What If? Quick Take: 2017 Chevrolet SS 1LE
Welcome to What If? Quick Take, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. While the cars shown in our regular What If? features are full 3D renderings and can appear in any number of images, the Quick Takes are off-the-cuff expressions of Abimelec’s imagination. Each one is accompanied by a short story. Enjoy! — Jack Baruth
“Mrs. Silverberg is here early.” Matt slapped the button on his office phone with enough annoyance to sympathetically vibrate the whole desk.
“Then. Let. Her. Wait.” he snapped, and turned his attention back to his computer screen, returning both hands to his keyboard and finishing the furious diatribe which had occupied him for the better part of the past ten minutes:
…and if you think I’m going to lose a race to a twelve-second Buick then you’re stupid, high, uneducated… or ALL THREE which knowing where you live is probably the case. Don’t show up for the rolls without cash in your hand. Ask your wife for it, she’s the only person in your family who has a j! o! b!
“The only person in your family who has a job,” Matt repeated out loud, smiling at the efficiency with which he’d slapped down that particular piece of trailer trash. Tonight was going to be a meetup for the ages. A lot of big hitters coming out at 2am for a series of 40 rolls. Cash up front or you didn’t race. Couple of single turbo Supras. Probably half a dozen Procharged F-bodies and Vettes. Maybe even that nutjob on the turbo Hayabusa who would line up as a third racer and take side bets on if he could beat one car or both of them.
Still, it didn’t really matter who else was coming out, because Matt was going to be there, and he was the undisputed big dog of the scene. Sure, he wasn’t always the fastest, but he was the richest, the best-educated, the only one with six thousand square feet on a corner of the outerbelt that actually mattered. And tonight he’d have something they would never forget. Just one more appointment — Mrs. Silverberg — and he could get home to start prepping for the night. “Send her in,” Matt offered in a completely non-committal voice, and as the lady in question adjusted herself on his couch, he put on what he thought of as his professional self.
“Now, Diane,” he intoned, ostentatiously flipping through his notebook, “last week you told me that Jacob was continuing to disappoint you…” and he took a moment to study his notes, “…pretty much everywhere.”
“Well, yes!” Mrs. Silverberg replied, in her outdoor voice. “You know that I’d committed a million dollars to Abigail by the end of the year — and yesterday Jacob told me that we were… cash poor! So I said to him, ‘If you’d explained before our wedding that you’d be short so often, I would have kept seeing that bartender in the Village, you know, Kianga, because at least he never failed to give me what I wanted!” There was a brief pause while Mrs. Silverberg unashamedly gave herself to thoughts of Kianga from thirteen years ago. She loosened her grip on her Birkin and it fell to the floor next to her, exploding open with a confetti shower of bibelots and inconsequentialities.
“Well, Diane, I think that was perhaps a bit rash. We’ve talked before about using your, ahem, vivacious past to shame Jacob during arguments. I think we had agreed that we wouldn’t be doing that. For now, however, let’s turn the conversation in another direction for a moment. This is the last week of boarding school for… MacKenzie and Sloane, and you’d shared some concerns about… in my notes I have something about ‘losing your self-care afternoons.’ Can we go back to how that makes you feel?” Fifty-six minutes of inanities later, Matt was free. He fairly ran to the elevator, fired up the RR Sport Supercharged, and headed north to his “barndominium” where the 1LE was waiting.
Given the utterly tepid reception accorded to the standard Chevrolet SS by the media, the dealers, and the buyers, he’d been all but certain that the bowtie brand wouldn’t bother to turn the wick up — but in 2017 they’d gone out with a bang. The SS 1LE, of which fewer than a thousand had been built, shared running gear with the Camaro ZL1 1LE. You could think of it as a four-door version of that car, or perhaps as a CTS-V with manual transmission, a more generic bodyshell, and an available “Track Pack” with high-mounted wing.
Which is what Matt had, but “tracks” weren’t his style. He was a street racer, probably the only licensed psychologist in the Midwest to pursue that particular hobby, and he poured the money from his thriving practice into building the best and baddest rides out there. Prior to this, he’d had a tuned-up Z06 that could spin the dyno at 900-plus, but he’d gotten tired of winning the 40 rolls by five cars or more. The SS 1LE was a perfect canvas for him to try all the old tuning tricks in a fun new way. It was reliably putting down 875 on E85, courtesy of a pro-built engine and a supercharger pulley that would cause a Hellcat owner to raise a tattooed eyebrow.
In the hours between getting home and midnight, he performed a basic nut-and-bolt on the suspension, listening to a Tool playlist on repeat. He reheated last night’s pizza, but the Parmesan cheese was almost gone. With an involuntary shudder, he remembered that Shauna had been the last person to buy Parmesan, and she’d been gone for… a year? Eighteen months? It hardly mattered, really, except that he’d had to hire someone to clean the house.
Just after one in the morning he rolled up to the distribution center where the crew staged for meets. There were fifty hangers-on, morons in chip-tuned factory cars and wanna-bes in Daddy’s Huracans, but there were a solid dozen serious players there. Mitias the Supra king, Loren in his Procharged Goat. Oh, and that idiot Kenny in his turbo Buick. Wild horses couldn’t have kept Kenny from bounding up to Matt, malice in his eyes and stink in his breath from a dozen or more at-risk teeth.
“Hey, buddy,” Kenny leered, “is Doctor Matt gonna race his sedan tonight?”
“Not against you,” Matt spat back, “I don’t have enough time to wait for you at the end.”
