Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
The Safety Sports Car
The Bricklin SV1 was an exceptionally good-looking 2-seat sports car, and was equipped with just about everything imaginable in 1974
. There was air-conditioning
, AM/FM stereo, power steering and brakes, tinted glass, tilt steering wheel, cast alloy wheels
, radial tyres
– and because of the stringent US safety laws you could drive it into a wall at 10 mph (forward or backward) without damage.
What was even better was that the car sold for under US$6500. The SV1 was the brainchild of Malcolm Bricklin, a self made millionaire who worked from his office in Scottsdale, Arizona. He made his fortune starting out as a successful franchised hardware-store owner (becoming a millionaire in the process at the age of 22), then moving into the U.S. distribution of Lambretta scooters, and then Subaru automobiles.
, while still working for Subaru
of America, Bricklin decided that what he really wanted to do was to build and market his own car. Starting with just a basic concept - to build a “safety sports car” that didn’t look like a safety sports car – Bricklin naturally had to overcame obstacle after obstacle. The first concept car was designed in just 83 days, and by the end of 1972
a full-scale clay model had been built-in 11 weeks instead of the 9 months normally required by Detroit automakers. Then came wood moulds and aluminium tooling, and Bricklin figured he'd have the car out by March 1973
Keeping It All American
But money was a problem, so the project stalled while Bricklin sought additional financing - an investment of over $20 million was needed before a car would be able to roll off the assembly line. To further complicate matters, Bricklin also needed to establish a design and manufacturing facility. He found a modern building in the Detroit suburb of Livonia, Michigan, for the design team.
Wanting to keep his new car “All-American”, Bricklin was determined to find a workforce prepared to put in the hard yards in creating the perfect car. He found a cooperative work force and receptive government in St John, New Brunswick, Canada. Some body parts were also manufactured in another plant at Minto, New Brunswick. To meet even the lowest sales projections the factories needed to manufacture 1000 cars per month, and the intention was to eventually reach a manufacturing capacity of 2500 a month. By 1979 Bricklin hoped to be selling some 100,000 cars in the U.S. and Canada.
The Bricklin Design
In conceiving his car Bricklin believed safety was foremost in peoples' minds but that they wouldn’t be willing to pay for it. On this premise Bricklin had his people design a perimeter box-section frame to surround the passengers at bumper height - 17 inches above the ground. A roll-cage structure bolted to the frame to completely encircle the occupants in protective steel. The roll cage served a dual purpose: it also acted as a fixture to accurately hold the door and windshield openings before the body was assembled to the frame. The Bricklin's bumpers were quite prominent - and effective incorporating Delco shock-absorber units bolted to the frame plus an outer layer of urethane over a steel-backed bumper bar. The body was vacuum-formed acrylic sheet formed into panels and reinforced with an inner layer of fibreglass.
Body panels were colour-impregnated to a depth of 0.04 in., compared to about 40 mils (0.000040 in.) for the paint finish on Detroit cars, making the Bricklin resistant to scratches and easy to touch up. Bricklin claimed the plastic body was extremely difficult to dent, and rumour has it that he would demonstrate this to motoring journalists by whacking the bonnet with a big hammer. The Bricklin's drivetrain and suspension were totally conventional and the unique frame was tailored to on-the-shelf chassis components.
After using a Valiant
Slant Six in the prototype “Grey Ghost”, subsequent SV1’s were powered by an American Motors 360-cu-in. V8 coupled to either a 4-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic
transmission, both sourced from Chrysler. Suspension components were from the Hornet range of cars with unequal-length arms and coil springs up front and a live axle on leaf springs at the rear. The vacuum-assisted disc-drum brakes
were also from AM, and the power-assisted steering was a General Motors variable-ratio design.
The First Production Gullwing Since The 300SL
Gullwing doors, which we think were the first seen on a production car since the Gullwing Mercedes 300SL
was phased out of production in 1957, were a unique feature of the Bricklin. They were very clever too - there were no outside door handles - just a key lock and a rocker switch on the rear quarter panel. You only had to unlock the door and press the switch; the doors were then power operated. The actual mechanism was a standard convertible-top electric/hydraulic motor. Rocker switches similar to those on the outside were located on the central console for closing or opening the gullwings; windows rolled up and down just as in conventional doors. The gullwing doors were more than a styling gimmick; they could be opened with as little as 11 in. of side clearance, greatly reducing the risk involved in opening a door into traffic.
Behind the wheel the thing most motoring journalists noted was the high, wide sill. They only needed to look back to the 300SL to understand the dilemma. But unless you were of the fairer sex, and wearing a mini skirt, the sill was not so much of an issue. Taller occupants would also have to remember to duck their heads while maintaining their modesty. Strangely the seats did not recline – but in the interests safety a one-piece design was judged necessary. There was more angle to the seatback than on most U.S. cars of the era, however, and the soft suede-like material held the body snugly and comfortably. Complete instrumentation, including a tachometer, with backup warning lights for all gauge functions was fitted in the dash along with separate ventilation ducts for driver and passenger.
The glovebox was done away with, instead the car being fitted with an airbag. Given the SV1 was a "safety car" it is strange that many who were fortunate enough to sit behind the wheel found the forward and rearward vision compromised by the sports car styling. The sloping rear deck gave a narrow field at the rear and the high, long bonnet and guards were difficult to see over. Components designed with accessibility and ease of servicing in mind were a mark of the Bricklin. You could open a panel directly behind the seats and all the hydraulics for the door mechanism were accessible. No attempt was made to hide the screws that held the instrument panel or the struts that supported the doors. The idea was to ensure owners were made aware, even in the showroom, how easy it would be to fix a Bricklin.
Performance wise Brickin claimed the AMC powered SV1 would reach 60 mph in a little over 8 seconds and stop from 60 mph in 121 feet. Better still the car had near-neutral handling
, probably a big part in that was the fat Goodrich T/A radials. There was not a lot of feedback through the steering
but it did have an impressive ride - firm but not harsh – particularly given the short wheel-base.
For the 1975
model year Bricklin did away with the manual transmission
option and all subsequent cars were automatics. In an attempt to reduce production costs, Bricklin attempted to bond fibreglass to acrylic plastic - something the plastics industry had not perfected at the time - resulting in a high failure rate and high production costs (some panels cracked while still in their moulds).
With the extra weight of a supposed safety sports car, the Briklin was copping some flak over its performance credentials - even though by Australian standards the performance was good. But the extra weight of the fibre body, roll cage, bumpers etc counted against it, and we have been unable to find any review to substantiate the claims of sub 10 second performance. In 1975
the decision was made to dump the AMC V8 and switch to Ford's 351 cu in (5752 cc) Windsor V8 - but we are speculating that maybe AMC stopped supply due to mounting debt. With the Windsor under the hood, the SV1 had the power to avoid accidents when overtaking, while ensuring copious amounts of understeer were on hand. Thus powered, the Briklin was set to become a Corvette killer. But it was also, unfortunately, not viable financially.