Nobody missed them much unless they were antiques.
But they're back in modern garb with the Chevrolet HHR panel truck.
It's not a full-sized truck as of yore. It's the subcompact HHR wagon with its four-cylinder engine.
Panel trucks date back to the turn of the century -- the 20th. Probably the first were homemade -- makers provided only bare bones trucks.
Automakers started turning out commercial panels after World War I. They were the delivery vehicle of choice until the modern era, when full-size vans superseded them.
Now, they're back not only for delivery. "We think auto enthusiasts will love it too as it gives them a large canvas on which to express their individuality," says Ed Peper, Chevy general manager.
He's talking of "tuners," the youthful hot rodders of today. Tuners can heavily modify stock cars.
With fuel economy of 23 city and 30 highway with automatic transmission, it's also pitched at businesses.
In any case, what buyers get is an HHR Panel with steel inserts for side windows and cargo rear doors. The side doors have no external handles and are opened via a dashboard release button.
Other modifications include a flat cargo floor with cargo tie-down points. Two storage compartments are under the cargo floor -- in about the same spot as the replaced rear seats of the passenger model. There's also an optional 40 amp service power outlet.
| Chevrolet HHR Panel LT
•Engines: 2.2 L I-4; 2.4L I-4
•Dimensions: 103.6" wheelbase; 176.2" length
•Base price: $18,005; As tested $24,144
•Fuel economy: 23/30 mpg
Side mirrors a big -- a necessity when no rear side windows exist. Not having a wide backward view takes a bit getting used to. It's certainly no worse than a full-size van or a pickup truck with a bed topper.
The windshield is more upright than today's aerodynamic fashion. There's a brightly chromed grille, luggage rack and door handles.
With or without all that glass, the Chevrolet HHR is a blast to drive. The ride is smooth and curves are handled fairly accurately with minimum body lean. Acceleration is modest -- 0 to 60 in 9.7 seconds with the 2.4L four.
The HHR Panel comes in LS and LT trim with the 2.2L four of 149 horsepower the base engines. Base price is $16,750. Optional is the 2.4L four of 175 horsepower. It's worth it. Fuel economy is the same with an automatic 23/30. A five-speed manual, for some esoteric reason, returns 22 city and 30 highway.
The tested HHR LT started at $18,005 but $5,549 of options boosted its sticker to $24,144. These include 18-inch wheels the chrome package (yes) and anti-lock brakes. ABS shouldn't be optional. OnStar with Turn-by Turn navigation is on hand to help courier or delivery drivers.
Vintage panel trucks are collector items. Listening, tuners?