As we’ve been on the topic of non-US GM products recently, with the Kadett and Holden Ute pieces running last week, the sighting of this Bitter SC is quite timely. Though not explicitly a product of GM itself, this German grand tourer mainly used Opel parts and even was sold by a few select Buick dealers when it was built. Can we add it to the list of GM-related enterprises which should’ve gotten further support from Detroit and/or Russelheim?
Let’s answer that with a definite… maybe. As such a fantastic period piece, you can bet its low-slung looks were divisive in its day and that it wasn’t especially cheap (prices were in the low fifties during the its sale in the US between 1981 and 1986) . But still, it’s quite stylish and athletic (if not sexy) and, based as it was on the contemporary Senator sedan, it begs the question: why didn’t we get some of the more well-regarded rear-drive products from Russelheim in the US? Was rebodying the senior Opel platform for semi-premium US market consumption out of the question? That’s where the hard feelings come in.
In terms of overall proportion of the 488 made over seven years, North America certainly wasn’t ignored, receiving roughly half the units built. And as a big, space inefficient cruiser with a large engine, a car like the Bitter SC really was at home on American soil (or in Ontario, as spotted here by S.Forrest). That is, of course, in the ’80s when the average car wasn’t as tall as the turkeys parked next to this dark blue beauty today.
The Bitter story, for our purposes today, begins when cyclist and racer Erich Bitter contracted with Opel to build a coupe off of the Diplomat chassis. That effort resulted in the very attractive Bitter CD fastback, of which 375 were made by the time production ended in 1979.
Originally penned by Chuck Jordan and presented at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 1969, the Opel CD “Coupe Diplomat” design study was well-received and pending Bob Lutz’s endorsement, efforts were put into making drivable prototypes under Pietro Frua’s (known for designing the Glas V8) watch.
Following Jordan’s replacement by former assistant David Holls, Bitter was encouraged to put the car into production. This is how Bitter Cars was born and while it avoided any direct risks on Opel’s part to build the CD on their own, it killed any chance of the car being either affordable or built in significant volumes.
Baur (which we remember as the company that turned the E21 and E30 BMW into landaulets) began building the Bitter CD in 1973. Though quite different in appearance from the Diplomat on which it was based, it shared most of that car’s mechanical makeup, including its Chevy 327 V8.
For its part, Opel’s next cars would sport a more international–if not distinctly German–appearance, with less American influence, beginning with the 1979 Kadett D and the Diplomat’s replacement, the Senator.
The Bitter SC wouldn’t look nearly as different from its donor car as the CD did, and I’d argue it was not as timeless or attractive either. But with lines reportedly penned by Bitter himself, it definitely looks the part of a 1980s GT, with an equally strong Italianate influence (this time from the Ferrari 400).
Powered by an all-iron, 177 horsepower Opel three-liter Cam-In-Head six, performance was decent in the context of the car’s 1981 introduction, and a custom stroked 3.9 liter (with 210 hoursepower) was optionally available. Our featured car is likely so equipped as federalized versions were obviously down on power compared to their European brethren.
As the SC shared most major components with the Senator, direct support from GM makes for an interesting what-if. Opel did make the Monza, a Senator-related fastback in the Supra mold, and while thoroughly modern in appearance and far from small, it never made it across the Atlantic.
Though the Monza sold reasonably, it developed a bit of a crass reputation in Europe, such a coupe–on paper–made more sense in North America. The Bitter SC was obviously a more high-end proposition, but it would be interesting to imagine what might have been were Cadillac to have had an Italian-inspired GT based on Senator mechanicals foisted onto it by corporate HQ.
As the Bitter Cars story progressed through the 1980s, production was moved away from Baur (who ran out of capacity) to two different Italian coachbuilders (OCRA and Maggiore, with final assembly by Bitter) before quality and capacity issues finally resulted in Steyr-Daimler-Puch of Austria taking over complete assembly by 1983. In addition to the 461 coupes built, 22 convertibles and five somewhat homely sedans were built. It’s estimated that only about half the cars produced remain intact today, and prices for a decent example are in the $10-14,000 range, with cars in excellent condition reaching 25 grand.
As for the Senator upon it was based, two successive generations were introduced after production of the first generation car ended in 1986, but waning prestige and cachet against the likes of BMW and Mercedes killed the dream of the large Opel before long. Before that happened, the Lotus-tuned Vauxhall Carlton stunned car buffs across Europe.
Perhaps the idea of bringing over the Senator, Monza and the cobbled-together Bitter isn’t a brilliant one, but one must take into account the small resources available to a develop and produce a luxury car without US market sales. So far, only the Japanese have managed to pull that off with any success. Big Opels, European Fords, Alfas, Renaults, and Peugeots are all dead, and soon GM will cease building cars in Australia (which, I assume, means bye-bye Caprice PPV and maybe even Chevy SS).
