Third Pint (With Whisky Chaser): Still Bitter after all these years.
Maintaining his interest in rally-inspired machines, another EB project was the Rallye GT. Observing there was a well of potential customers, not only younger but less well heeled than contemporary owners, his 1978 plan was also aimed at bringing financial stability. The Manta B offered up it’s floorpan and mechanicals for Eberhard Schultz, Gallion and Bitter to thrash out a design.
With its ideal front engine – rear wheel drive set up, Bitter planned to keep the 110bhp two litre unit as base model. A 2.6 litre, 165 bhp mill would be the range topper with full leather interior. This two door roadster began to look promising as at that time (now 1983) there were few rivals. Costs rose to the point a Rallye GT crossed swords (in monetary terms if nothing else) with a Neckarsulm -made 924 whilst also costing considerably more than Opel’s own Manta GTE. Marketing such an oddity made for a precarious financial situation, stalling progress.
Helping matters not at all was when the other branches of Bitter’s tree came crashing down – going bust in 1986, coinciding with Opel curtailing Manta production. Aside from, according to a former, long-standing employee “drawings and a papier-mâché mock up”, one prototype was made by Isdera. In bright red with a butterscotch leather interior, the car sold and again still exists, occasionally revealing its unique self at European car shows.
Here again we see Erich using his crystal ball to see how others’ futures would pan out. Porsche’s Boxster bolstered Zuffenhausen’s financial security. The MX-5 was around the corner with even MG’s F stealing a little limelight. It is difficult to say whether the barely seen Rallye GT had any influence on either the market or these creations but once more, EB whilst knocked down, got straight back up again.
Chassis shopping again in Russellheim, this time the new Omega was placed into Bitter’s basket. Bold even by Bitter’s standards, he convinced Isuzu America to provide the financial clout to produce 10,000 cabriolets and hard tops per year in 1986, named Bitter 3. Four prototypes (gelb, rot, schwarz and grun) were had, all drivable with one used for crash test purposes.
Encouraged by a general sense of finding gold this latest project offered more than a whiff of success. Plans included a 2+2 coupé along with (an extended wheelbase) four door saloon. The cabriolet may not be overly out there in the styling leagues but the car was not only well put together, but polished enough to become a daily, as opposed to a weekend only drive. Sadly, Isuzu got cold feet and ran off with Bitter’s hopes.
Whether stoic determination or with baffling (to us lesser mortals) certainty, EB then had a wooden four door saloon mock-up made, the rather odd frontal looking 3 Limousine from 1989. Subsequently renamed the type 4/Diplomat it was shown without interior or mechanicals at the 1989 Frankfurt motor show only to disappear without trace. That is until 1995 when an extended Omega B1 chassis was to become the new Berlina, a truly German Quattroporte.
In close collaboration with Hideo Kadama and Coventry based MGA, a champagne coloured almost Lexus-aping saloon was presented at the 1995 Palexpo. Interest came naturally. The capital, however failed to materialise. The next year’s show saw a revised Type 3. The new Bitter Berlina had now been given a turquoise coat alongside significant changes to bonnet, bumpers, grille, lights and wheels.
Attempts to raise the funding by floating his company on the New York stock exchange found Bitter reeling; a German investor found to have more suspicion surrounding him than wealth, alongside an American chap who was shot. Bitter, with no cash found the assemblers, Karmann withdrawing their contract. The single turquoise Berlina, a fully operational vehicle remains in a private collection.
Without pausing for breath, Bitter continued his Opel alterations often leading nowhere. A 1991 British collaboration with Coventry engineers MGA brought about the TASCO, a Jaguar XJR devotee. Bitter was deep into negotiations regarding shares in the Japanese firm FEDCO, who had eyes on Formula One to unlock much needed hard cash. Plans were to fit the Viper’s V10 engine into a luxurious, highly sporting yet daily driving road missile. Those negotiations failed leaving a fetching teal coloured mock up (known today as the Baltic coupé) which resides within the Coventry Transport Museum.
The 2003 Palexpo offered visitors the CDII, Holden Monaro-based modern flagship coupé that needed €6M to build 600 cars over forty eight months. A donation website was set up, investors leaned upon – big money was not forthcoming. The following year’s Geneva show found the same car, once silver, now pale green. With a smaller underwriting fee – just €2.5M for fifty cars over three years – the car’s base price of €120,000 and Bitter Automobil Produktions gmbH could break even.
Lo and behold, someone stepped up with the money. Champagne flowed as a production start date of autumn 2005 was announced – just as GM ceased Monaro production. It is believed just one CDII example exists, painted red and in a private collection.
Other ideas include the Holden Caprice (long wheelbase Commodore) based Bitter Vero (2007-09) where ten models came to fruition. Offering engines from a 3.2V6 to the Walkinshaw Racing prepared monster V8 and 600bhp in saloon and sports coupé bodies. Dealers were procured, three German based, one in the Czech Republic only for the network failing. Bitter may have been emperor but had no empire to lead. Car buying at this time demanded fancy showrooms, sales staff, marketing. Opel could only go so far leaving the premise of the €140,000 Vero sadly high and dry.
Finally, to possibly Bitter’s most successful venture, taking long standing Opel products such as the Mokka, Insignia (previously Adam and Cascada) and a remodelled By Bitter design package, which includes the deletion of the lightning bolt, replaced with the Bitter logo. Described as striking, not provocative, all manner of individuality is on offer should your pockets be deep enough. From two dozen colours to enhanced performance – from alcantara to that ole favourite, buffalo hide.
Fifty and more years from the CD days, Erich now takes a back seat on the good ship Bitter – nephew Markus Erich Bitter in control of the helm. But so continues the obdurate octogenarian. One can (certainly in Germany) still order an Insignia By Bitter and have it serviced at your local Opel dealership, just don’t expect to see many in downtown Luton.
We conclude this Bitter episode not with a bad aftertaste but on an uplifting note. Consider for a moment that Bitter was the eighth largest German car firm at one time. Not bad for a cyclist with vision.
Right Markus, another round, if you please?
Gratitude of high proportions to PK and TP for their assistance gathering information for these pieces.
All images from Bittercars.com