Chevrolet, Super Saturated

By Patrick Hoey

07.17.2007
There are some topics you must speak of carefully. There are some places that you need to step lightly as to not leave a mark.
Within the Chevrolet community these topics are models like the Chevelle and the Camaro. And the places are both figurative and literal; a literal example is where an emblem exists and a figurative example is what that proclaims; and more importantly, means. In this case it is the “SS” badge. Some things need no introduction; Chevrolet’s Super Sport trim is one of them. When a Chevelle was so much more than a Chevelle, it was a Chevelle Super Sport. When a Camaro SS roars by as you’re sitting at a traffic light, you smile with SS delight, which, of course, is a bigger smile than simply Camaro delight.

It can be said that what the Super Sport was in it’s early years was simply a higher trim line to a model in the Chevrolet line up, and that would be true. But over the years, the significance of that single letter used twice has appreciated, perhaps become more significant than it was when the idea for the Super Sport was first created. While I do not wish to argue about whether the SS has been given more credit in our memories than it was due, as some people claim, the designation is undoubtedly special and means something greater than just a higher trim on a model. It proclaims, and delivers, high-performance.

Looking back through the years at Chevrolet’s Super Sports, there is a continuing pattern of, well, really cool cars….cars that make you think about a second mortgage, the high price of her engagement ring, and how much room you’ve got in your garage. Those two words, “Super” and “Sport,” can fix or solve any of your short-term problems with a quick blast down the highway. At least that’s how we justify both the extra expense and the possibly unhealthy emotional attachment, anyway.

Look at the history of the Super Sport during the golden decades of the Sixties, Seventies, and into the Eighties. All of the models are cars that almost any car guy would want, and some of those guys would tell you that it’s not a want, but a need.

But all is not well in the Super Sport universe. What’s the problem, you ask? I’ll tell you the problem, but first, let me present this scenario: I can take a ’69 Chevelle SS and give it to an auto enthusiast who would be just as thrilled to have it in his driveway as he would a ’99 Camaro SS; either way he will likely become my new best friend. Maybe he would prefer the Chevelle more than the Camaro, maybe the other way around, but either way, he is so very happy.

But, just as an example of where I’m going with this, if I gave this guy a ’05 Malibu Maxx SS and then gave his neighbor the ’99 Camaro SS, or, the ’69 Chevelle SS, would he feel that the distribution of Super Sport iron was an equitable one? Yes, of course this is a rhetorical question; I’m making a point. We all know the answer to the question I pose, and the answer is a resounding no.

Now, a Malibu Maxx SS may fit the definition of the SS by containing higher performance and styling enhancements compared to its base model, but does that really make it as much of a SS as a ‘69 Chevelle SS or a ’99 Camaro SS?

I feel as though the SS nomenclature should be like an expensive bottle of wine, a bottle that you use for special occasions. This wine has been saved for some part of your existence that has higher meaning and value as compared to the rest of your life; let’s say for your 20th wedding anniversary. But, to really make my point, let’s just suppose the night before the anniversary the couple’s boorish and insolent son swipes it from the basement, gets plastered, and spends the early morning hugging the toilet. So much for special meaning and value.

And that just about covers how I feel about the SS designation lately; it is being flushed down the toilet by an adolescent who does not realize the longer-term impact of his selfish actions, treating something precious with carelessness simply because he wasn’t the one who had to work for it. But hey, he had a good time. Yes, as a matter of fact, I am talking about the current marketing people at General Motors.

I am sure GM feels an SS badge slapped on every model will show them a good time with sales; everyone wants an SS. But does every model deserve an SS, no matter how ridiculous the end result is? Should someone in the market for an HHR be able to claim “I own a new HHR SS” with pride, as if it were somehow really not just a retro-inspired, 4-cylinder, high-roofed station wagon, but something actually desirable instead? If we were to take every single Chevrolet model that offered an SS trim, line them up, and watch the progression towards the lowest priced offering, the real performance value of the SS emblem would quickly diminish once you landed on the most recent FWD Impala and Monte Carlo, and it would totally bottom out at the current Malibu and the Cobalt. The improved performance may be there, the trying-too-hard styling may include all the SS flair, but if it doesn’t match up well with the collective past of the Super Sport line, frankly, it just doesn’t seem honest. When we look at a vehicle like the HHR SS, we see something that GM marketing hopes can get by in the segment on some styling cues, some small performance upgrades, and finally, the coveted SS designation. GM is conferring the status of a Super Sport, but doing it on the cheap. But, both you and I know that this is going to end badly. With the SS being slapped on so many models with so little high-performance potential, the dilution of the Super Sport brand makes owning an SS the opposite of special and rewarding.

Is redemption on the way? When GM delivers the new Camaro in the near future, and upon the subsequent release of an SS model, hopefully we will see what a worthy modern-day SS is. Until then, keep those faux Super Sport models away from me. I don’t want gold-plated, I want real gold.

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Author: Brendan Moore

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting , a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area. He also manages Autosavant Consulting, a separate practice within Cedar Point Consulting. where he advises businesses connected to the auto industry. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.

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6 Comments

  1. You are EXACTLY right! Finally, someone who is going to call GM on what they’re doing to the Super Sport name!

  2. Say amen, brother.

  3. OK, I agree, but technically the SS models are a lot better than the standard models in whatever Chevrolet is improving. They’re still not sports cars as you say, but they are a lot better than the regular models.

  4. Even the front-wheel drive Impala is SS trim is laughable. Forget the puny HHR, that’s just embarassing to Chevrolet.

  5. All of you people living in the past crack me up. Most passenger cars will out-perform most of the SS models Chevrolet has ever put out. And so will a Malibu Maxx SS, for that matter. Get a grip, it’s 2007!

  6. I’ll meet you halfway on this one. Some cars absolutely should not have the SS badge. A few that come to mind include the Cobalt SS (non-supercharged), Malibu SS, and even the supercharged Monte Carlo SS. But really, other than the cool styling add-ons, is a 5.0 liter MC SS from the 1980s REALLY a true SS? I drove one once, and I’m pretty sure that my previous Olds Achieva SCX could whoop it any day of the week.

    Where I disagree with you is that an SS has to have an LSX engine to be a “true” SS. While the Trailblazer SS is a cool truck, and has engine, styling, and handling upgrades over the base model, it is still a truck, and is probably outperformed in most measures by a Cobalt SS/SC. I think you’re unfairly minimizing the HHR SS, because not only does it boast a substantial horsepower upgrade from 149 or 175 to about 260 – an upgrade of 111 or 85 horsepower, or 74% or 49% (not “small performance upgrades” as you said), plus most if not all of the handling enhancements that made the Cobalt SS/SC a well-respected car even by the likes of Car and Driver.

    In my opinion, the Malibu Maxx SS and others like it were a problem, but have gone or are going away. GM HAS finally gotten wise with the SS label and didn’t use it on the Equinox or 2008 non-SC Cobalt, using “Sport” instead. So it’s not even really a problem anymore, though I agree that it WAS a problem for the past few years.

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