1991 Chevrolet Caprice Classic

(The photos do not necessarily relate to a discussion, unless noted.)

This opening set of questions and answers come from our written correspondence. Many of Ruzzin’s responses are peppered with intriguing one-liners that result in a reflexive re-read, followed by a moment of retrospect. Enjoy.

Autos of Interest: Did you have an inspiration for the Caprice’s design, and what was the project’s motivation?

Ruzzin: Our group was composed of people who were always inspired. We were on a roll having done several leading edge products. We had a lot of fun because we were doing things that inspired our management. When you are working in that kind of situation you cannot produce fast enough.

I do not want to make it sound easy, this is very hard work to do. It is mentally exhausting most of the time. The number of decisions that have to be made in rapid succession, when designing a car, is mind boggling. But if everyone gets on the right track you hit a home run every time. You have your Design management to please, they have to please the Divisions and the Corporation, and all have to please the customer. You are the one who has to decide when whatever you are doing is good enough for yourself. You have to please yourself first. Your standards have to be higher than those of all the rest.

Ben Salvador was a new designer and he had been assigned to Chevrolet 2 Studio, my studio. He was doing some great sketches and we chose one for him to make a full-size rendering. That turned out very well and it was very well received by everyone. From there he was asked to make the tape drawing and a blue print was run, it was attached to a real car so that we could get a better idea about the volumes. This is a very abstract exercise that we learned a lot from. From there we went forward into the full-size clay. Ben had never worked on a full-size car, he was new so I showed him how to start; the front door section first, with the side glass, and then the side profile. After that, the plan view to encompass the wheels, front and rear.

We decided to challenge the Chevrolet engineers. Since the car was done over an existing platform our Studio Engineer, Dick Olsze, suggested a goal for them: reduce the size of all the structural criteria by 10 percent—not the strength but the size—giving us an advantage over the old car. In some areas they were able to achieve that. The biggest challenge was the small block V8 distributor that sat right under the base of the windshield. It had to be redesigned with a two-piece distributor shaft.

When the model was blocked in and in color we took it outside for the first time to participate in a large show. It included a number of cars from other studios so that our management could get a good idea of what was being done and to also see strengths and weaknesses of each program. The Caprice looked like a moon rocket compared to the others.

It was the first time in many years that a car was being done that was not being downsized. Everyone loved it; it was the newest design in the show. The further we went the more the design was cemented into place because we added a lot of detail with sophisticated surfaces that made it look like we had worked on it a lot longer. When Chevrolet saw it they loved it.

The engineer in charge of the project was so enthusiastic that Chevrolet built a running car to demonstrate the concept to the GM Board of Directors. The car was all released for production, although we were still making small changes when he drove it over one Saturday morning. We all took it for a ride and it looked incredible; it was our favorite color, dark red metallic like our fiberglass model, with a light tan interior. It was a real hit.

About a year later, I was in Cadillac Studio and we then did the Cadillac version, called the Fleetwood. I just saw a maroon one today in excellent condition. We also did the Presidential Limousine. Two years later I was in Chicago on a beautiful sunny day walking out of Bloomingdales and there parked in front of the store was the regular limousine that we also designed. Those cars were all done on the side while we were really pushing hard on the Seville and Eldorado.

Last spring I was in Detroit and there parked at a gas station were two black Fleetwoods in absolutely pristine condition. They looked great. The design for those cars, the Caprice and the Fleetwoods were done a long time ago, about thirty years.

They did look terrific.

The thing about the Caprice was that, because it was over a very old platform, the design expectations were low. The studio that had responsibility for the Caprice was Chevrolet #1. It was a shock to me when we were given the assignment but we were really doing a lot of great work at the time and were very well respected by Chevrolet Engineering for how we did things, how we helped them do their job. We had sold the Celebrity Eurosport program to Chevrolet and that was something that they really admired, that is, how we accomplished it.

The Caprice profile was like no car ever done at design to that point because it broke fifty years of tradition. The car was taller than it had to be. We did that to have a smooth flowing line from the bottom of the windshield, over the passengers and to the bottom of the back-lite. Our VP, Irv Rybicki, asked me about that; our internal engineers had found out and told him. I explained why we did it and he accepted it without a problem.


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