Creating a legend: A first-hand recollection

Design Notes: 1992 Cadillac Eldorado - part 2Was a convertible planned? Why no Biarritz? How does Pininfarina fit into the story? How did a Ford executive describe the Eldorado to Cadillac’s Chief Designer? Paper, cardboard, plastic and Heavenly approval? Huh?

Yup, those topics and a whole lot more are discussed in this historical look at the story behind the 1992 Eldorado’s design; in the words of the person that knows the story most intimately.

About a month ago I posted Design Notes: 1992 Cadillac Eldorado, Part 1 which included the picture part of the story only, along with some of my anecdotal commentary. I described it as dessert. But one cannot live on dessert alone. Indeed, a generously-portioned, hearty meal can be just as rewarding.

In this second part of the writeup, I have provided text only. Lots of text. Almost 10,000 words in fact. The vast majority of those words were spoken to me by Mr. Dick Ruzzin.

Mr. Ruzzin was Cadillac’s Chief Designer when the 1992 Eldorado was produced. On May 24, 2013, I conducted a phone interview with him. I’d sent questions to him in advance so he had an idea what I wanted to cover. He is always a delight to talk with and richly filled with knowledge; knowledge that auto buffs like you and I crave. So, rather than creating a story out of our conversation, I thought it best just to provide the entire conversation. Let you read it the way he told it. He started with a general recollection and timeline of events, then I followed up with some questions.

Just so you know, this is not an exact transcript. I removed our “uhs” and “ums,” and reorganized some text to condense it by around 1,000 words. Then, I sent it to Mr. Ruzzin to check for accuracy, including the spellings of names. He also expanded on several points. (For the record, I sent the draft to him yesterday morning; he’d made his edits and got it back to me within hours.) Please be sure to express gratitude for all the time Mr. Ruzzin set aside for us so that we could take a glimpse at what happened behind closed doors at Cadillac when the final Eldorado was taking shape.

Without further ado, I present our discussion on the 1992 Cadillac Eldorado.

Dick Ruzzin: One really significant thing about that program was the group of people that we had working on the Eldorado and Seville. When I was assigned to Cadillac Studio I was told I could—something unprecedented, as far as I knew—I could pretty much choose anyone there working in the building that I wanted. It was very unusual. I had the choice of picking any designer, engineer or sculptor in the building, to come to Cadillac Studio. That was reflective of the seriousness of the situation and the need to have a really outstanding result to the efforts that we were going to go through over the next year, year and a half.

The studio engineer I had worked with before was Bill Mullally; he was in Oldsmobile Studio when I was there years before, I worked on the [1966] Toronado. He was really a great guy, he was a World War II war hero and had lost a leg. The Assistant Chief Designer had just been put in about six months before I got there; his name was Denis Little. Denis was specially chosen because Cadillac wanted to have more of a performance image and Denis had been in Pontiac Studio, so that was kind of a natural. He was just a great guy through the whole thing and became Chief Designer of Cadillac when I left.

The designers included a young fellow named Scott Wassel who was very new and would mature and evolve, and turn out to be a super guy. We were able to get another one, named Larry Erickson. Dave Holls who was Director of Design, asked me about him, saying Larry would like to work on Cadillacs. I had worked with Larry earlier in Chevrolet II Studio, but after three months he had some family problems and had to leave but I was happy to have Larry come in. He worked for us on overtime for a while and then Denis suggested we ask to have him permanently. So we did and he was a great addition to the group.

For the sculptors, we asked for Ray Hildebrandt, who I had worked with for many years as Chief Sculptor at Chevy II, when I was there. Ray was a terrific artist and somewhat of a math genius, a really special person. He collected a great group of Sculptors as a team. This process took about two or three months to get everybody in place. Of course, we were already working.

We had Paula Collins as a Studio Engineer and Rick Zabor was Assistant Studio Engineer. Both stayed through the entire program. We also had Gary Schmidt as a Designer. Gary stayed with us maybe six months and did a great job. He had been in Oldsmobile studio, did some wonderful sketches. Gary had plans to leave and set up some kind of a business out west. So Gary left and is present on the internet at Dean’s Garage which is a very interesting design site.

I was put in there in December of ’88 and we worked overtime the first night. Then we worked overtime for maybe two and a half years solid. That included some 24-hour periods on both the Eldorado and Seville, where we worked for four or five days, for 24 hours. It was a real strain on the management of the studio because my assistant studio engineer, chief sculptor and I had to kind of oversee everything and make sure that we weren’t throwing things out on one shift and recreating them on another. So, we ended up working 12 hours and the rest of the people worked 10-hour shifts. We brought in a lot of people from around the building to assist us—all of this was very unusual and happened, as I said earlier, because of the critical nature and importance of the program. That was kind of the working operation.

Chuck Jordan was the Vice President; Dave Holls was the Director of Design and Len Castillo was the Executive Designer in charge of Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Buick. Len was a great help. He helped a lot watching what was going on and making suggestions here and there but the person that was the greatest help was Dave Holls. He had been in Cadillac in ’55, and had participated in the development of the fins on the ’59 Cadillac. He was a great people person at that time, kind of in the closet. But he was very watchful of what was going on and who was doing what, and what kind of issues were coming around and might interfere with the design efforts.





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