GM designer Dick Ruzzin sketched the future with imagination and drama

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1964 Pontiac design studio sketch courtesy of Dick Ruzzin

After his stint as Cadillac design chief ended in 1991, Dick Ruzzin was asked to become director of design for GM Europe. Preparing for the move from Detroit to Germany, he inventoried his drawings from his long career at GM Design.

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“I had a really bad feeling about leaving my stuff,” Ruzzin recalls about packing up his things. “So my boss, Dave Holls, wrote me a pass, and I took 200 pieces home, about a third of my collection.” Five years later, Ruzzin returned from Europe to become director of design for Chevy. He soon learned the rest of his drawings had been sent to a warehouse in Pontiac, Michigan, that GM had closed while he was in Europe. The other two-thirds of his collection had been thrown away.

To hear this story today is to be dismayed by his loss yet grateful that Ruzzin had a hunch to save a good chunk of his work. We present some of it here, with commentary in Ruzzin’s own words. The drawings are a peek into one man’s work at GM Design in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was the undisputed global design leader.

1972 Corvette/Camaro Studio sketch
"In 1972, I was asked by Henry Haga, chief designer of the Corvette/Camaro Studio, to make a sketch of an “Italian version of a future midengine Corvette.” Chevrolet VP John De Lorean asked to have the De Tomaso Mangusta present for comparison when Henry’s future mid-engine Corvette proposal was evaluated. De Lorean liked Italian cars and had purchased a Maserati Ghibli while he was running the Pontiac division." —Dick Ruzzin courtesy of Dick Ruzzin

As you can see, conceptual renderings of future cars are not just product-design drawings; they are themselves pieces of art. Ruzzin’s work is colorful, imaginative, fanciful, and dramatic: “I like Calder and Miró,” Ruzzin says. “I like to do high contrast and bright colors.” His drawings are precise, professional, and full of movement. In them we see ideas and forms that made it to showrooms.

After graduating from Michigan State University in 1959 with a degree in industrial design, Ruzzin joined Fisher Body, the longtime body assembly company for GM, where he worked in the Trim and Hardware Styling Department. From there, he made the big leap to GM as a junior designer in the Oldsmobile Exterior Studio. It was the beginning of a four-decade career in which he worked at all the domestic GM brands except GMC and also at overseas brands including Opel, Vauxhall, Holden, GM do Brasil, and Bitter.

It was the Bill Mitchell era at GM, when the legendary vice president of the Styling Section presided powerfully over a variety of studios and held sway over major product decisions. The Preliminary Design Studio, where Ruzzin worked for years, created concepts for the various GM divisions to consider, and ambitious designers competed with one another in the hope of creating something that would catch the attention of Mitchell—or a division chief—and perhaps see their ideas turned into sheetmetal.

I did this sketch in the International Design Studio in 1969 for an Impala when the grille bar as a design theme for Chevy was just getting started. Chevrolet Design institutionalized the bar in its Design Brand Statement in 1998 under my direction.
"I did this sketch in the International Design Studio in 1969 for an Impala when the grille bar as a design theme for Chevy was just getting started. Chevrolet Design institutionalized the bar in its Design Brand Statement in 1998 under my direction." —Dick Ruzzin courtesy of Dick Ruzzin

“I liked to have fun with sketches,” Ruzzin says. “I often put glasses on the drivers of the cars in my sketches, because in the 1930s, guys wore divided goggles. The only guy in the building who knew that was Bill Mitchell.”

In 1988, Chuck Jordan, vice president of GM Design, gave Ruzzin the most important assignment of his career: Take over the Cadillac studio and deliver two sensational cars. “If these cars don’t succeed, I was told, the corporation is going to shut Cadillac down,” Ruzzin recalls. The resulting 10th-generation Eldorado and fourth-generation Seville sedan for 1992 were a striking duo that reaped awards and recognition while saving GM’s luxury division and setting it on a path to success that continues today.

