|Bricklin SV1 Ford|
Cars are manufactured in so many different countries around the world these days but back in the 70's they were predominantly built in the few countries they were designed. One interesting exception was the unique Bricklin SV1 which was built in Canada, but only sold in the United States.
Malcolm Bricklin was a millionaire before he reached 25 years of age, in hardware and plumbing supply franchising. He left the 'Handyman' business and began his career in the automotive industry by importing Fuji Motorscooters. Fuji also owned Subaru, which lead to Malcolm establishing Subaru of America and importing the tiny Subaru 360. After negative reviews by Consumer Reports labeling the 360 as the most unsafe car in the U.S., Bricklin left Subaru and created General Vehicle Corp. to build a car with his own name.
Bricklin employed a California custom car builder to produce a prototype that was intended to have a four cylinder before landing a deal with American Motors 5.9 litre V-8s. He went on to make a short film with his creation to promote the product across the country. While Herb Grasse Design worked further on the styling, Bricklin's tour led him to Canada and a closing Renault assembly plant in Quebec. After failing to convince the Quebec government of his proposal, he shifted east to the province of New Brunswick. The New Brunswick government was captivated by the idea of a locally produced car and entered an agreement to provide loan guarantees of $2.88 million, and purchase 51 percent of Bricklin Canada's shares for $500,000.
The SV-1 (Safety Vehicle 1) began production slowly in 1974 with numerous problems. It's crowning touch; the automatic gullwing doors were an engineering nightmare. They were slow to open, the hydraulics frequently leaked, and in the event of an electrical failure the occupants would have to exit via the rear hatch. The temperamental pop-up headlights and leaky windshields added to the overall poor build quality.
An initial sale price of $4000 jumped to $6500, and then $7490 by the time the first 1974 model was actually bought. The 1975 model leaped again to $9980. They were only sold in the U.S. because Bricklin could not join the Auto Pact and sell his cars in Canada. There were 780 produced in 1974 with a 220bhp AMC 360cid V-8 and 4-speed manual transmission, but because of short supply from AMC in 1975, a switch was made to the 175bhp Ford 351W V-8 with an automatic transmission.
Despite the manufacturing difficulties, the SV-1 had some very 'safe' features. This included a protected fuel tank, built-in roll cage, side guard rails, and shock absorbing 5-mph urethane bumpers that receded into the car. Even the stylish gullwing doors only required 12 inches of space to open fully, out of the way of traffic. The vacuum formed colour impregnated acrylic/fibreglass body panels came in five distinct schemes. All models came with beige interiors, were black below the beltline and choices of Safety Red, Safety White, Safety Green, Safety Orange, and Safety Suntan were available. Lack of actual paint meant that scratches could be buffed out. Also, in keeping with the safety theme, there was no ashtray or cigarette lighter. Overall, it far exceeded safety requirements of the time.
After building approximately 2854 SV-1s, Bricklin went into receivership in September 1975 with 12 cars left on the line containing VIN plates issued as 1976's. Regardless of the inevitable demise of his dream, Malcolm Bricklin still had the ambition to design a special model based on the SV-1, dubbed the "Chairman". It was to be all-black, with gold emblems and deep dish wheels (as shown on the white model featured).
Since then Bricklin owner clubs have sprouted up all around the world with annual meets to revel about their rare cars and at the same time complain about their recent problems with them. Most hydraulic door systems have been converted to more reliable compressed air, as well as several new colours being introduced as the warping acrylic bodies undergo fibreglass repairs.
And Malcolm Bricklin? Well, he went on to import Fiats into the United States after the company pulled out, also not a good idea. He then brought in Yugoslavian-built Yugos, an even worse one. He's now working on bringing a new Chinese car manufacturer, Chery Motors to the United States under his new company Visionary Vehicles LLC.
All of the featured SV-1's were present at the 2005 Bricklin International Grand National Meet in Ontario, Canada.
Article by Rob Clements, last updated on August 08, 2005
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