-wheel drive model. Punch off the traction control and some serious rear-wheel burnouts can be accomplished.

Here’s what you get with the SS that’s not available on the standard Silverado Extended Cab: A monochromatic exterior devoid of chrome, looking cool in black, Arrival Blue or Victory Red. SS badges are attached to the front doors and the tailgate. The grille and lower air inlets are made of gray diamond-pattern mesh. The only bright spots are Chevy’s gold bowtie emblem and aluminum-trimmed air ducts in the bumper; Dark Charcoal leather seats with special SS embroidered headrests. They give the interior a real upgraded look; A 345-horsepower version of General Motors’ 6.0-liter V-8. Torque has been pumped to 380 pound-feet. The engine is tuned for a throaty roar; Huge specially styled 20-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in 8.5-inch wide Goodyear rubber, together with a two-inch lower ride height, that gives the SS a race-truck persona; Backlit white-faced gauges with black markings and orange pointers.

The Chevy SS looks hot, but it may be the driving experience that finally sells the skeptical buyer.

The suspension, tire combination does a good job keeping the Silverado planted on the road during aggressive cornering. And on smooth pavement, the Chevy has a comfortable ride.

But put the brute onto some washboard roadway and the “truckiness” comes shining through. Hey, don’t forget this is a truck with some serious hauling and towing capabilities.

Road feel is good but certainly not in sports car territory. The highly boosted power steering makes maneuvering in tight parking lot situations a one-handed experience.

The all-wheel drive SS comes in LT trim only. That means leather seats and other goodies are standard equipment. But Chevrolet officials said they made the lower LS trim available in the two-wheel drive version to cut the cost to people who want the performance upgrades but who don’t necessarily want leather seats and other pricey options.

The LS trim level can be purchased for $36,440, that’s a $3,500 savings over the all-wheel drive model. (That’s before “Employee Pricing”).

A large amount of good stuff comes for that price including dual-zone climate control, power windows and locks, redundant steering wheel controls, keyless entry, stereo with CD player and cruise control.

Buyers of the two-wheel drive Silverado SS will also gain a couple miles to the gallon. It is rated at 14 city and 19 highway compared to the 13/17 rating of the all-wheel drive model.

If you can find one, you can get a black copy with “Intimidator” written on the doors and tailgate. But be prepared to spend more money. The Signature Series Earnhardt Intimidator carries a $1,995 premium and the leather is still extra. But take heart – both the new SS and the Intimidator qualify for the employee discount program now extended by GM through the end of September.

GM tells us that 343 orders have been filled out of the 1,333 to be built. The complete build out will be finished by GM’s year-end holiday hiatus. So now would be the time to plunk down your deposit on what is the closest thing to the tradition of a real Super Sport from GM.

And don’t forget to SMOKE those tires.