It's a turbocharged surprise that's easy to slide under anybody's radar. Four cylinders, four doors, and just four windows. It's an odd combination, and it sums up car design of the mid-2000s as well as just about any other car ever made. It's a 2009 Chevrolet HHR SS Panel and it's our autoTRADER.ca Find of the Week.
In the very late 90s and early to mid-2000s, retro design was in. The PT Cruiser flew off of Chrysler lots, the Beetle was back, Ford had the Thunderbird. And Chevrolet had the Heritage High Roof, or HHR.
This was a strange time for General Motors. Saturn was flopping and damn the expenses car guy Bob Lutz was in charge of product development. The story went at the time that he wanted the company's next small car to be top of the class, no matter the cost. That lead to the Cobalt/G5 twins, and since they were a little too bland, they spawned something a little more interesting. At least in the looks department.
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The design was inspired by trucks of the post-war era. Especially the 1947 Suburban and the Advance Design Chevy trucks that sold from 1947 to 1955. The bulging square fenders call back to those vehicles and the glass even gives it the appearance of a chopped roof.
The five-passenger compact was a front-drive car but it was too tall to really be called a station wagon. This, along with the Cruiser, might be the genesis of the subcompact crossover craze that has taken over the latter half of this decade.
In 2007, Chevrolet's Cobalt SS was in for some big changes. The old supercharged 2.4L engine wasn't sticking around, and the naturally aspirated SS wasn't really all that super. They needed something a little more powerful. A little more modern.
They just happened to have a 2.0L turbocharged version of the Ecotec four-cylinder engine sitting around. Well, it was in the Pontiac Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky Red Line, but those models weren't exactly flying off of dealer lots. So Chevrolet turned that engine sideways and put it into the Cobalt to make a Cobalt SS with some real shove.
Because it was 2007, and in hindsight, those pre-recession times were largely treated like the money train would never stop, Chevrolet put that SS powertrain into the HHR.
But not just the normal five-passenger HHR. No, Chevrolet really went out on a limb with this one. The HHR was also available with no glass in the rear windows. A good, old-fashioned panel van version. And you had best believe they made a panel version of the SS.
So let's look at the specs. A 2.0L four-cylinder engine that's been turbocharged all the way to 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Even more strangely, Chevy offered it up with a five-speed manual transmission. Let's go through that again, a 260 hp turbo compact panel van with a stick!
It gets even better. The panel had no rear seats, so they gave it factory shaved door handles. But it still came with the special SS front grille, sportier front bumper, and heavily bolstered seats inside. And great big Brembo front brakes.
The SS models got some more features that made them surprisingly quick. Like the ability to upshift without taking your foot off the gas and letting the turbo unspool. It also had launch control that would hold the HHR at 4,400 rpm until you dropped the clutch.
The HHR SS Panel was an absolutely absurd idea, and as such it only lasted for one model year. We can't confirm the total production, but the seller and several other sources say that only 216 were built.
This is one of those. It's black on black and red, and unless you know what you're looking at there is no way to tell that this little cargo van is about to blow your doors off. This one is for sale in Ridgeway, ON, just south of Niagara Falls. It has just under 96,000 km on the odometer. It's a strange part of 2000s automotive history. That just happens to be a surprisingly competent hot...hatch? Yeah, that counts as a hot hatch.