Buy/Drive/Burn: Old Man Garage Queens From the Early 2000s

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Once upon a time in the early 2000s, a special convergence of factors created three very special cars. The most important element in the cars’ creation was the motoring public’s desire for things that appeared “retro” in the early part of the millennium. This retro desire occurred around the same time as some meetings in Michigan, where executives at the Big Three surely conducted consumer clinics with retired old men.

Remember, you can only burn one of these.

Unfortunately, we don’t have perfect overlap today with model years, so the target year is 2003.

Chevrolet SSR

Did you ever want a convertible pickup truck with styling from the Fifties? Me neither, but GM offered up the SSR anyway. Available for model years 2003 to 2006, the SSR rode on a platform derived from the GMT360, better known as the TrailBlazer. The first two model years sourced a 5.3-liter V8 from the Tahoe, while the 2005 and 2006 models utilized the 6.0-liter LS2 from the Corvette. Today’s 2003 example pairs the 5.3 to a four-speed automatic for genuine old-man cruising about town.

Ford Thunderbird

Ford brought the legendary Thunderbird name back for the 2002 through 2005 model years, following a hiatus in the latter half of the 1990s. Residing on a DEW98 platform used by the Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-Type, the 11th generation T-Bird was a two-seat-only affair. They were all convertibles, though many had the optional hardtop fitted and never removed. All Thunderbirds received the Jaguar-designed 3.9-liter AJ V8, paired to a five-speed automatic. It was the perfect coupe for gliding to Cracker Barrel at 4:45 p.m. The trunk has plenty of room for wooden knick-knacks.

Plymouth Prowler

In a unique offering from the end of the Plymouth brand’s life, Chrysler debuted the ultra-retro styled Prowler for the 1997 model year. Inspired by hot rods, the Prowler was intended to shock the buying public in the same manner as the Viper. And it worked (or not)! Under hood was the spicy 3.5-liter V6 from the Dodge Intrepid, as well as its four-speed automatic. Made of aluminum, the chassis was constructed in Ohio. Final assembly occurred by hand in Detroit. All examples were of the roadster variety, meaning two seats and a cloth folding roof. Plymouth passed away with the 2000 model year, so for ’01 and ’02, the Prowler became a Chrysler. Recall the good old days in your hot rod Intrepid Prowlcat.

Three early 2000s retro things; which goes home to your climate-controlled garage?

[Images: GM, Ford, Chrysler]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • MyerShift MyerShift on Aug 28, 2021

    BUY Plymouth Prowler. Highly indicative of Chrysler's boldness and confidence at the time. Clearly the product of a rising star company. Unique innovations pulling Chrysler into the future regarding aluminum chassis technology. Sure, it may not have a manual or a V8, but this car is radical. I *KNOW* if it weren't for Eaton and Daimler-Benz, Chrysler would have continued upward. My favourite since childhood. DRIVE Chevrolet SSR. It's a GM so parts will be plentiful. GMT-360 underpinnings. Not super inspired, but good SUV's from this platform. Still can't believe F-Bodies had the plug pulled on them for this heap. BURN Ford Thunderbird. A useless and ugly derivative of the DEW-98 whose resources would have been put to better use improving the Lincoln LS or even the Jaguar S-Type with which guts were shared. I disliked this one the most out of all.

  • Wayne Wayne on Mar 16, 2023

    SSR was a fun ride, but what a POS electrical dash would just light up with warnings, and the final nails were the cooling system overheating (VW system I was told) and a transmission fluid dump in my garage for an unknown reason. Did a cross country CA to KY and back drove nice and it was plenty fast for Texas.

  • Akear Toyota wins once again, while GM has egg on its face.
  • Slavuta Why America needs school buses altogether? When I was in school, I rode on a regular city bus
  • Jeff Buy whatever works for you if you own an EV and are happy with it good, if you buy a hybrid or plug in hybrid and it works for you good, if neither and you like your ICE the way it is that is also good. I believe over time EVs will get better and have a larger segment of the market.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Is New Jersey better than Old Jersey?
  • Tassos Jong-iL Looking forward to buying 2 of these with all of those Rubles we have been earning lately.