“Actually,” the voice behind them drawled, “that’s wrong, because I have you and Kenny penciled in for the first run of the night. Let’s get this bad blood out of our community, out of our forum, with this race.” Chris was three hundred pounds and ponytailed, greasy in hair and face, short of stature but aristocratic in demeanor. His Trans Am was well-known as a street sleeper, which Matt thought kind of defeated the purpose, and he effectively ran the ad-hoc group that shut down the outerbelt on Wednesday nights. “After you two finish flirting, let’s get lined up and out there.” At the same time, he hit a quick blast on a handheld air horn, and people started getting into their cars.
The mechanics of the race were simple. Six chosen cars would slow down to about 30 miles per hour across the outerbelt, allowing the drivers to stage at 40mph. A third car, usually Chris, would drive next to them and beep three times. You went on the third beep. The driver who had a gap when the speedometers hit 150 was the winner. If there was no gap, then the race would continue until there was a gap or someone backed off. About 180-190 was as fast as anyone was really willing to go, because there was enough wave in the pavement on the East Side to really unsettle even the most sophisticated supercar chassis at that speed.
Matt fired up the SS then hit the electric cutout switch and the tune-switcher at the same time. The noise was deafening, to him and to everyone around him. He considered it his way of serving notice. And they headed out to the freeway entrance.
The road was crowded for a Wednesday night and it took the blockers a few minutes to get the traffic behind them settled down. This didn’t always go perfectly; once a late-model Ram had hit Bobby’s SN95 GT by passing him on the shoulder and there had been a light exchange of love taps on all sides before the appearance of a state trooper running lights in the oncoming lanes had silverfish-scattered the players involved. But tonight the slowdown seemed to be going okay. Someone in the traffic behind them would already be on the phone to the cops, so Matt settled the 1LE in second gear, forty miles per hour, and waited for Kenny and Chris to line up.
Kenny’s distended T-Type Regal appeared on Matt’s left side, popping and whistling. It wasn’t really a twelve-second car; that referred to a very public “grudge night” where the Buick lost a vacuum line and ran a 12.6 in front of everyone. Nobody really knew how fast Kenny was. He was cagey, and he hid a lot of sophistication behind his slack-jawed mien. But he wouldn’t be faster than Matt.
Chris was on his right side, holding ten grand in his center console. Five each from Kenny and Matt. Chump change to a psychiatrist. How did Kenny come up with the money? Probably crystal meth. Matt looked over. Kenny was holding out a fist with a single raised finger in his direction.
Chris beeped once, and Matt raised boost behind the brake pedal as the Chevy briefly stumbled.
Chris beeped twice.
On the third beep, Matt released the brake and was gone in a NASCAR roar. Immediately the waterfall grille of the Regal was in his mirrors, shrinking. Third and fourth came fast, and then a gentleman’s pause for the revs to rise towards the shift to fifth, which happened just south of 150. Matt prepared to lift off and celebrate his victory, but there was a movement in his peripheral vision. Kenny’s Buick was next to, no, wait, slightly ahead of Matt’s Chevy! And the shift to fifth made it official. There was now a two-foot stretch of General Motors formal styling ahead of the slope-nose SS.
One-fifty came and went, but they stayed in it. Over the next rise, they saw traffic ahead. Just a few cars, lonely night time commuters…
Or drunks, Matt thought. They could be drunks. The terror of that thought, the worry that the drivers wouldn’t stay in the lanes ahead, took the courage out of his right foot for a fraction of a second. Now Kenny had him by a real nose. But it wasn’t going all the way of the Regal, which was now oscillating lightly left and right.
I’ll get him on aero, Matt thought, and it put fire in his chest. That Regal can’t stay straight at one-eighty. He’s got to back off. There was a nightmare moment as they blasted together through the two lanes between cars going the speed limit or thereabouts. Then the road ahead was clear. But Matt felt rather than saw Kenny lose control of the Buick’s nose, which came over and hit the SS hard enough for Matt to taste it in his head. The xenon bulbs of the SS illuminated the door of the Regal and beyond that was a shadowed pantomime of panic as Kenny fought to un-PIT-maneuver himself. But in the next flash-forward moment Matt saw the Regal’s underbody ahead of him and he realized that Kenny was upended, rolling, disappearing airborne over the guardrail.
Watching it intently, Matt never saw the minivan that he hit at something north of one-forty.
He awoke an un-determined span of hours or days later. There was some vision in his right eye. His left had nothing. Most of his body was bandaged. His left arm had a heavy-gauge IV, while a single gleaming handcuff connected his right arm to the bed’s guardrail. A young cop was sitting next to it, cap off, writing something in a notebook. Matt coughed once, bringing a red blossom of blood up and out onto his chest.
“My name is Matt Nelson,” he wheezed. “I saw a car crash on the highway and tried to help… I must have hit someone.” The cop’s eyes on his were blank, uncomfortably menacing. “I’m a physician,” Matt offered, by way of further clarification. “I have privileges at this hospital.” The cop stared at him until Matt felt compelled to blink the one eye over which he had power.
“Doctor Nelson,” the cop replied in a voice that chilled him with its lack of affect, “the only privileges you have coming to you any time soon is gonna be three meals and a toilet, courtesy of the State. That minivan you hit had two toddlers in it. Mom was driving them to the sitter so she could work the late shift at McDonald’s. They’re dead. So’s the mother.”
“No,” Matt coughed, feeling disconnected by the pain and the medication they’d given him to ameliorate it, “you don’t understand. I’m not… one of them.”
“No, you’re not,” the cop agreed, and Matt felt blessed for a moment. “All of them probably don’t know no better. You do. Or you should have. It don’t matter now. Go ahead and lie back, Doc. You got a lot of tough days ahead of you.”
“I,” Matt moaned, “want a lawyer.”
“In a minute, Doc. That lady you killed? She was my sister-in-law. So we need to talk for a minute first.” Matt heard a click and saw the flash of the baton over his head. After that was noise, and blood, and silence.