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July 24, 2013

Local men to showcase vehicles with personal significance at Concours d’Elegance

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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Local men to showcase vehicles with personal significance at Concours d’Elegance
Dick Ruzzin, of Grosse Pointe Park, will be bringing his 1979 Opel Bitter four-passenger coupe to this year’s Concours d’Elegance of America.

GROSSE POINTE PARK — Auto aficionados will find plenty to “ooh” and “ahh” over during the 35th annual Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s in Plymouth from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. July 28.

And for two local men, the Concours d’Elegance has personal significance this year. John Brown, of Grosse Pointe Park, will be bringing his 1966 Mercedes Benz two-door roadster, and Dick Ruzzin, of Grosse Pointe Park, will be bringing his 1979 Opel Bitter four-passenger coupe.

At press time, Brown’s Mercedes was still undergoing restoration in preparation for the Concours d’Elegance. The vehicle belonged to his mother, who stopped driving it circa the early 1970s and gave it to him around 2000 or 2001, which is when he said he began the process of bringing it back to life after it had spent decades in the garage “kind of just rusting away.”

“My father gave it to (my mother) as a 20th wedding anniversary gift in 1966,” Brown said. “It’s always been in the family. It was hers since it was brand-new.”

Brown recalls being transported to elementary school in that car, which was also driven by his brother and sister.

“I learned to drive in it,” he said. “I got my driver’s license in it.”

This year marks the 50th anniversary for this type of car, and Brown said the Concours d’Elegance is acknowledging that by featuring a special class of these cars at the 2013 show. He said the car has also been nicknamed “pagoda” because the roof has a dip in it.

Brown’s father is no longer here to see the restored Mercedes — he died about two and a half years ago — but Brown is excited about showing it to his mother, now 92 and living in Grosse Pointe Woods.

“One of the things I want to do is take my mom for a ride in it,” he said. “I put my heart and soul in it, mostly because it was my mom’s.”

Ruzzin likewise has a strong connection to the car he’ll be showing in the Concours d’Elegance. He purchased his first Bitter in May.

“We bought it in Los Angeles and drove it home,” Ruzzin said of the vehicle, a “fastback coupe” with a rear hatch that’s “all glass — there’s no metal frame on it.”

Ruzzin, a General Motors automotive designer, said he was “the primary designer” of the Opel Bitter, an exotic coupe named for racecar driver Erich Bitter. The vehicle was never marketed in the United States — he said it was only marketed in Germany and England — and Ruzzin never even saw the finished product until, a couple of years after, he returned to America. The Bitter he purchased is only the second one he’s seen in person, he said.

In May of 1971, Ruzzin said GM Vice President of Design Bill Mitchell sent him to Germany to work at Opel Design for six months. During that period, Ruzzin said he was eventually assigned to the Diplomat Studio, which was given the task of creating a “very low, high performance coupe off of the Opel Diplomat chassis.” The end result was the Bitter, of which only 395 were built.

“It really is an autobahn cruiser, a high-speed touring cruiser,” Ruzzin said.

Ruzzin’s other significant designs include the 1992 Cadillac Eldorado and Seville.

“The most exciting time and the most revealing time for a designer is when you see one (of your vehicles) driving on the street,” he said. “Up until then, you’ve (just) looked at mockups. … It’s not until you see one driving on the street that you really get the impact.”

St. John’s is a bit of a drive for eastsiders, but for fans of these types of vehicles, it’s worth the trip.

“It’s a beautiful facility,” Ruzzin said, noting the presence of a “huge golf course” and Spanish-style hotel on the grounds. “They have been putting good shows together for many years. It’s one of the major (automotive) shows in the country.”

The Concours d’Elegance of America will take place at The Inn at St. John’s, 44045 Five Mile Road in Plymouth. Admission is $25, which includes parking, a shuttle and a program. Children ages 12 and younger are admitted free with a paid adult admission. For more information, call (248) 643-8645 or visit www.concoursusa.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.