SPOTLIGHT: What's the deal with the Bricklin SV-1
So I have heard grumblings that people want more American cars and have also heard that people want more imports that aren't Japanese talked about here on The Blog. So I have done both and in doing so I have also found the most obscure car in Minnesota to write about. If you've ever wondered if there was ever a Canadian sports car, the answer is yes and this is it. The oh-so-canadian named SV-1 or Safety Vehicle One, famous for being the safest sports car of the 1970s. This might be the ultimate hipster collector car, well maybe the word "collector" is a stretch because these have somehow found a way to be both exceedingly rare, made in small numbers from 1974 to 1975, and still lose value on the collector market. So what the hell is the Bricklin SV-1 and why should you care? What's the deal with the Bricklin SV-1, eh?
First off, we really should talk about what the Bricklin is and who Malcolm Bricklin was. Malcolm Bricklin was an automotive entrepreneur who was the founder of Subaru of America and also left a tidy little present on our rug called, the Yugo. So you can thank Malcolm Bricklin whenever you see one of the best cars on American roads and when you see the worst car on American roads. The creation that is the SV-1 would probably skew towards the Yugo side of the Bricklin automotive scale however. If Malcolm Bricklin was alive in the 1890's he would likely have made his living selling snake oil healing elixirs and miracle pills made of sugar, but remember Coca Cola was invented by a snake oil salesman so sometimes they have good ideas.
In the early 1970s, the world was a really weird place for cars. It was a transitional period rife with growing pains and the writing was on the wall for The Malaise. Ralph Nader was spear heading a safety movement for cars which spawned amongst many things, the invention of the 5 MPH crash bumper and the idea of the "safety car," a car designed to be safe before anything else. Most Safety Car designs looked along the lines of the AMC Pacer, which is decidedly not sporty at all. Malcolm Bricklin wanted a sportier option and thus the concept for the SV-1 (Safety Vehicle One) was born.
Malcolm Bricklin's Safety Car game plan was to create a steel tube perimeter frame with integrated roll bar and place a fiberglass body over it, then power it with some sort of mass produced V8. The exterior of the car was built around it's 5 MPH crash bumpers, which was a profound design for the era since usually the safety bumpers were an after thought (look how badly the Countach faired here). If you look back at 90% of cars made in the mid 1970s, they had these atrocious rubber baby buggy bumpers made to satisfy new safety regulations. The 5 MPH bumpers of the 70's were like pedestrian safety standards on modern cars where it took nearly a decade to get them to look reasonable, see the 5th versus 6th generation Subaru Legacy as an example of this.
The final bodywork of the SV-1 is on behalf of Herb Grasse, who is best known for his work with George Barris on the original Batmobile. The car's final production featured automatic gullwing doors, flip up headlights, and a wedge shaped silhouette, which were all of the prerequisites of 70's supercars. Some people cite it as one of the least attractive cars of the 1970's but it's one of those cars that grow on you the more you look at it.
The concept, at least, was unabashedly cool but then Malcolm safety'ed all over it. He removed the cigarette lighters and ashtray because he believed that smoking in a car was unsafe and he gave the car a "safety" color palate of actually cool colors. The palate was white, red, green, orange and "suntan" aka gold. While these aren't exactly bad things, "Safety Green" makes it sound like your mother is telling you to not run with scissors or to stop shooting roman candles at the neighbor boy.
As for the powerplant, each year was different. The 1974 cars had an AMC 360 V8 and the 1975 had a Ford 351 V8, both making between 175-220 HP due to emissions strangling the life out of them. The quarter mile time was in the mid 16 second range, which was just shy of the Corvette it was competing against, but also put it squarely in the territory of the cheaper Mazda RX-3. Of the two years, the 1974 is the most desirable as it was the only year available with a manual transmission and had the 220 HP AMC engine.
Unfortunately, the Bricklin never caught on, partially due to it's lack of availability but also due to build quality issues, which were horrendously common during this era. The main issue with Bricklins were with body panels cracking, particularily the doors. This happened due to the fiberglass not wanting to bond with the acrylic plastic components also utilized in production. Today modern fiberglass technology can help fix and prevent this but over the years incidents like the door seen above are not unheard of.
A second major issue with the car comes from the engine overheating due to a small radiator combined with an inadequate front air dam. Bricklin attempted to fix this by enlarging the air dam but this only prolonged the problem rather than completely fixing it. If you do find a Bricklin today, it likely has an aftermarket radiator. Somewhat ironically the Scottsdale, Arizona police department purchased a handful creating some of the coolest police cars of the 1970's.
Today there is a small community of Bricklin fans around the world and a solid aftermarket fighting desperately to keep these on the road. The owner of the Bricklin we found at the Classic Import Car Night at Bauhaus Brew Labs a few months ago had just finished restoring his for becoming roadworthy utilizing these resources. The car definitely got attention as when it rolled in the R32 GT-R that came with it was all but overlooked. Most of the onlookers were baffled with the make of the car, citing it as a Saab Sonnet or a 280ZX with a bodykit.
Despite being the unofficial national sports car of Canada, Bricklin SV-1s haven't really caught on in the collector world, as seen on it's Hagerty Valuation page here. This is peculiar because it is a car made in extremely small numbers, with an interesting story, a very striking aesthetic, a large aftermarket for maintenance and a small but dedicated following. In fact, they are just barely keeping pace with inflation unlike it's peers, some of which are soaring in price. It could be that they just haven't caught on, remember that Z cars and Porsche 914's took forever to build a following. I wouldn't bet on the SV-1 being some secret blue chip collector car though, it's best enjoyed for what it is and driven like a proper car should be. Hopefully this gets you caught up on the SV-1 and you now understand what's the deal with the Bricklin SV-1.