First Pint: The Bitter origin saga.
The world needs characters such as Erich Bitter. At 87, if the Westphalian runs on oil, he must have reserves aplenty, at least from wells of entrepreneurship and dogged determination. For without that close to wind, to blazes with millstones like finance and ruin, his dogged spirit and an array of automotive anomalies would never have been. Although that output may have been small in relative terms, his legacy (of which surprisingly large numbers survive) continues. Mind you, those seeking marriage or financial guidance might wish to look elsewhere.
Born in 1933, his interest in engineering began with the bicycle, his parents running a bike shop in Schwelm, thirty miles east of Düsseldorf. Turning professional saw him compete in the Tour de France four times, which helped bring about a close relationship with NSU, themselves cycle builders prior to becoming carmakers. This in turn led young Bitter to forsake his Campagnolos for a larger crash helmet and racing overalls. Motor racing from 1958 saw him flourish; a contract with Abarth opened certain doors, whereas once Opel knocked upon Bitter’s door, he entered a whole new world.
In 1968, Opel invited Bitter to pilot The Taxi, a new 150bhp Rekord. Painted black earned the nickname Schwarze Witwe or Black Widow with excellent results from its Zolder track baptism. Pilots chasing down faster class Porsches included Bitter and some Austrian named Lauda. Bitter retired from racing duties in 1969. Already somewhat business minded, he became the German importer of Abarth products, also selling Franco Scaglione’s styled Intermaccanicas as well as keeping open channels with Rüsselsheim.
Intermaccanica’s poor integral qualities almost bled Bitter dry with time, money and warranty issues, spurring him into producing a car bearing his own name. EB called upon his Rüsselsheim friends, asking for “a beautiful, fast and reliable car.” With impeccable timing, Opel had chosen their new 1969 Diplomat to demonstrate GM’s all new, modern styling.
Designed under Chuck Jordan, a new V8 powered coupé, codenamed Astra but then given a more bland moniker of Styling CD, wowed the Frankfurt motor show crowds. Management, buoyed by encouraging murmurs considered the Styling CD for production, but tooling costs along with caution halted ambitions.
Bob Lutz then commissioned carrozzeria Frua to take up the refining baton, re-naming the car Frua CD, making the car practically production ready – replete with real world doors and retaining the Opel mechanicals but sadly once more, insufficient to warrant a green light. Two prototypes were built.
By 1971, Jordan had been replaced by Dave Holls (a hot-rodder by heart) who, along with top management would frequently use the Styling CD prototype which one fine day caught Bitter’s eye. Understanding he had neither the capital nor time to set up his own factory, Bitter sought out a partnership with Opel, establishing an office base, later post production facilities and sales room in his hometown of Schwelm.
Baur of Stuttgart enjoyed strong links with domestic carmakers specialising in prototype manufacture and limited production runs and were chosen for their know-how and quality of workmanship. Baur created a hard foam lifesize model which gave Bitter’s dream substance, subsequently employed to press and make the body panels, shell assembly, fitting out the interior and mating up the mechanicals.
Bitter bought the shortened (by ten centimetres from standard) Diplomat chassis that had underpinned the Styling CD, slotting the (unchanged in any form) Chevy V8 straight in. Working to a compromise vision of both Frua and Opel’s versions, with Holls’ stylistic assistance, the results left Bitter ecstatic. Changes were subtle; less chrome, revised bumpers, discrete spoilers and some eclectic wheel arch subtleties. Dick Ruzzin explains in this video his role in Holls’ and Bitter’s beautiful car plan.
Revealed once more at Frankfurt in 1973, Bitter there obtained 176 bona-fide orders for his Bitter CD coupé. Optimistic, his plan to make and sell 200 models per year was now within reach, plans shattered by the oil crisis just weeks into proceedings. With even wealthy customers cancelling orders, just six cars were sold by the close of 1973, yet by early 1975, 100 cars had been sold. The base price came in at DM58,400.
A genuinely luxurious 2+2 coupé, sporting that 5435cc engine, which could propel this handsome beast up to 130mph with 230bhp. A nine second 0-60 time with the three speed automatic may not have raised too many eyebrows then (nowadays family hatchback/crossover territory) but Bitter’s idea was for a more accomplished result. Surrounded in opulence by leather (one option, Buffalo at Dm4000), electric sunroof, a choice of stereo and of course colour, interest may not have exceeded Bitter’s self imposed highs, yet those production figures managed a credible 254 by 1976.
Showing great vision, product placement before that term became common if you will, Bitter not only realised his potential market but also sought out suitable people and locations to see and be seen with. Fancy restaurants, glitzy hotel frontages, marinas or seafronts. Add in a popular recording artist or a footballer or two posing alongside the car, and both CD (along with the company) gained glamour by association.
Bitter had at last brought his beautiful, reliable and fast coupé to fruition. However, steadily declining sales limped on until 1979 when production ended – from a 1974 high of 99, just 37 sold in that final year with a grand total of 395 CD coupés made. Some survive unrestored, but amid those newly rejuvenated, modern, younger owners and enthusiasts can soak up its louche appeal; the following this car has aroused seemingly as strong as the man himself.
That Bitter suffered few sleepless nights as a result of the CD’s demise will be revealed in part two.