Chevrolet HHR
Expressive, expensive, and extensive describe today's world of big-rimmed, body-dropped minis. It seems that custom just isn't custom enough and that the quest to build "the one and only" has become a daunting pursuit that baffles even the most creative fabricator. Well, there is anther route to building that truly unforgettable something. It's called building something completely different. This month we've picked out two 2005/2006 mini-SUVs, the Chevrolet HHR and the Nissan Pathfinder, that (with some patience, snacks, brews, and some quality time with shop tools) we think would look tight fully customized. Like true mini-truckers, there has got to be something wrong upstairs for the daring individuals willing to go all-out on these. But, hey, we won't complain. Hopefully, we come across some new and innovative rides to freshen up the new SUV world.

The Chevrolet HHR, or Heritage (back to old Chevy) High Roof (the name used by Chevy officials way back then to describe the tall panel wagons of the time), begs for customization. First introduced as a 2006 model at the 2005 Los Angeles Auto Show, Chevy's HHR, with its 1949 Suburban-like design, comes in three models: LS, LT, and 2LT. The LS and LT come with the 2.2-liter Ecotec I-4 143-horsepower under the hood, and the 2LT is driven by the 2.4-liter Ecotec I-4 172-horsepower. The main challenge when customizing will be to keep it from looking like a PT Cruiser.

Starting around $15, 890 and getting 23/30 (city/highway) miles per gallon, Matt Vella of Business Week Online reported on July 7, 2006, that Business Week had found the Chevrolet HHR to be "one of the least expensive wagons to own on the market," awarding it the Best Wagon's "Lowest Total Cost of Ownership." In terms of cost-per-mile-driven, it is almost comparable to Toyota's Scions. It depreciates slower than the PT Cruiser "and is less expensive to operate than a Scion xB." Is there an HHR SS in Chevrolet's future? We'll have to wait and see possible '07 models.

There have already been a brave few willing to tackle the challenge of customizing this SUV. Here are a few examples. However, we have yet to see one done full mini-truck style, laying body on the ground. This is the Bonneville HHR, built by GM Performance Division and So-Cal Speed Shop. Chopped, stretched, given a tubular chassis, and housing a 1,000-horsepower (full boost) Ecotec engine mounted longitudinally and powering the rear wheels, this HHR certainly raises eyebrows. Competing in the G Class/Blown Fuel Competition Coupe at the 57th Bonneville Speed Week, it unfortunately fell short of the 226.835-mph record. This is West Coast's pimped-out HHR, set apart from some of the others by its chopped top and smooth exterior.

There is still plenty of room left for customizing the HHR mini-trucker style. After combining all the must-have elements for a super-sick mini-truck, the ultimate HHR would include full air suspension, big rims, custom paint, custom interior, a chopped top, a full sound system, smoothing and shaving, billet accessories inside, suicide doors, a ragtop, engine work, and a rear-wheel-drive conversion. And may we dare demand that it throw some sparks?

2006 Chevrolet HHR, LS FWD I-4

MSRP - 15,425
Standard engine - 2.2L 143hp I-4
Horsepower - 143@6,000 rpm
Torque - 155@4,000 rpm
City mpg - 23
Highway mpg - 30
Curb weight - 3,155 lbs
Wheelbase - 103.5 in
Length - 176.2 in
Width - 69.1 in
Height - 63.1 in
Track, front - 58.7 in
Track, rear - 58.7 in
Ground clearance - 6.3 in
Standard seating - 5
Front suspension - Strut front suspension, independent with stabilizer bar and coil springs
Rear suspension - Torsion beam rear suspension, semi-independent with stabilizer bar and coil springs
Cruise control - Std
Tilt steering - Yes
Air conditioning - Std
Sunroof/moonroof - N/A

Nissan Pathfinder
A completely new vehicle for 2005, the Pathfinder offers proof positive of how far Nissan has come in recent years. A recognized leader in design and engineering, the new Pathfinder strengthens that position in today's truck marketplace. This is an excellent vehicle, and it is only the start of what Nissan has planned over the next few months. Styling for the new SUV is derived from its larger sibling, the Armada. The 2005 Nissan Pathfinder offers more space and a bigger engine than previous models. This is important, as Nissan has positioned the Pathfinder as a midsize SUV, with hopes to recapture the desire of its current owner group and persuade active families across North America that modern transportation need not begin and end with a minivan.

Similar in size to a Honda Pilot or Toyota 4Runner, it differs from its two main competitors by offering superior on-road agility and a multi-flex interior. Based on the award-winning 3.5-liter VQ engine, the 4.0-liter DOHC V-6 engine in the new Pathfinder produces 270 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and an impressive 291 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The Nissan V-6 has a proven track record of performance and reliability. With the added power and torque of the 2005 model, it takes a backseat to no one. A five-speed auto-matic transmission provides seamless gear changes. (Shifts are unbelievably smooth.) Through accurate design and execution, Nissan has been able to properly define the shift mapping and neutralize gear shock.

The body of the 2005 Pathfinder is a new body-on-frame (ladder-type) design. This design offered the engineers a rigid platform on which to build their new SUV. The result is a tough underbody with excellent off-road strength. It also allowed for a clean underfloor. Taking a few steps back from the Pathfinder reveals excellent ground clearance and no exposed mechanical parts. This is a huge advantage to the mini-truck enthusiast, since putting the body on the ground won't pose too many mechanical problems. This would be our main choice for the newest SUV we would most likely modify. Stay tuned, because we just might see if we can get our hands on one of these and bring it to life mini-trucker style!

2005 Nissan Pathfinder, XE RWD V-6

MSRP - $24,650
Standard engine - 4.0L 270hp V-6
Horsepower - 270@5,600 rpm
Torque - 291@4,000 rpm
City mpg - 16
Highway mpg - 23
Curb weight-automatic - 4376.2 lbs
Wheelbase - 112.2 in
Length - 187.6 in
Width - 72.8 in
Height - 72.4 in
Track, front - 61.8 in
Track, rear - 61.8 in
Ground clearance - 8.6 in
Standard seating - 7
Front suspension - Wishbone
Rear suspension - Wishbone
Cruise control - Std
Tilt steering - N/A
Air conditioning - Std
Sunroof/moonroof - N/A