Behind the Wheel: ‘An instant design icon’

Grosse Pointe Park resident pens book on his one-of-a-kind car

By: Jennifer Sigouin | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 21, 2017

Dick Ruzzin has always had an eye for design, and he has the career — and the car — to prove it.

Now retired, the Grosse Pointe Park resident worked as a creative designer for General Motors Co. for nearly 40 years, rising through the ranks from junior designer to director of design for GM Europe, and then to director of design for Chevrolet. With those credentials, it’s no surprise that he has a car to match.

In 1969, early in his career, he had the opportunity to purchase a De Tomaso Mangusta, a sports car designed by Georgette Giugiaro and produced by Italian manufacturer De Tomaso. He still has the car today.

“As a car designer, I understood, as everyone else did, that the car was an instant design icon,” said Ruzzin. “It was leading-edge in design as well as engineering, being one of the first mid-engine cars for the street.”

As one of only 401 ever made, Ruzzin’s sleek, red 1969 Mangusta — complete with gull-wing doors — is already rare, but what makes this version even more unique is its engine. All Mangustas were built with Ford engines, Ruzzin explained, but his is the only one in existence with an L79 Chevrolet Corvette engine. The car was built by special request from Bill Mitchell, who was the vice president of design for GM at that time.

Ruzzin noted that Italian car design during the late ’60s was far different from American design.

“The Italian designers in Turin had tremendous freedom to create over completely new platforms,” he said. “The customers all wanted uniqueness of function as well as appearance. … The American designers were working mostly for big companies on high-volume cars with a broad customer base — a very different task.”

When Ruzzin first purchased the Mangusta, he drove it almost daily. Now, after 48 years, he uses it “strictly for fun and presentation.” Ruzzin displays the Mangusta at local and national car events, including the EyesOn Design car show at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores — an event that he helped develop. The Mangusta was one of the original cars shown at the inaugural EyesOn Design 30 years ago, and Ruzzin was invited to return for the show’s anniversary this year.

And with these shows, of course, come accolades. Most recently, the Mangusta won an award for the best designed Italian car, pre-1990, during the Italian Happening car show June 11 at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac. 

Ruzzin’s connection to the car also inspired him to write a book, “Bella Mangusta: The Italian Art and Design of the De Tomaso Mangusta.” The book is a 7,000-word overview of the Mangusta’s history and design, accompanied by 64 large, full-color images — all photographed by Ruzzin.

“I think the story of the car’s creation during a peak in Italian design expression is special and unusual,” said Ruzzin. “The car was designed by Georgette Giugiaro at home on his kitchen table. All of that is told in the book.”

“Bella Mangusta” was launched on Aug. 1, 2016, at the Concorso Italiano car show in Monterey, California, and it’s currently available on Amazon. For more information, visit

Do you own a vehicle that has an interesting history or a special meaning to you? Contact Staff Writer Jennifer Sigouin, and you could be featured in an upcoming edition of Behind the Wheel.