Whatever Happened To...? Bricklin

Glenn Arlt

November 12, 2013

Car lovers are inherently drawn to the flair and flamboyance of classic gull-wing sports cars. In the third installment of a series looking at short-lived automotive marques and models, Glenn Arlt offers some automotive déjà vu with a look at the Bricklin SV-1. 

Bricklin

Ever since Mercedes-Benz unveiled the 300SL in 1954, gull-wing door design has intrigued automakers looking to create a buzz. Reminiscent of the cockpit door of a fighter jet, gull-wing doors are one styling feature almost guaranteed to make a car instantly memorable.

A decade before John DeLorean employed this eye-catching door design on his now famous bid for eponymous automotive immortality, there was another auto executive maverick named Malcolm Bricklin who, tried to ride his way to fame on the wings of a gull.

Bricklin

Safety Matters

After transforming his father’s Orlando-based building supply business into a million dollar franchise of Handyman stores, Bricklin began selling franchises for motor scooters in the mid 1960s. His best selling model, the Fuji Rabbit, was made by Fuji Heavy Industries — the same company that produced a little car call the Subaru, a make then unheard of in the United States.

Bricklin saw great potential in the 3-speed microcar with the funny name and made a deal with FHI to introduce American buyers to the Subaru 360. But his new company, Subaru of America, almost immediately collapsed when Consumer Guide condemned the new import as “the most unsafe” on the market after the car, which weighed less than 1,000 pounds, fared terribly in crash tests.

America’s new obsession with automotive safety standards was crystal clear, so Bricklin decided the time was right to give the country what it wanted. Wrongly believing Subaru had no future, he sold his share of the company and used the money to begin production on a safe and economical sports car he would call the SV-1.

Bricklin

Safety at Any Cost  

Development of Bricklin’s high performance “safety vehicle” began in 1971. Originally estimated to sell for $4,000, the SV-1 saw its ticket price nearly double over the three years it would take to bring an actual car to market. While the base 1974 Corvette coupe was $6082, the price for a standard SV-1 came in at $7,490.

As DeLorean would discover years later, the cost of turning a dream car into reality was not cheap. For starters, the SV-1 had a massive safety frame with integrated roll cage, huge energy absorbing urethane bumpers (which exceeded legal requirements) and a fuel tank within huge frame rails for additional resistance against explosion in rear-end collisions.

Bricklin always claimed that he wanted gull-wing doors not for the distinct style it offered but rather because the doors didn’t swing out into traffic and were therefore safer. Bricklin’s focus on safety extended to the choice in color options — Safety White, Safety Suntan, Safety Green, Safety Red and Safety Orange. The acrylic bodies of the original SV-1s were actually impregnated with these colors (another expensive process) and if scratched could be wet sanded and buffed out. 

Fewer than 800 SV-1s made it to market its debut year. Original SV-1s were powered by AMC (American Motors) 360 cubic inch 220 hp V8 engines and came with a choice of 4-speed or Chrysler supplied automatic. For the 1975 model-year, a Ford’s Windsor 351 V8 engine and FMX automatic (only) were offered in the SV-1. In 1976, around 20 cars were built using new single exhaust and catalytic convertor for the Ford V8. 

Bricklin

A Familiar End

Ending as unceremoniously as it began, Bricklin ceased manufacture in 1976. Like Kaiser, Frazer, Crosley and other upstarts unable to compete with the Big Three, Bricklin’s failure to mass produce his visionary car hinged on a number of reasons: lack of capital; too few development resources; too little time; too few engineers; and the necessity of starting from scratch in the production process.

Bricklin’s project was largely funded by the Canadian Province of New Brunswick after he was unable to find funding in the United States. Key figures in New Brunswick believed the car company would provide work for a growing number of unemployed. This arrangement meant Bricklin was constantly scrambling to keep the government subsidies flowing for his company, Canada Limited. 

Reviews were also less than stellar for the SV-1. The men of New Brunswick, a coastal country were the primary occupation is fishing, were not accustomed to factory work. This translated into a car with numerous fit and finish problems. Buyers were also less than thrilled with the ergonomics of the car, namely the push-button power door mechanism that was very slow and broke down often (trapping people in their cars in some cases). To many potential buyers, the SV-1 more resembled a cheap kit-car than a viable Corvette competitor. 

A little more than 3,000 SV-1s were produced between 1974 and 1976. Although values are modest, Bricklins do have a cult following. Depending upon condition, the Hagerty Price Guide values SV-1s at between $5,000 and $27,000.

Comments

  1. Bob lisi Rhode island

    what other cars do you cover, I have xke's and avantis

  2. Charles Brentlinger Scottsdale, AZ.

    Yes, this is all true as any Bricklin owner will tell you! I own Serial Number 2518, which I bought from a close friend before he passed away of cancer several years ago. We have been restoring the car starting with the engine and transmission. Rebuilding the engine and replacing the Ford FMX transmission with a Ford C6. It may be years before we are done, but we do enjoy the car and it gets looks of attention at the big weekly car show here in Scottsdale, AZ.

  3. Mike South Carolina

    Lol you definitely cover a bricklin because the doors leak! I own a bricklin and corvettes the bricklin definitely has it's own personality. I found her on creigslist car #424 off the assembly line. With just over 10,000 original miles. I've also had the pleasure of meeting terry tanner one of the main engeneers who now heads up bricklin parts of Virginia. My car is a project car because the previous owners let her sit. With me she won't just sit! I believe in driving and enjoying. I get lots of looks with the vettes but I'm sure I'll get a lot more with the bricklin.

