Here's Six Bonkers Facts About A Bonkers Car, The Bricklin SV-1

There's an actual musical involved here, along with melting bodies and purloined taillights

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Screenshot: Bricklin, CBC, YouTube

You know Malcom Bricklin, right? He’s the guy who started Subaru of America and brought the Yugo to America, too. Between those two iconic moments of automobile heroics, he also developed his own radical, wedge-shaped, gull-winged sports car years before DeLorean—the SV-1. The SV-1 is a pretty fascinating car, and while it deserves a deep dive at some point, right now I just want to relay six gloriously weird facts about the car for you. So, you know, maybe sit over a dropcloth.

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The SV-1 was built between 1974 and 1975 or so, and just under 3,000 were made. It was intended to be an interesting mix of sports car and advanced safety car: that’s why it has that huge energy-absorbing bumper at the front end, and an integrated roll cage.

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Screenshot: Bricklin, CBC, YouTube

Also for safety reasons, Bricklin stipulated no ashtray or cigarette lighter. Maybe he would call you to be sure you were getting enough fiber in your diet, too, but I can’t prove that.

Suspension and drivetrain parts were mostly pulled from Ford and AMC parts bins, and the cars used AMC V8s initially before moving to Ford Windsor V8s. The body was acrylic, which caused all kinds of issues, and which will come up again. Oh, and the gullwing doors were electrically-powered, and often failed.

Okay, let’s get to the gleefully bonkers facts, starting with a standby for me, taillights:

1. The taillights for the Bricklin were from a DeTomaso Pantera, and the original clay styling model had lights that were pulled right off the designer’s personal car.

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Screenshot: Bricklin, CBC, YouTube
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From Steve Stratton, the VP of Bricklin International, the Bricklin SV-1 owner’s club:

Herb Grasse, the designer of the Bricklin was driving a Pantera at the time of the car’s design (in 1973) (and he has owned two Mangusta’s, according to my conversations with him), and he did not like the original tail light designs on the clay model of the Bricklin. So, he went out to his car, removed the Pantera tail lights, painted them clay color, and stuck them on the model that was casted for the Bricklin panels. That’s how the Bricklin ended up with Pantera tail lights.

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I guess Grasse just drove home with no taillights? Or maybe he grabbed some trailer lights over his lunch break? That part isn’t clear.

2. The formal introduction of the SV-1 was to take place at the Four Seasons in NYC, but at the last minute they found the car was too wide to get in the doors. So they quickly built a sort of barbecue spit to rotate the car sideways.

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Screenshot: Bricklin, CBC, YouTube
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Here’s how this story goes:

In June 1974, the Bricklin garnered itself something of an amusing launch at a public unveiling in New York City. Bricklin envisaged three cars being positioned on the iconic fountains inside the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel, but found that the car was 1 inch too wide to fit through the doors! Their response was to hastily build (at 1am mind you) essentially a giant spit that would rotate the cars on their side and slip them through the doors, similar to the rotating mechanism used to get James May’s Lamborghini Countach inside the Mima Art Gallery on Top Gear.

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3. The bodies melted off during testing in Arizona

Remember when I told you that they used acrylic body panels? Well, that was a bold, kind of experimental move at the time, involving bonding the acrylic outer skin to a fiberglass underbody. The problem was the bonding agent didn’t really hold up in hot weather:

“I remember getting this call from one of the test drivers who said, ‘Mr. Bricklin, we have a very serious problem ... we’ve been driving around in the heat and we put it in an air-conditioned [garage]. I came out at nighttime and I looked and the body had fallen off’,” Bricklin said.

The bonding agent between the acrylic panels and the fibreglass wasn’t able to stand up to the expansion and contraction of the two different materials in the desert heat.

“The whole body is sitting on the ground and the fibreglass is now your body! I mean, you want to talk about a nightmare.”

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4. Malcom Bricklin discovers people don’t like getting rained on

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Screenshot: Bricklin, CBC, YouTube
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The gullwing doors of the SV-1 were operated by an electric pump and hydraulic fluid, and the mechanism was able to open the door in six seconds, and close it in the same, for a total of 12 seconds, which seemed fine to everyone. Well, until Malcom Bricklin himself tried it in the rain, which caused him to re-think the 12-second time:

“You know what that is when it’s raining on your head? It’s horrible, unbelievable. Nobody had figured that out until I sat and got rained on my head.”

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They switched to a compressed air system that opened and closed the doors a bit quicker.

5. Malcom Bricklin’s dad helped by coming up with the idea to whack body panels with a hammer to make sure they wouldn’t fall off

Remember the acrylic body panels? Well, they had a 60 percent failure rate, and even when the adhesives were improved, the failure rate was still high. So they needed a way to test them at the factory.

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From Alan Chambers and H.A. Fredericks book, Bricklin:

The only test for the integrity of the parts was a test suggested by Albert Bricklin, Malcolm’s father, who proposed striking each part that came out of the presses with a seven pound hammer; if the part did not delaminate it passed.”

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6. Best of all, there was a Bricklin SV-1 musical.

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Screenshot: Bricklin, CBC, YouTube
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Yes, a musical, like with drama-people on a stage belting out songs that tell the plot at full-lunged volume.

The play was called The Bricklin: an Automotive Fantasy and chronicles the story of Malcom Bricklin choosing the province of New Brunswick, Canada for the Bricklin SV-1 factory.

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Sure, the DeLorean had the Back to the Future movies, but does it have a musical? I don’t think so.

Here, watch the promo video:

Oh, man, that is funk-infused!

Looks like Malcom himself showed up for opening night, even:

Damn, that’s a lot of infused funk. The musical is no longer running, but I’d encourage local theater groups to consider a revival.

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(thanks as always to Hans, my amazing unofficial field researcher)

DISCUSSION

By
Earthbound Misfit I

Another fact: The town in South Jersey where I grew up (Pennsville) had a Oldsmobile-Cadillac-GMC dealership that also sold the Bricklin. They had six or seven in various colors at on the lot at one time.

15-year old Misfit was so enamored with the Bricklin that he was a regular visitor to the dealership to the point of being a royal PIA to the sales staff, who were, for some reason, more interested selling a new Cutlass to middle-aged guys in leisure suits than answering questions from a pubescent car enthusiast on a Schwinn.

Finally the sales manager made a deal with me: He would give me a ride in one of the Bricklins -plus- a sales brochure, if I would promise to stop coming around on the weekends and annoying the staff.

Deal struck, I showed up one mid-summer Tuesday afternoon (neatly dressed, BTW) and got a 15-20 minute ride around town in an Safety Orange Bricklin, my smile a mile wide.

We even drove right past my house with my little brothers playing in the back yard.

After the ride, I was given my brochure with the sales manager’s business card stapled to the front, and reminded of my promise not to hang around the dealership. I held onto the brochure well into my 20s until it eventually got lost or discarded while moving.

Oh, and did I mention this accepting-a-ride-from-a-stranger was done without the knowledge or consent of my parents? Gotta love the ‘70s!