Bricklin Sports Car (1974-1976)
Article by Mark Trotta
The mid-seventies was not a good time to introduce a new sports car, but that's when Malcolm Bricklin debuted his. Aimed at the North American market, the Bricklin SV-1 featured gull-wing doors, V8 power, and a host of safety features.
In the 1970's, American businessman Malcolm Bricklin was a young millionaire who liked cars. He had previously founded Subaru of America, importing the first Subaru's to the U.S. market in 1968. After selling off his shares of Subaru for a large profit, he decided to build his own automobile.
Malcolm Bricklin's vision was to build a safe and economical sports car for exclusive sale in the United States. One the first steps taken in promoting the start-up car company was contracting Dick Dean to fabricate a design concept car. The styling of the gullwing car is credited to Marshall Hobart.
After a full-size clay model mock-up, a running prototype was built. Dubbed the Grey Ghost, the prototype two-seat gull-wing door sports car was powered by a Chrysler slant six, although original plans called for a four-cylinder engine. All subsequent prototypes had V8 engines, as would all production vehicles.
After starting General Vehicles Inc, the Bricklin sports car project was underway. To finance his new venture, a deal was struck with the New Brunswick government, who would supply the majority of capital (an estimated $4.5 million). In return, the new car company would provide jobs at two factories.
There were two Bricklin factories; one was located in Saint John, New Brunswick. A second facility in Minto, New Brunswick, produced the bodywork.
The only body style produced was a two-door, two-passenger hatchback coupe. It was given the designation 'SV-1', for 'Safety Vehicle One' There was no provision for a spare tire.
Bricklin SV-1 Specs
- Wheelbase: 96"
- Overall length: 178.6
- Overall height: 48.15
- Overall width 67.6 inches
- Curb weight: 3,470
A steel perimeter frame featured an integral roll cage. There was also a tubular steel frame around the passenger compartment.
Suspension was typical of the day; unequal-length A-arms with coil springs tube shocks in front. In back, semi-elliptic leaf springs, tube shocks, and two trailing links. Steering was a conventional recirculating-ball type.
The acrylic body was manufactured using a vacuum forming process, which bonded color-impregnated acrylic to each fiberglass body panel. Available colors were Safety Orange, Safety Red, Safety Green, Safety White, and Safety Suntan. All the cars were black below the belt-line and had beige interiors.
Exterior panels did not have nor need paint. Minor scratches could be buffed out.
The gull-wing doors weighed 90 pounds each, and opened and closed by hydraulic cylinders controlled by switches in the interior. In keeping with a sleek modern look, hidden headlamps were designed into the front end.
Braking was power-assist, with 11" vented disc brakes up the front and 10" cast-iron drums in back. This made for a total swept area of 328 square inches.
Wheels were a five-bolt pattern, 15"x7" and made of cast alloy. B.F. Goodrich T/A fabric radials were fitted, sized FR60-15.
1974 Bricklin SV-1
With considerable interest from the automotive world, the first car rolled off an assembly line on July 1st, 1974. Approximate retail price was $9,950.
AMC V8 Engine
The first-year models were powered by American Motor's 360ci engine. The single 4-barrel V8 engine produced 220 horsepower and 315 ft/lb of torque.
First-year transmission options were a either a three-speed Torque-Command automatic or a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual. Just 137 Bricklin owners opted for the 4-speed transmission. Rear axle ratio was 3.15:1.
1974 Bricklin Production: about 780, all with the American Motors V8.
Because the AMC V8 was in short supply, a switch was made to a Ford V8 in 1975. This required a redesign of the sub-frame. The two-barrel Ford 351 Windsor was rated at 175 horsepower and 286 ft/lbs torque.
As Ford had no EPA-certified manual transmission for the 351W engine, the only transmission available in 1975 was Ford's FMX 3-speed automatic.
1975 Bricklin Production: conflicting reports estimate between 2,062 and 2,083 came off the assembly line.
There were many standard safety features. These included energy and impact-absorbing front and rear bumpers, built-in roll cage, side guard rails, and five-mph bumpers. The fuel tank was protected on five sides to prevent fires when hit.
Since the gull wing doors opened out of the way of traffic, they were touted as a safety feature.
If you're a serious sports car driver, smoking is a distraction. Malcolm Bricklin agreed, and there were no ashtray or cigarette lighter in his sports cars!
For a sports car, the SV1 was heavy (3,470 pounds) and the engine was choked with emission controls. Although performance was not very good, it was comparable to the other V8-powered American sports car of the day, such as the Chevrolet Corvette.
Economic the Bricklin wasn't...average city driving resulted in 13 mpg, with highway mileage around 15-18 mpg.
The Demise Of Bricklin
In the fall of 1975, Bricklin had over 400 U.S. automobile dealers with reports showing thousands of back orders. The Province of New Brunswick refused to provide further financial assistance and forced the company into receivership. The 12 cars left on the assembly line that had VIN plates were issued as 1976 models.
Several factors were blamed for the car's demise. There were ongoing quality control problems and supplier shortages. Most importantly, though, was cost. In just two years, a series of increases more than doubled the original price of the car.
In all, a total of just 2,854 Bricklins were produced.
In many ways, Malcolm Bricklin's sports car was ahead of it's time. The SV1 exceeded every safety requirement of the day. Several years later, John Delorean would try his hand at marketing a two-seat sports car, the Delorean DMC-12.
Commemorative Stamp and Coin
The Bricklin stamp was part of a Canadian stamp series that commemorated historic land vehicles. It was chosen along with other cars, trucks, and specialty vehicles to celebrate the successes of Canadian inventors and manufacturers.
The stamp was issued in 1996.
In 2003, the Canadian mint issued a $20 sterling silver Bricklin coin.