More hard feelings are likely to result from that decision, and while the history of selling Opels in the US hasn’t been especially rosy, a lot of this has had to do with factors beyond the actual design of the cars themselves (though we should make an exception for the Catera, which was shoddily built and conceived without the US market in mind). Bitter’s business model was too fragile to net the company and its cars much success, but the concept of a well-outfitted, Opel-based luxury coupe isn’t a bad one. You just have to imagine what it may have been like with GM’s full backing and more complete development. Of course, that involves imagining an entirely different company.
The necessary resources and know-how were certainly all available but until recently, the desire among GM brass to fully and effectively exploit its global brainpower wasn’t there. So don’t let the Bitter SC’s half-baked existence fool you; it hints at the potential benefit of a trans-Atlantic collaboration in the context of the early 1980s. Bitter itself still makes cars today, with expensive souped-up and body kitted versions of the Insignia (Regal) and until recently, the Caprice and Commodore. And while its current efforts are much less ambitious, they still embody the best of GM’s foreign subsidiaries’ expertise.
Cohort Sighting: Ferrari 400 GT – A Pininfarina Classic, Built For 18 Years
Automotive History: 1997-2001 Cadillac Catera – Caddy’s Dead Duck
Curbside Classic: 1975 Opel 1900 (Ascona) – What The Vega Could Have Been
Whoa, I thought the first one was a BMW 850, those have been known to be bitter pills, too.
Reeves Callaway had a Bitter SC in the early 80’s. I can only assume it was his as it was parked in front of his business. There was a dead sparrow plastered to the grille, I think he would have exceeded the Connecticut speed limits to accomplish that. I was there touring the place because I was interested in purchasing a turbo Scirroco. Didn’t buy one however.
I’ve found that 60-65mph is the boundary where most birds can’t get away fast enough to avoid becoming grilled chicken.
The Caprice in this article might be Holden’s…
By the way it IS a very interesting article. Thanks for posting.
I love the looks the these. If someone handed me a pencil and paper and told me to design the car I would like to drive, it would be this.
In a parallel universe, it would have made a great Buick something.
Good looking car. It’s unforgivable that that the Bitter didn’t sell in very large numbers in the U.S.A.
Great find Perry,I like this a lot.Thanks for another great read
This is the ultimate CC Effect.
From a car show Sunday in Kenosha…
This is what happens when an Aston Martin Lagonda and a Ferrari 412 spends one night of passion together.
I think this is very close to the 412, but the four-door reminded me of the Lagonda.
Thanks for the backstory on this car. I remember reading bits and pieces about it back in the 80s, but never understood its Opel roots.
I agree with Roger628 – this car is simply beautiful. With these looks and that price, I might hazard a guess that the Opel V6 was the problem. With some real power out of a V8, the car may have had more to recommend it than just looks and exclusivity.
CC effect in advance: About two months ago, I ran across what I first thought was a Ferrari 400 at a local service station in Rockville, VA (near Richmond, but definitely out in the boonies). Of course I stopped immediately, as I’m normally used to seeing F-150’s, etc., parked for service, not a Ferrari. While its a garage with a good reputation, I’m not even sure they’d know how to spell Ferrari, much less work on one.
Turns out the car is a Bitter SC, and now having finally seen one (I’ve known about their existence since the 80’s) I could really enjoy owning one. Nicely laid out, quietly luxurious, and definitely my style for something to show up at cars and coffee. It’s still sitting there (as of this past Friday), so I’m assuming there’s a problem with getting the necessary parts. I had assume it was a SBC under the hood, like the first generation models, which is why I figured it was at this shop.
Knowing otherwise, I can understand the delay in getting it worked on. I can only guess at the difficulty of finding Opel six parts in the southern US.
Opel in the US? Another one of the moments when GM management had a potentially good product, and not the slightest idea of what to do with it. And an even greater inability to realize this situation. Yeah, let’s have small four-cylinder economy cars sold by the same salesman who really wants to push you into an Electra 225. And, of course, management couldn’t see anything wrong with this idea in the slightest.
And yet somehow we had a local dealership that successfully paired Buick with Rambler/AMC for at least 40 years. 😉
I suspect that a lot of Buick dealers in smaller towns were quite happy to have a less expensive car to generate some volume.
GM knew exactly what they were doing with Opel. The same thing Chrysler did with the Mitsubishi/Dodge Colt and Ford with the Cortina.
All three Detroit automakers used captive imports to fill gaps in their product lines until they were replaced by local iron. Buick dealers were still selling Mantas and 1900/Asconas until 1975, when the Skyhawk was introduced. Cortinas faded away when the Pinto went into production.
