Design Notes: Interview with Dick Ruzzin
The unexpected upgrade
Have you ever gone to a concert, with a general admission ticket, only to be asked by the attendant if you’d have any interest in going backstage to meet the lead musician?
Me either. But, on September 20th, something equally astounding happened to me.
Within a couple of days of gaining full-fledged media status with General Motors, I had submitted a request for information. Imagine my surprise when they responded with something immeasurably better than the dry data I’d asked for.
The contact person from GM that was helping me locate development information for a future post on the 1992 Cadillac Seville told me that he knew of someone that was actually involved with the project and that he might be willing to speak with me. That someone was none other than Cadillac’s former Chief Designer, Mr. Dick Ruzzin.
About an hour later, I received word that Mr. Ruzzin was willing. I was ecstatic.
The surprises didn’t end. When I was told that I would “speak” with him, I figured that was casual talk for email. I was wrong. I’d ultimately end up speaking, verbally, with him.
Now, this is the guy that designed many of the cars I was most fond of while growing up. He was directly responsible for designs that inspired me to dream of being an automotive designer (but didn’t have remotely enough artistic talent to seriously pursue).
When the day of the big interview arrived, I was as nervous as I was excited. But, overall, I think it went good. And, I learned that Mr. Ruzzin possesses knowledge that many of us only speculate and dream about.
My hope is that you enjoy reading this post as much as I did putting it together.
Who is Mr. Ruzzin
Allow me to provide a mini bio of this post’s subject; his future might have been foretold based on his Detroit birthplace. During his career he worked on over 140 car design projects as creative designer, studio head, and Director of Design for GM Europe, in Germany, and Chevrolet, in the United States.
What’s more, he’s worked on every GM brand, with one exception, GMC. We’re not just talking the domestic brands but those abroad and even ones GM teamed with; his resume includes Opel, Vauxhall, Holden, GM du Brazil, Toyota, Isuzu, Suzuki, SAAB, Lotus and BITTER. Maybe to incite curiosity, his list actually ended with, “and even through some corporate deception a Honda.” Now what do you suppose that means? I’ll see if I can find out and report back.
Apart from his work in the U.S., his positions bounced him all over the globe, landing him in locations such as England, Italy, Australia, Sweden, Brazil and Japan. Apparently unable to stay put even after retirement, Mr. Ruzzin continued as a design educational consultant in China and Taiwan, as well as for GM Design.
He describes himself as a car and design enthusiast that has made a special effort to develop his design communication skills. To that end, he’s written for International Design Magazine and Automotive Quarterly Magazine.
His favorite projects for which he had full design responsibility were Chevrolet’s 1990 APV and 1991 Caprice, as well as Cadillac’s 1992 Eldorado and Seville, 1994 DeVille and 1995 Fleetwood. Those are some heavy-hitting models. He also worked on one of the Fleetwood Presidential Limousines.
He listed the 1993 European Opel MAXX extruded aluminum concept car and all of their production cars as special personal achievements. Mr. Ruzzin didn’t leave out his X Car Advanced Design work for its memorable impact on the future of GM. Last but not least, he mentions the 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado which he helped design.
Naturally someone like Mr. Ruzzin would own a special car. His is a 1969 DeTomaso Mangusta 8MA-670, previously owned by Bill Mitchell. Understandably, Mr. Mitchell didn’t like the engine they came equipped with (i.e., a Ford-sourced engine), so he spoke to the Italian company and they agreed to build one with a different engine in it for him. Mr. Mitchell then asked Zora Arkus-Duntov and Chevrolet R&D to put something together for it. They did and it was shipped off to Italy, making that Mangusta the only one built with a non-Ford engine in it. It now resides in Mr. Ruzzin’s proud possession.
Mr. Ruzzin and his wife currently reside in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan.
In preparation, I had put together a list of 20 questions to ask. Figuring I’d get maybe 15 or 20 minutes of his time, I had them ordered by importance and optimistically hoped to get to the first five. However, we ended up talking cars for almost two hours, and they all got answered.
Taking things a step further, Mr. Ruzzin offered written answers to my questions. In order to provide as accurate a report of his responses as possible, this post is largely comprised of written text and quotes sourced from him, with some of my comments mixed in.
Keep in mind the conversation and questions were based largely on the development of the 1992 Cadillac Seville but did branch into other areas. Because I am planning a Design Notes post on the 1992 Cadillac Seville, I resisted sharing any of those pictures here. (I did slip one in later in the post to illustrate a point Mr. Ruzzin made in response to a question.)
Continued on page 2, below.