[Mike’s introduction: This is part one of a two-part guest post on the story behind the X-Car told by an insider that was there, Mr. Dick Ruzzin. Even though there are no pictures to accompany this fascinating insider’s recollection of the design process, this write-up is particularly detailed, giving the reader an almost clear picture of the setting in which he worked. (If and when images are procured, I will add them with an update notification.)

If you’ve ever wondered what went on behind the walls of GM’s creative end of the business, this is a read you won’t want to miss. I’ve again broken it into two parts with the first providing a comprehensive backdrop and the second a thorough recount of the actual design process of the X-Car.

Mr. Ruzzin’s words start below.]



The design effort
A new larger International Studio was created at GM Design Staff in March of 1974 to start designing the new X-Car, the first production vehicle defined in the TASC (Total Automotive System Concept) program. The program was maturing and after working on it for three years we would continue to create full-size clay models that could be presented in management shows, sent to the wind-tunnel and be used for market research. A release model that included engineering criteria would also be created for outside management reviews. This model would provide the dimensional information for release to our SPE (Special Product Engineering) group to start the production process.

The make-up and staffing of the studio was typical for Design Staff. There were approximately fifteen people; more would be added during peak times in the program when the work load required it. I was the Chief Designer and Joseph Ptak was the Studio Engineer responsible for incorporating engineering criteria into the full-size release model with his Assistant Tom Lauer. Kenneth Gillette was the Chief Sculptor responsible for the models and his Assistant was Raymond Hildebrand. Joe had two additional people, one of them Bob Tamsen, and Ken, known as β€œLittle Fella,” had about four. More people would come as we really picked up steam and the required work load increased. At one point we were working on more than four clay models at one time. Our Advanced engineering group, working with myself and the studio designers, created criteria in concert with the engineers at GM Engineering Staff that were also working on the program. Using this criteria allowed the designers to create a full-size clay model for management review in a month. Many models were made to demonstrate the TASC program.

My Creative Designers were Kip Wasenko and Andy Hanzel, Clark Lincoln would join us later in the program. I cannot say enough good things about the people working for me. All were experienced and very qualified although from the Advance Design area which was somewhat looked down on by the people in the production studios. Advance Design was a kind of research activity without the critical finality of production release. The work that they did changed that perception and as a team we produced some of the most significant GM vehicles to that date and the first production program released from the Advanced area. While we were designing the cars Kip would be loaned to the studio next door to design the TASC 2 Mini-van.

The room was very large, twice as big as most Advance Studios in the building with four steel floor-mounted platforms for clay models. Later we added an additional partial platform. We had two full-size stationary drawing boards at each end of the room to the east and west. There were eight more seven-foot by twenty-foot boards in front of them that could be raised into the ceiling out of sight. The south wall was also paneled and could be used for sketch display. This gave us plenty of space for engineering drawings, renderings and sketches. We also had large panels on each end above the boards on the stationary walls for more sketches. We needed a lot of display space because we were going to illustrate the entire TASC program either as two-dimensional or three-dimensional properties. The North wall was composed completely of large glass windows from four feet above the floor to the very high ceiling from one end of the room to the other.

The North light through the large windows was perfect for our work. We looked out onto the small lake and fountain next to Design Staff with the Executive Garage on the right and the main lobby slightly to its left where the bronze Pevsner sculpture is located outside on the sidewalk. Looking beyond to the left and across the big lake was the polished stainless steel water tower and the building that housed Research Laboratories. In front of it next to one of the four small islands one could occasionally see the Calder fountain dancing on the water’s surface and in the summer the big Tech Center fountain would be shooting streams of water high into the blue sky. To the west on the left was our silver Design Auditorium called the Dome. It was surrounded by the high glossy black and gray brick wall, enclosing our secure patio for management reviews, and the complimentary dark green pine trees. The sunset was beautiful if you stayed long enough in the evening to see it.

The view for us was spectacular, which is really an understatement. The art and architecture with all the buildings designed by Eero Saarinan with inspiration from Harley Earl, two complementary creative giants, was stunning. The setting inside and outside was everything required for artistic inspiration. We had an opportunity to really enjoy it for the first few days.

Soon we would not have time to look out the windows.

…continued here: Guest Post: Designing the X-Car, Part 2


[This is only the beginning of the story. The second part is quite a bit longer and includes sections titled: The Design Process; A Quantum Leap; and Shaping the Car.

I’d like to thank Mr. Ruzzin for providing me with this material to share with my readers. His vast professional experience includes over 140 car design projects as creative designer, studio head and Director of Design. Apart form GMC he’s worked for every GM brand, including Opel, Vauxhall, Holden, GM du Brazil, Toyota, Isuzu, Suzuki, SAAB, Lotus and BITTER. Since retirement, he has continued as a design educational consultant in China and Taiwan, as well as for GM Design.

If you enjoyed this, Mr. Ruzzin has written other equally fascinating posts on Autos of Interest:

Mr. Ruzzin has also graciously contributed to or participated in posts written by me, including:

Please feel free to use the comments section to express your thoughts and/or thank Mr. Ruzzin for his contributions to this sight and the automotive industry in general.]