But that wasn’t the only reason we stopped getting Opels and Cortinas. When a dollar that bought 4 deutsche marks in mid-1969 only buys 1.7 by 1980, you have a problem at the lower end of the market. Bye-bye Beetle, hello premium-priced Rabbits and Sciroccos.
Also, hello Isuzu-built Kadetts, even though the yen experienced a rise of its own. Amazing that despite an increasingly unfavorable exchange rate, Japanese cars continued to take a bigger bite out of the American market. That showed people weren’t just buying them on price.
Nice article, Perry. IIRC Peter Brock, oz racing legend turned quasi-factory car warmer with HDT, brought some Monzas here to build some HDT prototypes.
Yeah he wanted to build 2door Commodore coupes like anothe Monaro, GMH stopped him because as I heard it the Opel/Vauxhall Monzas lacked the body strengthening the Holdens had and GMH were scared of warranty claims with V8 motors in weak bodyshells,
Ive seen a couple of Vauxhall Monza in NZ some snuck in here somehow.
Wonderful overview of this this very ’80s luxury car!
Been following these since a teenager, in fact have a rather large stash of brochures, press kits etc from all over the world on these cars from my brochure collecting days.
I find it very surprising that Erich Bitter, at age 81, continues to churn out GM-based ‘prototypes’ to the present, yet hasn’t made a ‘production’ car since the late 1980s, scratching my head on that one?
Good-looking cars, even if somewhatvery derivative of the Ferrari 400. They ended up with an identity all their own, however. And while a V8 would have been nice, 210 HP out of the higher-line six was not bad at all for the early 80’s. And come on…with a car called the SC…supercharge it!
Definitely interesting to consider how a larger Opel presence in the US could have been done. I’ve always loved the Monza, and I think that could have sold as a Buick or an Oldsmobile, as a complement to the G-body coupes. Smaller and more “European” with a more premium market position. A more apt Thunderbird competitor than the Riviera or Toronado, which had more of a “junior Eldorado” feel. In fact I’d argue that the E-body Toronado was somewhat moribund by the 80’s (unless I’m mistaken these were handily outsold by both the Riv and the Eldorado) and the Monza could have replaced it. Give it a light styling tweak so it’d look at home among the Olds models and there you go.
The Senator would have been a little harder to find a niche for. I’d envision it as a Cadillac model, to slot in alongside their models of the day, with (legitimately) European chassis tuning as a car to bring BMW E12/E28 and Audi 5000 shoppers into the showroom. Maybe an earlier version of the collaboration with Lotus that turned the Carlton into a rocket sled. Yes, this sounds scarily like the thinking behind both the Catera and the Merkur Scorpio, but both of those were botched. If done properly it would have been viable. Maybe not a runaway hit, but viable. Leave the Bitter SC its own brand but make it orderable through Cadillac or Oldsmobile dealerships.
(I’m leaving Buick out of all this as I think the existence of the Grand National and Riviera T-type would squeeze out the Monza, and if Olds got the Monza it’s make more sense for them to be one of the Bitter channels also.)
Then again this is Malaise Era GM so none of it would have ever worked as planned.
I think the Senator/Monza would have made much more sense as a “Cimarron” than the J car that actually became that car. Perhaps having a little bit more distance marketing it as not an actual Cadillac would have helped, like the Cimarron “by” Cadillac idea initially used. But, as you point out in your closing sentence, this was Malaise Era GM, even a federalized Senator/Monza “Cimarron” would have outperformed everything else more “prestigious” in the US line up.
It also goes with my fantasies that Mercury would have just become a grab bag of European Fords by the Mid-80’s…. I feel like Ford and GM wasted a lot of opportunities to combine international car lines 30 years ago.
JP: “I might hazard a guess that the Opel V6 was the problem.”
The SC and the Senator had a straight six.
I saw a silver SC at the annual concours event last spring (’13) at Denver/Arapahoe Community College. The owner was floored that I knew what it was and was able to converse with him about the car. He was absolutely whacked out nuts about the Bitter SC and knew much, much more than any stable person needs to about this very handsome car.
Another fast Opel Senator B was this Irmscher Senator with a 4.0 liter straight six. DOHC, 24 valves, 272 hp.
The exterior, no horrible body kits, just the way I like fast sedans most.
Found a picture of the Irmscher interior. Pretty Brougham, certainly for a German sports sedan.
The back seat installation reminds me of the 1987-ish HDT Senator that was available with an in-car fax machine among other things. If you ticked all the boxes you would be paying around $90k or something like that! A base model Commodore was under $20k, the top model was about $30k.
