Obscure Auto: Bricklin SV1

Malcolm Bricklin is a pretty well-known guy in automotive history.  He’s had his successes and failures, but his most well-known business venture was the ill-fated Yugo, considered to be the worst car ever sold on American shores.  However, his other experiences are also worth mentioning.  He is the man responsible for Subaru’s initial presence into the United States (he was one of the first official importers, and one of the most successful), and he brought out one of the downright strangest cars to be designed in America–the Bricklin SV-1. 

The SV-1 was a car of a few firsts.  For one, it was intended to be designed as one of the safest cars available for the market, hence its name, which stood for “Safety Vehicle 1”.  It was also one of the first American cars to use gullwing doors, something DeLorean would later copy on his car in the early 1980s.  The idea of “Safety Colors” was a strange one, and it did not catch on, but it was a first nonetheless–Bricklin’s reasoning for this was that the bright colors would make the car more noticeable to inattentive road users.  The SV1 did not include an ashtray or a lighter, as Bricklin was much against smoking and wanted to discourage his owners from doing so.

 

The SV1 had some other rather interesting characteristics.  The engine was an AMC 360 V8 at first, but later switched to an engine sourced from Ford, a 351 Windsor V8.  Neither engine was very powerful and thanks to the heavy bodywork, the SV1 did not go like it looked in any way.  The fact that it was not available with a manual transmission made matters that much worse.  This car, despite being something to improve automotive safety, didn’t do much other than make its occupants feel a bit unsafe in their own skin.  As such, it was not a successful vehicle, with only 2,854 made during its run.

 

As for the “Safety Vehicle” aspect, the SV1 was quite advanced for the 1970s.  It included an integrated roll cage, as well as 12-mph bumpers front and rear.  It even had side beams.  However, as a performance car with safety in practice, it was nowhere.  The bodywork, which was fiberglass bonded to an acrylic plastic, was not at all up to the technology that existed in 1974.  As a result, the panels cracked early and often, which raised production costs and caused Bricklin to go out of business.  The trick gullwing doors, which were electrically operated, trapped owners inside due to bad wiring.  The “safety” paint had a tendecy to fade over time, turning this expensive, sporty looking car into a dilapidated lawn ornament which lowered property values.

Today, the Bricklin itself is little-remembered by the general public, but a small group of enthusiasts keep the cars alive, with one even showing up at teh 2012 Greenwich Concours.  The man Bricklin, however, wasn’t quite finished.  Other than his success with bringing Subaru, he tried again to bring another car to the United States–the much better (for distinctly worse reasons) remembered Yugo, one of the worst cars ever to be vomited onto the American public.  Clearly, if this was anything to go by, Malcolm Bricklin is not much of a man to be remembered.

-Albert S. Davis

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5 thoughts on “Obscure Auto: Bricklin SV1”

  1. When slamming the Bricklin, you really should get some facts correct to retain any credibility.

    For instance, when you go off on the “safety paint,” you look a bit out of touch when you consider on an acrylic body car there isn’t on drop of paint on it. Nice research.

    I’d also have considered using a Bricklin thats remotely stock for your photo example, as that car doesnt look much like the Bricklins that left the factory.

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  2. Also there was a manual transmission available in 1974 with the AMC powerplant. And as another commentor pointed out , the color is in the gel coat . The styling has held up well, on occasion I drive my Orange ’75 model and it never ceases to draw attention.

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