Cloaked in black, it could be a vehicle used by the highly-trained and supremely-equipped individuals who guard and transport America’s Commander in Chief? Not too flashy, but just flashy enough to those with the eye. And don’t let the trailer hitch fool you; this is not your run-of-the-mill mid-size SUV trucking the kids to school and hockey practice. No sir, This is the 2006-’09 Chevrolet Trailblazer SS.
Power Couple: Development
In 2002, a unique unit was set-up, a high-performance “special forces” so to speak. Called High-Performance Vehicle Operations Group (HPVO), it operated within GM’s Performance Division to develop, engineer and test/tune all of the General’s hottest machines. Headed by multi-time SCCA champion racer and high-performance prodigy-John (Heinrocket) Heinricy—his credentials are too many to mention, but let’s just say if you’re a Corvette, Camaro/Firebird or CTS-V Caddy fan, amongst others, you owe Mr. Heinricy a debt of gratitude. Teaming with fellow SCCA racer, Corvette Chief Engineer and mid-size truck Vehicle Line Executive (VLE) at the time, Tom Wallace, the GMT-360-platformed Chevy Trailblazer SS, received some serious up-gunning and wore a GM Performance Division badge on its engine cover to prove it.
Putting the Trailblazer Super Sport through its paces at GM’s Milford Proving Ground was par for the course, but shipping the tire-smoking SUV to Germany to rack up R&D miles and leave some (or a lot) of American rubber on the famed Nürburgring’s asphalt was a relatively new practice. By the early 2000s, what had been quite clear to the engineers at Benz, BMW, and Audi, was now accepted by the General: a car that excels at the Nürburgring will excel on the street. With that in mind, Heinricy would tweak the TBSS’s suspension, steering, braking and chassis response on the twists, turns and dizzying elevations of the dreaded Nordschleife — in the opinion of many accomplished racers, the most demanding track in the world.
Super Sport Specs:
Since debuting under the hood of the ‘97 C5 Corvette, the Gen III LS1 V8 has attained legend status. At the time of the Trailblazer SS development, GM/Chevy powertrain was unleashing the next iteration LS, the Gen IV LS2. Bored to 364-cubic inches from the LS1/LS6s 346-cubes/5.7L-the higher-compression (10.9:1) 400 hp/400 lb-ft LS2 was fitted to the 2005- 07 C6 Vette, the 2005-06 Pontiac GTO and Caddy’s 2006-07 CTS-V among others. Powered by the new LS2 and with ‘Vette tech Tom Wallace calling the shots, the TBSS joined some very good company.
Under the SS’s hood, the 6.0-liter screamer makes 395 horsepower, supposedly losing five ponies to a more restrictive exhaust, taller truck-style intake manifold and parasitic deficit from its mechanical, belt-driven fan utilized for improved-cooling under towing conditions. Or, because the Corvette crowd can be nasty if you know what I mean. Regardless, there seems to be a unanimous consensus that the LS2’s high-RPM roar, barking from the single passenger-side exit exhaust system sounds menacingly awesome.
Wielding the LS2’s grunt and a 6,600-lb (AWD), 6,800-lb RWD tow rating, is the 4L70E 4-speed transmission, a purposely beefed-up version of the 4L60/65E from the Corvette and GTO. When coupled with AWD, a Torsen T-3 transfer case splits torque management by 33/67-percent front/rear, with a max 44-percent to the front rollers possible. Completing the heavy-duty drivetrain is an American Axle Manufacturing (AAM) 9.5-inch rear axle, 4.10 gears and an Eaton Limited Slip Differential (LSD).
As mentioned, the TBSS could be had in either LS trim with the rear wheels doing the work, or paying homage to the late great 1992-93 GMC turbo Typhoons, the option-laden LT with full-time all-wheel drive. Both versions received GM’s StabiliTrak electronic stability enhancement system as standard.
From the onset, the TBSS was to be a balanced machine, not just a Trailblazer stuffed with a bigger motor. That said, all of Heinricy’s track exertions in Deutschland netted a superb SS-specific suspension that more than compliments the mighty LS2. The setup includes specially-valved Bilstein monotube shocks and stiffer spring rates with load-leveling coils out back, a larger (36mm) front anti-roll (sway) bar/24mm-rear piece and harder durometer bushings all around. This equates to a sportscar-like 1-inch dropped ride height as compared to a non-SS Trailblazer, a lower center of gravity and a much more aggressive stance.
Applying his racing knowledge of proper steering geometry Heinricy saw to it that the TBSS received a quicker 16.0:1 steering ratio (base is 20.3:1) to take advantage of the 54/47 weight distribution and provide sharper steering response for the more than 2-1/4 ton of fun SUV.
Hauling it down and putting it to the ground are power 4-wheel ABS brakes with 12.8-inch ventilated rotors front/rear, Corvette Z51 pads biting up front and increased friction pads out back, all encased behind stylish 20×8-inch polished clear-coated, flangeless six-spoke wheels wrapped in 255/50/R20 Goodyear Eagle RS-A rubber. The stopping components enable 60-0 mph deceleration in an amazing average 115-125-feet.
