BITTER SC REVIEW

It’s stylish, exclusive, reliable and well built – and fast too. In fact the Bitter SC makes a superb long-distance cruiser, but they’re none too plentiful.
 

The Germans have a reputation for fabulous engineering but combined with dowdy looks. So wouldn’t it be great if you could combine Teutonic running gear with a svelte suit? Well wouldn’t you know it – that’s exactly what Erich Bitter did when he came up with the SC (Senator Coupé) in 1979.

Blending stylish lines with Opel engineering, the Bitter SC came and went before most UK buyers even realised it existed, ensuring few were sold. The survival rate is high however, so while SCs are uncommon, they are around.

The SC coupé debuted in 1979, right-hand drive cars arriving in the UK in 1982. When the SC died in 1989, just 26 RHD cars had been sold, all two-door coupe and two of them with four-wheel drive.

Most of the 450 SCs built were coupés, but there were also five four-door saloons and 25 convertibles. None of these are in the UK though and they were all left-hand drive, so if you’re after an SC, the chances are you’ll have to settle for an LHD coupé brought over from mainland Europe.

VITAL STATISTICS

Engine 2969cc 6-cylinder SOHC
Power 178bhp@5800rpm
Torque 179lb ft@5800rpm
Top Speed 134mph
0-60mph 8.8sec
Gearbox 5-speed manual

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK

The first 50 SCs, all LHD and built between late-1980 and early-1983, are the most rust-prone as they were made of recycled steel – most have now rotted away. Later cars were better-built; best of the lot are post-1983 cars, which were dipped for more thorough rustproofing. You’d be unlucky to find a rotten car, but there are quite a few trouble spots on an SC’s bodyshell.

Start with the top of each front suspension turret; proper repairs require the removal of the outer wing, and the suspension will collapse if it’s ignored. The front and rear screen surrounds also corrode, as their sealant dries out and cracks, allowing water in; the screens have to be removed altogether in some cases.

The rear wheelarches also rust, as does the lower edge of the bootlid, which rots from the inside out. The frames of the rear side windows often rust, as do the trailing edge of the front wings, the bottom edges of the doors and the leading as well as the trailing edges of the sills, all of which rust from the inside out. Finish off by checking the headlamp wells from behind by lifting the bonnet; they rot once their drain holes have blocked up.

Replacement panels are unavailable aside from the odd used item through the club; it’s the same for the exterior brightwork and rubbing strips, which are unique to the model. Windscreens are available but the rest of the SC’s glass is pretty much extinct, although the odd second-hand piece can be sourced occasionally.

ENGINE

All SCs have an Opel-sourced straight-six, displacing either 3.0- or 3.9-litres; the smaller engine is rare as the larger unit was offered from 1984, and most buyers specified it. Bitter used German tuning outfit Mantzel to create a 3.9-litre engine from a 3.0 unit; the cylinder head, pistons and crankshaft were all modified, but Mantzel is still in business and everything is still available if needed – but costly.

The straight-six is strong, but it tends to run hot, leading to the manifold gasket blowing – the manifold faces have also been known to warp. The heat given off by the engine can also lead to the fuel injection wiring melting, so make sure the engine runs smoothly.

TRANSMISSION

The transmission was taken from the Senator/Monza, so it’s tough. Most SCs have a three-speed automatic gearbox, although a few have a manual one. Of the manuals, most have the five-speed Getrag 265 ‘box of the later Senator/Monza, but a few feature the earlier four-speed unit. Early boxes can be swapped for later ones, although some jiggery pokery is required.

Propshafts, driveshafts and differentials are strong, with wear almost unknown. Incidentally, all SCs have a limited-slip diff, which should be filled with the correct LSD-friendly oil, even though the Bitter handbook states that standard EP80 lubricant can be used.

SUSPENSION AND BRAKES

The SC’s suspension is also taken from the pre-1983 Monza/Senator, but it’s lowered and stiffened, with Bilstein gas dampers. Everything is available, so if you bounce each corner to see if it’s tired, and find it is, all is not lost.

Until August 1983 there were fixed callipers at the front, but later cars used a floating design. Both types are reliable though, and everything is available, although it’s getting ever harder to find.

INTERIOR

Most of the SC’s interior surfaces are covered in fine calf skin, which can split or tear, or crack if it’s been allowed to dry out – repairs are costly. The same goes for the woodwork, which can delaminate.

If the air-con system has its original R12 refrigerant, which is now illegal, it’ll cost £1000 plus to convert it to a modern refrigerant; if the system isn’t working at all, expect a similar-size bill to get it operational. Also ensure the heater works properly, as the matrix can fail and replacements are hard to find. Even worse, the dash has to come out to fit a new matrix, which is why the whole system is sometimes bypassed. Check there’s a pipe running from the front of the engine through the bulkhead – if it runs down to the back of the engine instead, the matrix has been bypassed.

ELECTRICS

The electrics are generally reliable, although the loom can fracture where it goes into the doors, for the windows, central locking and mirrors. The instruments and switchgear are all taken from the 1978-1981 Senator, aside from the electric mirror switch; that came from the 1983 Senator. Nothing is available new, although used bits crop up occasionally. The instruments carry the Bitter logo though, so you’ll need professional help to swap the faces over if you need to replace anything.

All lighting is available; early cars feature Fiat 126 sidelights and indicators (mounted in the bumpers) while the Ferrari Mondial supplied the later ones; they’re harder to find and much more costly. The rear lights are taken from the Lancia Monte Carlo, and they’re available but expensive.

VERDICT

Yes – if you can find one. The SC is utterly usable as it’s well screwed together and uses relatively modern engineering. However, while purchase costs are low and maintenance is straightforward, fuel costs can be high; in general use you can expect just 20mpg or so. Still, when you’ve got as much style as the SC can muster, you’ll be too busy soaking up the admiring glances to worry about the fuel bills.

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