  4. Robert Jordan Arlington VA

    I worked on few Bricklins for a body shop back in 1979... strange but cool looking car indeed. They all had door issues since they kept delaminating/coming apart for some reason. I also remember the AMC Gremlin steering wheels and AMC automatic floor shifters in them. The Ford 351' engines made them fun to drive since they sounded like a modified Mustang due to the short exhaust systems.

  5. Bob Bean Vail, Colorado

    I'm from the Detroit area and often wondered why I haven't seen any Briklins at the various car shows I go to. Once in a great while I'll see an AMC...and also...another missing car at shows is the Chrysler Turbine. I can remember seeing them on Woodward Avenue a number of times...but not a shows today. My car ? a 1977 Corvette, orange, 4-speed manual T-Top.I really enjoyed the story of the Briklin. Thanks....

  6. Kathy Johnston Nampa ID

    Always great to hear about another orphan car, especially such a cool one! I've owned Studebakers and Internationals and I can't believe how many people don't have a clue what they are, even though my area still has a fair number of both makes on the road. So I appreciate your efforts to educate us on these rare gems and the people behind them. Keep up the good work!

  7. Mike P Toronto, Ontario, Canada

    Nice article Sir... I own VIN 2724 and 2882 (because you can't just have ONE!)... 2724 is the driver and 2882 is the one-off. This car is a part of Canadian automotive history and remains in my heart as ahead of it's time... I know not of leaks in mine as they are never in the rain. 2724 hasn't been wet in over 20 years. She gets dusted off (if I forgot the cover in the garage)and waxed... great cars, cause havoc and get attention and thumbs up everywhere I go.

  8. David Bradenton, Fl

    Check out Malcolm Bricklin's contribution to the history of automotive sales. He introduced the Subaru to the U.S market among other manufacturers. He partnered with Chery Automotive in China. That too was a disaster. He keeps on going.......

  9. Tom Roswell, Ga.

    I remember selling the last Bricklin from Tappan Motors, in Tarrytown, NY. For me, the important aspect of the car were all of the safety features built into the design. From the fireproofed interior to not offering a cigarette lighter. Was the car quirky? You bet it was! But the designers of the vehicle had some great ideas that future car models would incorporate into vehicles made in the 1980's onward. So I feel that the car was so far a head of its time, that part of the romance of the vehicle was lost. Had funding been there to reinvent the obvious flaws, who knows how automotive history might have viewed this marque!

  10. Joe Kastellec Geneva Ohio

    I remember when I stopped at a new car dealership when they first came out I always wish they would have survived they are a unique car to own as I have a Avanti 2 and people always ask me ??? when I fill up for gas,

  11. David Ellithorpe Fountain Hills, AZ

    A friend of mine who is a retired Scottsdale AZ police officer remembers when the Scottsdale PD used a couple of Bricklins during the 1970’s! He believes that Malcolm Bricklin who lived in Scottsdale at the time donated the cars to the PD as additional publicity for his company! He also remembers that they didn’t work out all that well in its police capacity!

  12. Timbo Michigan

    Mr. Bean, to see AMC's join an AMO club and go to their shows. Chrysler Turbines have mostly been crushed - see Jay Leno or the Chrysler Museum (now closed). Look up BOOM - Bricklin Owners Of Michigan for Bricklins. I have a '74 Javelin. "Seek and ye shall find".

  13. Will Owen Pasadena CA

    I had to fight a reckless-driving charge in a small court in Gallatin, Tennessee, and picked a lawyer recommended by a friend of a friend. He had to be elsewhere on the date of my court appearance and told me to ask for a continuance. The judge made it abundantly clear that he had no use for Nashville lawyers or Nashville residents of any sort, especially one like me with long hair, but he continued proceedings for a week. When I returned to the court house I finally met my lawyer … as he was getting out of his Bricklin. It was as grubby as a car could be, had one headlight stuck open, and when he told me cheerfully that the other one was stuck shut somehow I knew this judge wasn't going to like him either.

  14. Craig Nelson Glendale az

    I became fixated on Bricklins when they first came out. Calling the Scottsdale office for a brochure which they sent out to me.At the time a corvette was about 10,000 here and any Bricklins that that made it out here were going for about 16,000 to 23,000 way out of my price range.I pretty much gave up on my dream of having one until 4 years ago when one came up for sale in town for 12,000. It was in pretty good shape having been in Arizona all its life and l bought it. Still own it and with all its little quriks l would not sell it for anything. To this day the looks it gets when the doors open up you can't believe.

  15. Tom Piantanida Oroville, CA

    I heard a story - don't know if it's true - that if you tried to open on door while lowering the other, it stalled the hydraulic door system.

  16. Terry D. Piccirelli San Diego California

    I own No. 958 off the assembly line. I have owned it since 2002. I have $50,000 invested. All the idiosyncrasies have been eliminated. It has been in the shop for over a year. Total body restoration, New paint, New upholstery. 5.0 Mustang roller cam engine & New transmission. Everything working better than new. Doors work Perfect. I am the only one in the area. First show will be the Good Guys in Del Mar Cal on April 4-5-6 2014 Fun to own & fun to drive. One hell of a eye catcher. Most people don't know what it is or have never seen one before. I have to put Not a Delorian signs up as a Hook