The cars we loved.
During the high excesses of the disco era, American cars had become bloated fuel guzzling and under powered while many sports cars had fallen from previous glory. Not happy with the state of automotive affairs, Malcolm Bricklin the millionaire, already responsible for bringing Subaru to America would set about building a sport car with advance safety features that would cater to the growing green movement in America. Or so he hoped.
After securing a deal with the Canadian province New Brunswick, a factory was set up that produced the exotic looking Bricklin SV-1. SV stood for safety vehicle and 1 was the first model of what had hoped to be a long line of cars. The SV-1 today had the unfortunate reputation of being s a flop. In many ways the story of the Bricklin mirrors that of the Delorean, which would come years later. Like the Delorean, the Bricklin was ahead of its time using lightweight fiberglass and acrylic plastic (much like the Fiero would 10 years later).
Designed by Herb Grasse, the man behind the 60’s TV show Batmobile, the SV-1 had a shape that predated the Nissan Z31 (300ZX) design of the 80’s with a similar fastback rear and wedge nose. Of the more distinctive features of the SV-1 were its power gull-wing doors. It was the first car to have such. Bright “safety” colors were the only options, as Malcolm Bricklin was serious about the safety aspects of the SV-1.
Mechanically, the SV-1 was rather conventional with a front engine rear wheel drive set up. Live rear axle, front A-arms, coil springs and initially a 165 hp AMC V8 rounded what sounded like a laundry list of available parts from other people’s bins. Breaks and suspension parts came mostly from AMC’s Hornet. A more powerful 175 hp Ford Windsor 351 V8 improved performance, but its use was justified as a means to avoid potential accidents as opposed to increasing straight line performance. Most reviewers agreed that the SV-1 had no real safety advantage over other cars, but by Bricklin Vehicle Corporation used artsy advertising to in an attempt to convince buyers otherwise.
As a performance car, it was compared often to the Corvette and was priced accordingly at around $10,000. A May 1975 comparison test in done by Road & Track magazine showed that the SV-1 actually held its own against the Corvette, especially in the corners where the SV-1 exhibited very little understeer. The car tested and the ones actually available suffered from inconsistencies with option packages due to factory problems. In the first year of production only a 4 speed manual was available, then an automatic until finally only a 4 speed auto was the transmission choice. Problems with engines running hot led to two hood scoops on later cars (still not solving the problem) as opposed to the one before. Bad press conspired to hurt sales as the Bricklin’s reputation was tarnished further by its small dealer network.
High debt and inability to produce enough cars to make a profit led to the company being dissolved and SV-1 with it officially in 1975. With it’s scattered dealer network dismantled a automotive liquidator in Columbus, Ohio bought the remaining parts and cars that were on the production line and reassembled and sold them as 1976 models.
Being included on many “worst cars of all time lists” might be a little unfair to the Bricklin. It certainly had its share of problems, but what Big Three Car didn’t during the 70’s? The plight of the Bricklin legacy may well change with time. Its forward thinking marketing niche as a safe sports car and it’s rakish, but practical design could have more favor with future collectors who might be clamoring for the few cars that will still be available. The factory only produced 2,854 cars with only 1,000 or so remaining today.