A 2009 Chevrolet HHR SS Panel, Desirability Guaranteed


Today’s Rare Ride is the rarest version of Chevrolet’s retro-styled economy car of the 2000s, and you might never have had the pleasure of seeing one in person.

Presenting the HHR SS Panel, in which you shift your own gears.

To discuss HHR, we must first make a brief visit to Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. The PT Cruiser debuted in 2001 with retro-modern looks and a cutesy personality and was immediately popular domestically. General Motors was envious of the PT Cruiser’s sales success, but luckily for them, they’d hired its designer, Bryan Nesbitt, in 2001. A short while later, GM said “Make us a PT Cruiser too!”

And so the Chevrolet HHR debuted for the 2006 model year. Based on the same platform as the compact Cobalt, the HHR had many of the same retro characteristics and personality of the PT Cruiser. Initially, only the four-door hatchback was available, but for 2007 the Panel version joined the ranks and brought back a term long-forgotten by most: the sedan delivery. Your author has also heard it called a panel van or panel wagon. Engines available on the HHR were all of I4 configuration and from GM’s Ecotec family. A 2.0-liter turbocharged engine was the most powerful, joined by naturally aspirated 2.2- and 2.4-liter mills. Transmissions on offer were the oft-selected four-speed automatic, or a five-speed manual provided by GM or Getrag.

The Panel did not have rear seats but instead featured cargo management compartments. It did not have side airbags, and the rear cargo area was plastic instead of carpeted. Rear side doors were covered by a large plastic panel outside and were only openable remotely via dash-mounted buttons.

Initially, all Panels were LT, but trims extended to LS, and 2LT in 2008. Standard HHR trims extended to a new SS turbocharged version for the 2008 model year. The 2.0-liter engine in the SS produced 260 horses if equipped with the five-speed manual, but was turned down to 235 if an automatic was selected. GM extended the SS further in 2009 with the SS Panel. All examples used the 2.0-liter engine and forced the five-speed manual transmission upon eager race van customers.

SS versions used a different performance suspension to standard HHRs and were visually distinguished by a sportier front fascia, ground effects along the sides, a rear spoiler, and a boost gauge in the a-pillar. Wheels were also unique to the SS. The HHR SS Panel was sold for only one year, as it was canceled after 2009 along with the regular SS. The group responsible for the SS’ design, GM Performance Division, was shut down in 2010 as GM went through its bankruptcy. HHR lived on through 2011 before it was canceled without replacement.

Today’s HHR SS Panel has traveled 146,000 miles in its 12 years of life. In excellent condition, it asks an optimistic $9,950 in Seattle.

[Images: GM]

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