At 46, Erich Bitter has had a short stint in professional cycling, a longer career as a racing driver and an unfulfilled ambition: position himself as one of the most renowned bodybuilders in Europe. He came from a frustrated project in which he had sold fewer than 100 cars in the previous five years. And then he was faced with his second chance. Bitter wanted to give a touch of luxury to one of Opel’s latest models. The daring businessman wanted to build the German Ferrari.
Bitter Automobil, as the company was officially registered, had been founded in 1971. It aimed to enter among the great tuners of the continent, but did not go beyond an artisanal structure. I neither had nor wanted to have my own factorytherefore it was condemned to depend on other companies that cooperated with it.
His first attempt was the modification of an Opel prototype with which the Russelsheim brand tried to raise its profile and stick its nose into the world of sports cars. Neither Opel nor Bitter have achieved the task. The German Ferrari, the former cyclist confided, she was called to write a different story. But it was more or less the same.
The poor reputation of the basic models with which it worked closed the American market to the Bitter SC, based on the Opel Senator. The conflicting relationship with factories engaged in mass production didn’t help either.
Price was another tricky issue: though far surpassed that of a Mercedes-Benz, It was still a facelifted executive vehicle. But what was most striking was that the design was an unmistakable copy of the Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2. Without the signature of Maranello, of course. The resounding failure was consumed with half a thousand units sold in the 80s, despite advertising promises and some renowned owners.
Erich Bitter, the man behind the German Ferrari
The protagonist of this story was born in 1933 in Schwelm, near Dusseldorf. From his cradle she brought that relationship between racing and enterprise, ever since his family owned a bicycle shop where he made his first strokes, anointing his hands throughout his childhood and early youth. At the age of 21, he made the leap into professional cycling.
His official biography swears that he raced for four seasons at the top level. He says he was one of the first great German cyclists and that he took part in the Tour de France, the greatest road event. However, he left no trace in the records of the Grande Boucle. He raced for the Bismarck and Torpedo teams as a benefactor: he specialized in watching the leaders’ backs. Almost an anticipation of what was to come.
In 1958 he left cycling “due to health problems” and devoted himself to motor racing. It was eleven years in which, behind the wheel of Ferraris and Porsches, he strengthened his column and deepened his knowledge of tuning. In 1962, still in competition, he set up his first company dedicated to the sector. It wasn’t until 1969 that he switched from motorsports to the manufacture of bodywork.
That year, he fell in love with the Opel Coupe Diplomat prototype. He didn’t go beyond the zero example, but bought the license to remodel it as a road car. Thus was born Bitter CD, the presentation letter of his new company, founded in 1971 with the impetus of his German neighbors. Erich enthusiastically developed his first creation together with Baur, a plant with extensive experience with BMW.
The Bitter CD was presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1973, where collected 176 orders. What followed was disaster: the oil crisis, a market nearly in recession and the sale of just 100 units until 1979, when the curtain was drawn on the first attempt. The enterprise has been described as limited production, but no one thought it could be so limited. I had to recalculate and do a second test.
Bitter SC: the copy that failed
Despite the reality check, Bitter stuck to his old ways. In any case, the responsibility did not lie with him alone.
Opel could not deviate from its label as a mid-range car manufacturer, only with a suitable finish. It offered no distinction, although it tried throughout the 1970s with a few (failed, of course) approaches to the European sports car market. In 1978, took his longest vehicle of the time to the roadthe Senator, an executive 4.81 meters long.
It was another of his attempts to put a bolder stamp on the brand. Meanwhile, its owner, the American General Motors, did not abandon the aspiration to introduce this model in North America, where BMW was making leaps and bounds in the premium sector.
Thus, Bitter, Opel and GM joined forces, jigsaw pieces forcibly fitting together. The plan was for Schwelm’s small company to turn the Senator into a high-end sports car with acceptance in North America. The strategy was bizarre.
The problems with the factories didn’t help: Baur slammed the door, the Italian OCRA took over the production at the beginning, but the contract was terminated due to premature oxidation problems, and finally Maggiore continued the work in 1982. Despite the three actors Those interested in the project did not see it, only a miracle could have prevented the shipwreck.
Since its introduction in 1981, it has been the design of the Bitter SC that has caused a stir and some laughs. The resemblance to the Ferrari 365 GT4 2+2 (and its heirs, the 400 and 412) was hard to hide. Plagiarism was flagrant, a cardinal sin. The main difference, besides the price, was under the hood: the engine of the Italian coupe was a V12, 4.4 liters and 340 horsepower; The German Ferrari driver, on the other hand, was a 3-liter 6-cylinder with 177 horsepower, which in an improved version could reach 207 hp.
“Handling a work of art”It was the advertising hook with which they tried to decorate a very limited car in the United States. By then, the outlets had dwindled to fewer than twenty because most of the Buick dealer network refused to make room for it on their premises. Who undertook the gamble called it “a luxury car built to deliver world-class performance.” Not even all the pomposity could twist fate.
The German Ferrari had three versions: the coupé, the original, sold in 461 specimens; the convertible, with four seats and a canvas roof, reaches 22; the four-door Berliner barely reached 5 units. In total, nearly 500 units sold. According to the press at the time, the footballers Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and the two-time rally champion Walter Rohrl had theirs. Historic hit by Bitter, which no longer came close to those numbers. A definite fiasco for the market.
The Bitter SC was produced until 1989, the year in which Maranello closed the production of the inspiring muse, with the improved versions Ferrari 400 and 412. Since then the German company has remained silent, with restyling and recycling attempts of other brands. .
Success continued to be foreign to him. Now, without the pretensions of the past, he makes small changes for Opel. A kind of sincerity for the daring experiment that German Ferrari wanted to be.
Ben Stock is a journalist working for News Rebeat, where he covers the automobile section. With a passion for cars and the industry, Ben brings insightful and in-depth reporting to his readers.