I will take that big bumpered ’74 or ’75 Opel 1900 over any of the Bitters posted here. Hard to tell without a look around back but it could very well be a rare fuel injected ’75. I was shopping these used as a first car but even after 5 or 6 years they would form rust around the side windows. The uber cool SportWagon would rust around the rear window and that was hard to miss because most were that bright yellow color.
When the Audi Fox went FI in ’75 and then the VWs it was the end of German Opels in this country, because back then, believe it or not, RWD was old school and the Giugiaro lines of the VWs looked fresher. The USD/DEM exchange rate didn’t help either.
Opel engines had an unnecessarily complicated and unusually tall “cam-in-head” design that went under-appreciated by most folks but I loved the smoothness and sound. They looked great too.
Great write up on a name I had an awareness existed, but knew virtually nothing about.
Nice find and nice article. They could have put a V8 in these fairly easily (Holden did) and the 2nd gen had a 3800. I’m really impressed by that first Bitter, it reminds me of something, perhaps a Maserati?
I like the 2-door a lot. As many have said, its very much like period Ferarris.
Too bad Bitter doesn’t really seem to be able to get off the ground for very long. I like the idea that mainline car companies can crank out tons of mass market cars, and a smaller cottage house company can benefit from proven mechanicals and components. Take the higher performing ‘tasty bits’ and install them in much more interesting bodies. I guess it just has to be much better coordinated.
Sweet looking car. (Sorry). Remember reading about these in Car and Driver back in the day. Don’t remember actually ever seeing one. Thanks for the informative article, never realized they were based on an Opel. Really a contrast to the ‘modern’ cars in the background.
Got to love that Diplomat. GM and Ford had an interesting yin-yang when it came to big sedans in Germany and the UK. Until the true model consolidations in the 70s, Opel always had a bigger line of cars than Ford in Germany, while there was no real equivalent of the Zephyr-Zodiac in Ford Germany’s lineup, IIRC.
Ford Europe did have big sedans from the late 60’s up to the 80’s, these cars were called Consul (low spec) and Granada (higher spec) The GXL and Ghia’s were very well equipped. Engines ranged from 1.7L V4 to a 3.0L V6.
If you wanted an even bigger Ford you could buy an imported Ford USA model.
I remember first reading about the Bitter SC coupe in a US car magazine. I can’t remember whether it was Car and Driver, Road and Track, or Motor Trend, but I remember liking its style. I remember asking “when will Opel offer it here in the USA?” or “will it ever be offered in the USA?” I was bitterly disappointed when no Bitters of any body style were ever sold in the USA.
Here you can actually see what you guys might have missed out on.
The image shows my 1980 Opel Senator 3.0E with CD trim.
The car´s interior reminds you of a contemporary Chevy Caprice Classic with all its chintzy velours glory, yet the car´s chassis is a world apart.
In the late 70s it offered a mix of superlative ride, secure handling and supreme comfort that was unheard of.
Have a look at this test comparison from a UK magazine in which the Senator outperformed both the Mercedes W116 280 SE as well as the BMW E23 730.
And here you can see an image of the only Opel Senator in the US:
Ha ! Always a pleasure to see a classic big Opel with a straight six, certainly in such a condition.
One of my clients had an Opel Senator A with the 3.0 liter engine. Might have been the same color as yours, since it was a very light shade of (metallic) blue.
He sold it in the early nineties, he bought a 1990 Mercedes W124 260E. Another straight six.
The paint is called “aquamarine blue”.
I used to own a 260 E two years ago. Fine car. Engine is super smooth and silent but slightly underpowered for a car of that size and weight.
I have the same engine now in a W201 190 2.6 where it makes a lot more sense – and fun ! 😉
Well Monzaman, you have a fine taste in cars ! And both cars look like new. I guess you have an Opel Monza in the same condition too….
A mid-seventies Opel Admiral with a straight six and an automatic was the first big and comfortable car I sat in as a kid. It was the car of an acquaintance of my dad. I was very impressed, with that smooth straight six sound in the background. Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked big Opels, the last Senator B included. The “underdog” luxurious European cars, just like a Peugeot 604 with a V6 for example, because everybody lusted for a Benz.
…and here you can see what my baby look like from the back angle….
one final one…guess where that was taken ! 😉
Just bought a Bitter SC………….
I just found one today with around 30K in miles not Kilometers. A coupe.
What did you pay? This car is in pretty good shape, some rust at windows and sill panel behind drivers door. Send photos to email@example.com
Ich möchte um Hilfe bitten!
Ich möchte die Farbnummer und den Namen dieses Autos wissen.
Könntest du mir dabei helfen?
Danke im Vorhinein für ihre Antwort.
SC bitter 1983 jahre