Shane’s HHR Defies the Platform’s Unflattering Reputation

Posted by Alex Darmos on

For work and pleasure: The owner of this HHR SS makes the black sheep of the Ecotec series a feast for the eyes

 

Recently, long-time customer Shane Hatfield came all the way from his home near Flint in his HHR-SS to have dyno and tune work done to optimize the retro-styled Chevrolet station wagon.

 

Since purchasing the vehicle in 2017, Shane’s HHR-SS, which he named Sazabi after a robotic machine from the Mobile Suit Gundam universe of television shows and movies, has nearly every part ZZP has to offer for the platform built into it, including our 14.5” Brembo big brake kit, ZFR 7163 turbo, F40 transmission swap and more.

 

“When I decided to build it, I started buying the parts and I kept up with it. I wanted to check as many boxes as could and went from there,” Shane said. “The business was good and the prices, I can’t complain.”

 

Shane, who worked at ZZP in the early 2010s said it was one of the first HHRs to be built to race specifications at ZZP. And while he built a track-ready vehicle, Shane also said he built it to have fun.

 

 

However, standing out with its shimmering crimson topcoat and gold accents, it’s hard to believe the vehicle at one time the platform was criticized for its appearance and performance.

“It’s different and odd,” Shane said.

Although somewhat of a hit when it was released, the HHR doesn’t have the most flattering of histories when it comes to pleasing critics. However, looking at Shane’s build makes this supposed black sheep of the Ecotec line a feast for the eyes and takes us a step back into a strange case of the recent automotive past.

 

Shane’s HHR is a model of perfection, but he mentioned the vehicle’s history and the distaste some people have toward the platform, which Shane took as a source of pride.

 

 

“It’s super practical and weird,” Shane said. “People hated on it, but I liked that. It’s nice to have stuff no one likes.”

Exactly why the HHR is disliked in the automotive community is about as inexplicable as the hatred of Nickelback among music lovers: it just is that way and no one really questions why.

But one thing’s for certain: that hatred has something to do with the HHR sharing its DNA with Chrysler’s PT Cruiser via automotive designer Bryan Nesbitt.

 

Nesbitt joined GM in 2001 after designing the PT Cruiser the year before. Following the success of the PT Cruiser, Nesbitt set to designing a new line of Chevy vehicles that eventually became the SSR and the HHR, which were released in 2006.

Taking inspiration from Chevy vehicles from the 1930s and 40s, HHR shares complaints from some customers of the PT Cruiser that its style iterations did not keep up with the times in the years following their debut. And well within the Cruiser’s shadow, it was easy for that same sentiment to be laid at the feet of the HHR as well.

“By the time the HHR hit showroom floors, the PT Cruiser had been around for five years, effectively guaranteeing that the HHR would never escape its reputation as Chevy’s wannabe PT Cruiser,” Collin Woodard, a web content writer automotive magazine Road & Track wrote.

It didn’t help that the original HHR also initially suffered from lackluster performance. At the time of release, the HHR reached only about 149 horsepower.

 

In a retrospective article written about the delta platform model, Autotrader described the vehicle’s original iteration as boring.

But with the release of the turbocharged SS model in 2008, significantly improved performance helped to separate the vehicle apart from its Chrysler cousin when it was able to reach well over 250hp.

No longer was the HHR living in the shadow of the PT Cruiser, the HHR matched the head-turning performance of other heavy-hitters in its class that included the Mazdaspeed 3, which Car and Driver remembered as a “Twilight Zone sort of distorted-reality moment” when they tested out the SS came extremely close to beating out the Mazda, which clocked in at 263hp.

 

The upgrade also helped the vehicle gain traction in the modding community and that’s how one ended up in our shop around the time Shane worked in the shop.

Shane’s stock LNF engine measured in at about 260hp, but ZZP’s modifications mean it could potentially see 600 plus.

Despite many post-mortems on the vehicle, the HHR-SS was praised for its performance as well as its practicality, which played into Shane’s adoption of the platform.

“It can go to track with no issues and then go to Home Depot and get a whole sheet of plywood and tires,” Shane said.

 

After years of heavy modification, Shane said his plan now is to not work on it and just use it.

“For the longest time, I’d have to do all this testing and modding. Now I get to enjoy it. That’s why I bought it, not just to park it in a garage,” Shane said.

However, he said he’s planning out his next project and trying to decide what platform he might build next.

 

“This has been a fun challenge. This vehicle not supposed to do what it does and look the way it does and that’s the beauty of it in my eyes.”

 

Modifications

Engine

  • ZZP Intake
  • ZZP Downpipe
  • ZZP Upper charge pipe
  • ZZP Lower charge pipe
  • ZZP Cat Cack Exhaust
  • Fuel Lobe Cam
  • Opel Injectors
  • ZZP Upgraded HPFP
  • Borg Warner 7163 ZFR Turbo
  • 2014-2015 Camaro SS Heat Extractor
  • ZZP Shaved Intake Manifold

 

Drivetrain

  • Saab F40 6 Speed Swap

Suspension & Brakes

  • 14.5” Brembo Big Brake Kit
  • Airlift Performance 3P Air Ride
  • Powell Hardcore Rear Sway Bar
  • 19×9.5 Avant Garde M540 in Brushed Bronze Bullion
  • 235/35r19 Michelin Pilot Super Sport Tires

Interior

  • ZZP Dual Pillar Pod
  • Aeroforce Interceptor Scan Gauge
  • Braum Seats
  • Braum Harness Bar
  • Takata Harnesses
  • Sony XAC-100 Double Din Radio
  • JBL Speakers

 Exterior

  • Avery Gloss Red Diamond Wrap
  • Rear Wiper Delete
  • Subaru STi Front Lip
  • Custom Alumalite Side Skirts
  • PFYC Bermuda Black LED Tail Lights
  • Morimoto Headlight Retrofit