By 1990, the American manufacturers were churning out hundreds of thousands of pickups that were well equipped, comfortable and functional. Performance had for the most part given way to a balance of economy and useable torque. That year, however, one pickup changed all that and greatly influenced the market going forward. This was the Chevrolet 454 SS.
GM already had a winner with their cleanly styled 1988 C/K1500 series pickups. Sales had been strong with these trucks from the onset, but something seemed to be missing from the domestic auto industry in general by this time, and that was muscle. The few vestiges of the classic muscle cars of the early 1970s were now closer aligned to all-around performance cars, with better handle but less on tap at your right toe. Taking a page from the playbook of Chrysler, who over a decade earlier had built the Dodge Lil’ Red Wagon of 1978 & ’79, Chevy took the normally unavailable in the C1500 range 454 cid Mark IV big block and put it into their smallest half-ton pickup. Available as a stand-alone model, only in a Fleetside short box in Henry Ford’s favorite color (black) with a Silverado grade Garnet red cloth bucket seat and center console interior. Granted, at introduction it was in the same tune as the 454’s that were still available in one-ton trucks, but overnight Chevy had a market sensation that saw the few that were built this first year sell for “additional market adjustment” pricing over the window sticker.
For 1991, the 454 SS’s big block was exclusively bumped up from 230 hp to 255 hp. By 1992, it could also be painted Victory Red or Summit White, with slightly revised graphics. By the time it was discontinued in 1993, V-8 muscle was seeing a resurgence in the Big Three. 1993 also saw the introduction of Chevy’s 350-powered Impala SS as well as the F-150 Lightning from cross-town rival Ford.