When rumors of an all-new Chevrolet SS pickup began to circulate approximately two years ago, most performance enthusiasts envisioned an updated version of the old standard cab big-block SS pickup. Many were hoping the new SS would be able to compete head to head with the Lightning by sporting some sort of blower on a small-block powerplant. However, when the overweight and overpriced SS Extended Cab hit the dealer lots with a price tag of nearly $40,000, true pickup performance enthusiasts were not impressed - and not buying.

Recognizing a void in Chevrolet's factory performance offerings, three-time Super Bowl-winning coach and two-time NASCAR Winston Cup Championship-winner, Joe Gibbs, teamed up with his son Coy, who is also a NASCAR competitor, to come up with their own line of performance trucks. From the onset, the focus of the new operation, Joe Gibbs Performance, was to be on performance-oriented products to be delivered to select Chevrolet dealerships throughout the country. The company hopes to sell both standard cab and Extended Cab versions of the Chevy Silverado, along with a Joe Gibbs Performance version of the Chevrolet Tahoe.

Each Gibbs Performance Silverado is recognizable by the Joe Gibbs Performance badging both inside and out, along with the unique Gibbs-designed 20x8.5-inch Hyper Silver wheels wrapped with 275/55R20 Goodyear Eagle LS tires. With a slightly lowered ride height and black monochrome appearance, each Silverado will sport a custom front fascia complete with driving lights; a tailgate spoiler; a body-colored rear bumper; and a stainless-steel, dual-tip after-cat exhaust system.

On the inside, Gibbs Performance Silverados feature embroidered-logo seats and floor mats, along with a silver-and-white-face, Gibbs Performance-logo gauge cluster. Manual transmission trucks carry a cool NASCAR-style floor shifter and boot with a Joe Gibbs Performance/Hurst-style shifter ball on top. Options on the trucks include an intercooled roots-style supercharger, (courtesy of MagnaCharger), Baer Racing Eradispeed brake upgrade, and Gibbs-designed leather-and-suede seating. The Gibbs Performance Tahoe boasts many of the same features, but adds an audio/video package with a DVD-based entertainment system.

Pricing on the Silverado ranges from $29,900-$37,500 for the standard cab models, while Tahoes will cost between $42,000 and $47,000, depending on the options and whether it's a two-wheel or four-wheel drive. The company intends to produce 1,200 Silverados and 1,200 Tahoes for '04. On top of the GM three-year, 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, each Joe Gibbs Performance vehicle will be offered with a five-year 75,000-mile powertrain warranty, which helps take the worry out of owning a supercharged vehicle.

"Not a lot of people get the opportunity to drive a truly high-performance vehicle," commented Joe Gibbs Performance president, Coy Gibbs. "Anyone who drives one of our Joe Gibbs Performance Silverados will be satisfied. It's a fun truck to drive, and having that extra horsepower makes it even that much better."

To find out just how much fun Coy Gibbs was talking about, Joe Gibbs Performance sent us one of its standard cab models for some real-world testing. Our test mule was loaded to the gills with all the optional goodies, including the MagnaCharger blower, Baer brakes, and leather/suede interior. It was also a basic-black standard cab model fitted with GM's smallest small-block, the 4.8L, which was backed up by a five-speed manual transmission sporting the NASCAR-style shifter. It arrived just in time for a 500-mile road trip to Tucson, Arizona, for a truck show and drag competition, and to do some Saturday-night cruising on the boulevard.

With the 20-inch SS-looking wheels and the unique front fascia, most folks who saw the truck were convinced it was the new standard cab SS that Chevrolet hinted at delivering for '04. But when we popped the hood to show off the polished MagnaCharger supercharger sitting on top of the small-block, people began to take a closer look and notice that the black pickup was more than just a factory piece. Hmm, let's see - big brakes, NASCAR-style shifter, leather/suede interior, and Joe Gibbs Performance logos everywhere. That's when the questions started. While the Gibbs name may be big in the NFL and NASCAR circles, it hasn't become a household name in the performance truck tuner market - yet.

Our initial impression of the truck was as we stated at the start of this story: This is the SS that Chevrolet should have built. With 6 pounds of boost, the tiny 4.8L motor gains plenty of low-end grunt to start the truck rolling in a hurry. As the rpms build, the linear power of the supercharger propels the truck with authority. And the five-speed manual, combined with the cool growl from the Corsa stainless-steel exhaust, gives you the correct impression that you're behind the wheel of a performance pickup. Handling on the truck is crisp while not sacrificing ride quality, partly because the truck is a standard cab with a short wheelbase and is shod with wide 20-inch wheels with minimal sidewall deflection. The fact that it's a standard cab also raises one of the few complaints we had with the truck - a lack of interior storage space. Still, the handling and performance puts storage secondary to fun. The only other complaint we had with the Joe Gibbs Performance Silverado had to do with the shifter. The long metal shifter seemed to amplify the internal noises of the transmission, a problem Joe Gibbs Performance is working to solve.

In terms of performance, the truck lives up to its heritage. Even with wheel spin from the peg-leg rearend, the Sliverado clicked off consistent 0-60-mph times in the 6.5-second range with quarter-mile passes in the low 15s at just less than 100 mph. Our best clocking was a 15.13-second pass at 98.3 mph. We're convinced a posi-traction rearend would push that into the high 14s. The Baer Eradispeed brake upgrade helped haul the pickup to a dead stop from 60 mph in a respectable 119 feet.

All in all, we were impressed with the Joe Gibbs Performance Silverado, including the quality of the aftermarket components selected for the truck and the overall build-quality of the vehicle. A couple more color options other than black would be nice, but we suspect as the popularity and sales of the vehicle increase, so will the option list and color choices. We were most impressed with the performance of the truck and its reliability as an everyday driver.

For more information on the Joe Gibbs Performance Silverados and Tahoes, or to find a dealer near you, contact: Joe Gibbs Performance, Dept. ST, 12415 Reese Blvd., Huntersville, NC 28078, (800) 547-2677, www.joegibbsperformance.com.

Performance Comparo:Silverado Ss Vs. Joe Gibbs Performance SilveradoSince we're talking GM performance pickups, we couldn't help but compare our test numbers with the Silverado SS. In all fairness, the Silverado SS is an Extended Cab, all-wheel-drive pickup that weights in at nearly 5,300 pounds, while the Joe Gibbs Performance pickup is a standard cab model that is lighter, at around 4,500 pounds. In terms of bang for the buck, you be the judge.

Silverado Ss0-60 mph: 7.44 Seconds1/4 mile: 15.79 Seconds @ 87.4 mph60-0 mph: 121 Feet

Joe Gibbs Performance Silverado0-60 mph: 6.39 Seconds1/4 mile: 15.13 Seconds @ 98.3 mph60-0 mph: 119 Feet

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