At first glance to anyone but the auto-educated enthusiast, the TBSS doesn’t immediately raise an eyebrow, but upon closer inspection the slick tricks become apparent. Depicting a Trailblazer that’s been going to the gym and treating itself right, absent are body side moldings and roof racks, allowing the monochromatic paint and huge hoops to slim down and smooth out the hefty little truck. An SS-specific front fascia includes mesh grilles top and bottom of the body-color bowtie bar, between the laser-like fog lights and framed by polished metal surrounds for the functional brake-cooling ducts. The coolest feature on the TBSS and a direct nod to the hot rodders at GM Performance Division is the SS’s integrated cold air induction system. Featuring two mesh-covered slots cut into each end of the bowtie bar between the upper/lower headlight lenses-the, passenger-side slot rams driving air into the engine’s airbox. While the driver’s side slot balances the look, it is non-functional with a blocking plate behind it. And flaunting its accolades as the first SUV deserving of Chevrolet’s esteemed Super Sport badge, three of them join the one on the engine cover, gracing the doors and rear liftgate.
The Trailblazer SS saw only four model years of production and in that time trim levels, packages and option groups somewhat varied. Colors stayed the same and although Black (41) was most prevalent, Summit White (50), Superior Blue Metallic (38), Silverstone Metallic (67) and Red Jewel Tintcoat (80), were available TBSS hues, with a couple of these colors renamed by ‘09. Cloth/Leather choices were Ebony/Light Gray.
For 2006-07, the lower option groups were designated by LS, which meant you got cloth seats and no butt-heater option. And more were 2WD. The LT group would net the beautiful leather-covered seats with suede inserts on the fronts with “SS” embroidery. The LT grouping usually meant AWD and allowed for a full option load of preferred equipment, including power sliding sunroof, heated power seats, and premium entertainment system with OnStar, AM/FM radio, CD/Navigation and XM Satellite radio/Bluetooth wireless connectivity. For 2008-09 option packages were given numbers 1LT, 2LT/3LT, 1SS/3SS and all could be applied to 2-wheel drive or AWD models. By ’09, all TBSS’s were lavishly equipped with 2LT/3LT options as part of the SS package.
Putting all confusion aside, from 2006-09, all TBSS’s came with the same key features as standard to the (B4U) SS package, they are:
- LS2 V8 Engine
- SS-Specific front/rear fascia and “SS” badging
- Cold Air Induction Package
- SS-Specific single-side exit exhaust
- SS-Specific Sport Chassis/Suspension/Brakes
- SS-Specific 20-inch polished aluminum wheels/all-season performance tires
- Automatic rear level-control air suspension with a rear hatch-accessible air compressor
- SS-Specific silver-trimmed gauge cluster with silver-faced tachometer
- Automatic dual-zone climate controls
- Perforated leather-wrapped “SS” steering wheel with sound system/Driver Information Centre (DIC) controls
- SS embroidered seat backs
- Power adjustable brake/accelerator pedalsHaulin’ A”SS”: Performance
After all is said and done, the option loaded shoebox, shaped mid-size SUV hits the street/track, it’s the SS designation that raises this Trailblazer above all others. Performance has always been the main factor of the Super Sport lineage, and the TBSS has it. In stock form, able to put down mid-5-second 0-60-mph launches and lunge, through the ¼-mile in the high-13s-the 4800-lb soccer mom steed surprises most challengers, to say the least. Responding positively to all LS2 bolt-ons, including headers, exhaust, heads, cam, intake, and tuning, along with stiffer underpinnings and meatier rubber, Trailblazer SS’s have conquered the 11’s normally-aspirated and the 9s when boosted.
Short But Sweet: Production Totals
Provided by the most reliable of sources, Lead Archivist at the GM Heritage Center/Media Archive, Christo Datini, here are the production numbers for the 2006-09 (B4U) TBSS in 2WD/AWD configurations.
- TBSS-2WD: 3,289
- TBSS-AWD: 5,530
- TBSS-2WD: 4,582
- TBSS-AWD: 5,887
- TBSS-2WD: 2,127
- TBSS-AWD: 3,548
- TBSS-2WD: 217
- TBSS-AWD: 391
2WD TOTAL: 10,215
AWD TOTAL: 15,356
After only a brief four year run, the Trailblazer SS has enjoyed a real cult following post-production. Like its high-powered predecessor, the GMC Typhoon, the TBSS has joined that short list of GM greats, that while only built for a short time, left a lasting impression with many wishing they had hung around a bit longer.
Even so, few acknowledge the existence of this ground-pounding grocery-getter developed by GM Performance Division’s High-Performance Vehicle Operations Group, as the first SUV to wear the coveted “SS” badge. Mainly the LSX-educated and Chevy-indoctrinated are privy to the vaunted LS2-power coupled with available AWD and enough luxury amenities and high-tech features to satisfy most gearheads…and their family obligations. Whatever the case, the TBSS has become the choice for those wanting a high-performance machine with rare style and practicality. Nice pre-owned examples can be had in the $15-20,000 range, and OEM/aftermarket support is plentiful.
So, the next time you spot a mean-looking mid-size SUV branded with “SS” badging, wearing big wheels and armed with two intake openings sucking air through its front fascia, just remember it could be the Secret Service, but it’s probably a Trailblazer SS.