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Nineties Bowtie with a big-block – Chevrolet’s C1500 454 SS pickup

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1990 Chevrolet C1500 454 SS. Brochure images courtesy Chevrolet.

The idea of stylized pickups for personal use is nothing new. Consider the Chevrolet Cameo Carrier, produced from 1955-’59, or the car-based El Camino, built for five generations and a total of 26 model years. The El Camino even came in a big-block performance variant, the SS454, and in 1989, Chevrolet updated this same recipe – this time using a half-ton pickup – to create the limited-production C1500 454 SS, built for the 1990-’93 model years.

The 454 SS arrived in late 1989 as a 1990 model, smack in the middle of the fourth-generation (GMT400) truck’s run. While the big-block engine beneath the hood was a primary selling point, the truck delivered more than just straight-line performance. Inside, all 454 SS pickups were based upon the quasi-luxury Silverado trim level, and came complete with amenities like cruise control, a tilt sport steering wheel, an AM/FM/cassette stereo with graphic equalizer, intermittent wipers, and bolstered sports seats for driver and passenger. Only short-bed, standard-cab C1500s were fitted with the 454 SS package (RPO B4U), and for the first two years on the market, the sole color choice was Onyx Black with a Garnet Red interior.

The (7.4-liter) fuel-injected engine was not exclusive to the 454 SS model, but instead was the same V-8 available in 3500 and 2500 pickup models. In the sport truck’s debut year, the engine produced 230 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque, and sent this through a three-speed Turbo Hyda-Matic automatic transmission to a limited-slip differential with a 3.73:1 axle ratio. Maryland Public Television’s MotorWeek tested a 454 SS in late 1989, and found the truck capable of running from 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds, completing the quarter-mile in 15.9 seconds at 87 mph.

Thanks to the addition of a Performance Handling Package, which contained Bilstein shocks, a 1.25-inch front anti-roll bar and 12.7:1 ratio steering, the 454 SS was a capable handler as well, as long as one factored in the truck’s two-and-a-quarter-ton weight and high center of gravity. BFGoodrich supplied 275/60R-15 Comp T/A tires, and in conjunction with rear anti-lock brakes, the 454 SS proved capable of stopping from 60 mph in a very respectable 127 feet, a number also provided by Motor Week.

For 1991, Chevrolet made several improvements to the 454 SS, including a bump in output to 255 hp and 405 lb-ft. A new four-speed automatic transmission, the 4L80E, replaced the previous Turbo Hydra-Matic, and the rear gearing was changed to 4.10:1 for even quicker acceleration. As a result, the dash from 0-60 mph now went by in 7.2 seconds, while the quarter-mile time was reduced to 15.7 seconds. The 454 SS was a thirsty beast, though, with Chevrolet estimating fuel economy at 10 mpg city and 11 mpg highway for 1990 (and certainly no better for 1991).

1991 Chevrolet 454 SS

1991 Chevrolet C1500 454 SS.

For 1992 and 1993, Summit White and Victory Red joined Onyx Black as available exterior color choices, but the truck was proving tougher to sell with each passing year. In 1990, the sticker price was $18,295, roughly 62-percent more than a base C1500 pickup, and by 1993 the 454 SS’s price had climbed to $21,240. Worse, perhaps, for owners was the fact that the 454 SS was no longer king of the performance pickup hill, having lost that title to the GMC Syclone in 1991.

Across four years in production, Chevrolet built less than 17,000 454 SS pickups, many of which were spared the ravages of conventional trucks, perhaps because of their perceived future-collectible status and limited towing and hauling capacity.  As of this writing, eight stock or near-stock examples are listed in the Hemmings Classifieds, priced from $18,500 (for a 1990 model, with under 76,000 miles, at an Indiana dealership) to $29,995 (for a 15,000-mile ’90  model at a Tennessee dealership), and there are modified trucks listed with us as well.

Recent Mecum auction sales show a fairly broad range of prices. At the recent Indianapolis sale, a 1990 with undisclosed mileage sold for a fee-inclusive $14,300, while in Houston a 59,000-mile 1991 sold for $26,950, towards the high-end of its pre-auction estimate. Last year’s Denver sale saw a one-owner, 1,700-mile 1990 454 SS sell for $30,250, while a 1990 with 82,000 miles sold for $16,500 in Arizona last March.

As an investment, there are likely better choices in this price range. As an entertaining weekend driver that can still deliver some degree of functionality, the 454 SS is a pickup that won’t be seen at every show-and-shine, and one fully capable of the occasional run down the local drag strip.