The Bricklin SV-1: Canada’s Sports Car

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A low-slung body, gull wing doors, a mid-mounted engine, and sold through American and Canadian dealerships. No, its not the Delorean DMC-12, but the ill-fated Bricklin SV1.

The Bricklin SV1 one man’s desire to created his own “safety sports car” for the masses. Not unlike John DeLorean, who would have a crack at doing just that later on down the line.

This man was Malcom Bricklin, a Canadian born entrepreneur. Throughout his career, Bricklin had contributed in some capacity to the American new car scene. He brough the Fiat X/19 to America, badged as the Bertone X/19. On top of that, he also made American’s aware of what a Subaru was by bringing the Japanese brand to showrooms across America.

However, Bricklin is best known for his ambitious Bricklin SV-1, or Safety Vehicle 1 if you want the full name. His plan for his own car was very simple, a safety gull wing door sports car, with a fiberglass body, and low slung good looks.

Now, starting a new automotive business in America during 1974 was pretty difficult, due to the OPEC Oil Crisis.

All the big names in Detroit were either getting rid of, or detuning their thirstier offerings for more sales. So, with America queuing up in their droves for economical run arounds, Bricklin had a huge undertaking ahead of him. However, Bricklin was determined his SV-1 would be a success.

The completed SV-1 lived up to most of Bricklin’s vision. It featured hydraulic gull-wing doors, front and rear impact bumpers and pop up headlights. It also came with an intergral steel rollcage, and a low-slung body built of fibreglass,

The SV-1 was also styled by Herb Grasse. Grasse shot to fame after helping George Barris style the original Batmobile.

The SV-1 was unveiled at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas in February 1974, and people took notice. The original plan was to build 1,000 cars per month from Bricklin’s factory in New Brunswick. The factory was built thanks to investment from the New Brunswick Government, who fronted up with a then figure of $23 million US to see Bricklin’s car come to life. He sure must have been a smooth talker.

However, Bricklin’s dream of being mentioned in the same breath as Carroll Shelby, was not to be. It was down to two reasons. First of these was the Bricklin’s engine coupled to its weight. Earlier Bricklins came with a 360CI V8 sourced from AMC, which provided ample acceleration. However, supply issues and strict emission laws meant this was replaced for 1975 with the Ford 351 V8.

A shadow of its former self, the 351’s best days of powering Mustangs were behind it. In the Bricklin, it produced 175hp, and the only transmission which would pass those emission laws, was a Ford three-speed automatic gearbox. Put all this together, and the SV-1 was not a sporty sports car, especially when a new Corvette, costing a fraction of the price, would leave it for dead.

The second reason was the SV-1 was not built very well at all. The labourers working on the Bricklin assembly lines weren’t exactly automotive craftsmen. Owners of SV-1’s complained about a raft of electric issues, poor fit and finish and warped body panels.

Around 3,000 Bricklin SV-1s were built before the company went bust in 1976. Today, 1500 are believed to survive There is also a small cult following for this unique gull-wing sports car that still survives. It even had a starring role in the 1982 car crash B-movie “The Junkman.”

Despite its short life, the Bricklin SV-1 is one of the forgotten underdogs from the back pages of American car industry.

By Ben Selby

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