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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
buy drive burn old man garage queens from the early 2000s

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]

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2 of 89 comments
  • Boozysmurf Boozysmurf on Mar 20, 2019

    I'm gonna do a bait'n'switch. Buy AND Drive the Prowler. If you can get past V6 rather than V8, it wasn't particularly slow (0-60 in around 5.5-6 seconds) especially not for its time. it looked awesome, and still stands out as something really different that NO ONE would take a chance on building today. Even more so than the Viper, this was a massive chance-taking for Chrysler, and good on 'em for doing it. Burn both the T-Bird (it just... it was the retro answer to a question no one asked, it had none of the soul of the previous generations) and the SSR (Lets take all the downsides of a TrailBlazer (heavy, crappy handling) and match them with all the downsides of a sports car (despite a bed, nearly no useable space) and convertible (flex, flex flex goes the chassis!) make it slow because it's so heavy (seriously how can a Corvette drivetrain have a 0-60mph of 7.7 seconds and the quarter in 15.9 seconds @ 86mph?? - oh yeah, curb weight - 4700lbs) and then make it cost as much as a corvette, but really ugly. I shouldn't sugar coat it, and tell you how I really feel, but I'm trying to keep it PG. ;)

  • 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.

  • Jeff S I ignore the commercials. Never owned a Mazda but I would definitely look at one and seriously consider it. I would take a Honda, Toyota, or Mazda over any German vehicle at least they are long lasting, reliable, and don't cost an arm and a leg to maintain.
  • GregLocock The predictable hysteria and repetition of talking points in the meeja is quite funny. it does not divide Oxford into six zones. it restricts access at 6 locations , one on each road, to reduce congestion in the town centre. Florence, which faces the same issue, traffic and narrow historic streets, lined with historic buildings, simply closed the entire town centre off. Don't see anybody whining about that.
  • Jeff S I have rented from Hertz before and never encountered this but if I had I would sue them. Would not want a gun pointed at me and thrown in jail for renting a car.
  • Arthur Dailey I did use a service pre COVID to get the pricing that the dealers were alleged to have paid the manufacturer. It also provided 'quotes' from multiple dealers .
  • Arthur Dailey Has anyone else concluded that we may have a new 'troll' on this site?