"This January 1972 sketch shows the arcades on Via Roma in Turin, Italy, with a proposed Olds Cutlass coupe. I was the chief of Advanced Oldsmobile Design, working with Tom Semple, Tom Matano, and Charlie Graefe. We sent a lot of inspiring work to the production Olds Studio."
"This January 1972 sketch shows the arcades on Via Roma in Turin, Italy, with a proposed Olds Cutlass coupe. I was the chief of Advanced Oldsmobile Design, working with Tom Semple, Tom Matano, and Charlie Graefe. We sent a lot of inspiring work to the production Olds Studio." —Dick Ruzzin courtesy of Dick Ruzzin

"I created this sport coupe in the International Design Studio in June 1974 as a proposal to expand the use of the frontwheel- drive X-car drivetrain. It was drawn, rendered, then cut out and glued over a watercolor-painted background. There is a strong contrast between the two fashionable young women in a largerthan- life scale and the low coupe." —Dick Ruzzin
"I created this sport coupe in the International Design Studio in June 1974 as a proposal to expand the use of the frontwheel- drive X-car drivetrain. It was drawn, rendered, then cut out and glued over a watercolor-painted background. There is a strong contrast between the two fashionable young women in a largerthan- life scale and the low coupe." —Dick Ruzzin courtesy of Dick Ruzzin

I returned to Detroit in late 1971 after spending six months with Opel in Germany. This sketch is a demonstration of my aesthetic and design philosophy at that time. The low, yellow, midengine car in side view and the very black and tall train engine present an image that is hard to justify visually. That was my point: the extreme contrasts of color and shape; the blocky and antique train engine as a backdrop to the new, low, sleek, and dramatic shape of a modern mid-engine, high-performance supercar.
"I returned to Detroit in late 1971 after spending six months with Opel in Germany. This sketch is a demonstration of my aesthetic and design philosophy at that time. The low, yellow, midengine car in side view and the very black and tall train engine present an image that is hard to justify visually. That was my point: the extreme contrasts of color and shape; the blocky and antique train engine as a backdrop to the new, low, sleek, and dramatic shape of a modern mid-engine, high-performance supercar." —Dick Ruzzin courtesy of Dick Ruzzin —Dick Ruzzin

Olds Toronado design sketch Dick Ruzzin
"I created this future Oldsmobile Toronado at the International Design Studio in December 1970. I presented it with a 1930s Mercedes- Benz Grand Prix race car to contrast the open-wheel design with the smooth shape of the proposed future Toronado." —Dick Ruzzin courtesy of Dick Ruzzin

This Buick coupe from June 1968 is also from the Preliminary Design Studio. The two break lines in the rear glass tie in with the high-level brake light. We developed a wonderful 1/3-scale clay model from this sketch.
"This Buick coupe from June 1968 is also from the Preliminary Design Studio. The two break lines in the rear glass tie in with the high-level brake light. We developed a wonderful 1/3-scale clay model from this sketch." —Dick Ruzzin courtesy of Dick Ruzzin

It was March 1965 in the Preliminary Design Studio. Carl Renner, who is now credited with doing the first Corvette, suggested I do a really wild car, one that would “scare all of us.” So I made this drawing, an illogical and bizarre shape, driving at full speed with two people obviously having a blast. Carl was very pleased.
"It was March 1965 in the Preliminary Design Studio. Carl Renner, who is now credited with doing the first Corvette, suggested I do a really wild car, one that would “scare all of us.” So I made this drawing, an illogical and bizarre shape, driving at full speed with two people obviously having a blast. Carl was very pleased." —Dick Ruzzin courtesy of Dick Ruzzin

In January 1972 I created this rear-engine sedan and badged it an Opel. My boss saw it and suggested I do another as a conventional two-door coupe. The result was a proposal for a future tworotor, rear-engine Camaro-Firebird called the TASC4GT. Over the next six months, engineer Nate Hall and sculptor Ray Hildebrandt and I built a clay model that was then cast in fiberglass.
"In January 1972 I created this rear-engine sedan and badged it an Opel. My boss saw it and suggested I do another as a conventional two-door coupe. The result was a proposal for a future tworotor, rear-engine Camaro-Firebird called the TASC4GT. Over the next six months, engineer Nate Hall and sculptor Ray Hildebrandt and I built a clay model that was then cast in fiberglass." —Dick Ruzzin courtesy of Dick Ruzzin

Dick Ruzzin
Dick Ruzzin Matt LeVere
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