Rare Rides: A 2009 Chevrolet HHR SS Panel, Desirability Guaranteed

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

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]

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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2 of 49 comments
  • Tonycd Tonycd on Mar 10, 2021

    These, like their Cobalt parent, were also among the vehicles that were killing their owners when their substandard ignitions switches wore out and spontaneously shut off the car in operation, disabling the steering, power brakes and airbags.

  • DenverMike DenverMike on Mar 10, 2021

    A totally shameless, me too ripoff. And of a half baked turkey. At least Chrysler/Plymouth was putting out some unique crap. Plus GM was late to the show. Yet GM will stand around watching F-series and Ram eat their pickup truck lunch, not offering nearly the content, features, quality, options, choices, trim, packages, engines, models/specialties, or commercial/hotshot support. For decades.

  • Daniel J I love my mazda 6. It's getting harder and harder to drive it around where I live as municipalities fail to repair roads. SUVs are just easier to drive with all of the potholes.
  • 1995 SC On the plus side, I found a sedan I want to buy
  • Teddyc73 As I asked earlier under another article, when did "segment" or "class" become "space"? Does using that term make one feel more sophisticated? If GM's products in other segments...I mean "space" is more profitable then sedans then why shouldn't they discontinue it.
  • Robert Absolutely!!! I hate SUV's , I like the better gas milage and better ride and better handling!! Can't take a SUV 55mph into a highway exit ramp! I can in my Malibu and there's more than enough room for 5 and trunk is plenty big enough for me!
  • Teddyc73 Since when did automakers or car companies become "OEM". Probably about the same time "segment" or "class" became "space". I wish there were more sedans. I would like an American sedan. However, as others have stated, if they don't sell in large enough quantities to be profitable the automakers...I mean, "OEMs" aren't going to build them. It's simple business.