The Only Kid On The Block With One: 1975 Bricklin SV-1

If you are not already a major automobile manufacturer, you can try to become one.  However, the track record for those who try is abysmal.  Just ask Malcolm Bricklin and, later, John DeLorean.  While the DeLorean story is well known, the Bricklin story is a little farther in the past, and not nearly as famous.  Designed as a “safety sports car,” the Bricklin was built in Saint John, New Brunswick in Canada from 1974 to late 1975.  The cars were rather unusually styled for the day, especially with their gull-wing doors and fairly large bumpers.  Around 42 years later, you can still find these cars at reasonable prices. Take a look at this 1975 Bricklin SV-1 for sale here on Craigslist for just $8500.  It’s located in Milton, Florida. This car needs some work, but is intact and it runs!

Malcolm Bricklin was a very smart man who dreamed big.  He made his fortune building up a hardware store chain called Handyman.  Then he became the first importer for Subaru Automobiles in North America.  When he sold his interest in Subaru of America, Bricklin set his sights on building his own car.  Bricklin and his associates ended up designing a sports car that exceeded all safety standards at the time, complete with a tubular steel perimeter frame and roll cage and bumpers that could withstand impacts at higher speeds than most cars.  He was so safety conscious that the cars were built without cigarette lighters and ashtrays because Bricklin thought that smoking while driving was unsafe.  The body was made of an acrylic overlaid fiberglass, and featured gull-wing doors that were operated by an electrically driven hydraulic pump.  Originally, the cars were available with an AMC 360 cubic inch V-8 and either a four speed manual or three speed automatic.  Later versions were equipped with a 351 cubic inch Ford V-8 and only offered an automatic transmission.  While there are claims that the dealers had orders for thousands of these cars, production stopped when New Brunswick pulled their financial resources from the project.

While the owner claims to have driven this 1975 Bricklin recently, this car needs some help to get back up to good condition.  The body has what looks to be some chips and scrapes in it.  The idea of the acrylic bonded fiberglass panels was that the acrylic top coat was made with colorings that replaced paint.  If there was a scratch or blemish, you were supposed to buff it out of the acrylic.  In the pictures we see here, the chips are either completely through the acrylic and we are seeing naked fiberglass, or someone scuffed up the finish and painted the car with standard automotive paint.  It’s just too hard to tell from the photos.  The car also needs some work on the belt line trim, and the wheels are not stock.

The poles holding up the doors point to a large problem.  Bricklins used an electrically driven hydraulic pump that operated a hydraulic cylinder to open the doors.  This system took a lot of electricity, and would wear down the battery, leaving you with the undignified task of climbing through the rear hatch to get into the driver’s seat.  When this system failed, it leaked hydraulic fluid into the cockpit.  There is an upgrade that will convert this system to an air compressor driven operation, but it costs $1000 or so to complete.  To add insult to injury, these cars leaked around the gull-wing doors, and would create the perfect environment for rust, mold, and mildew.  The interior of this Bricklin doesn’t look too bad for its age, especially considering the build quality of the time.  However, there appears to be pitting or corrosion around the steering column, and some type of debris has fallen into the seats.  These cars do rust, so a thorough inspection would be a great idea on this car.

The sketchy build quality extends to the rear hatch area, but there is not much there to worry with.  The carpeting matches that on the floor boards, and it is a bit wrinkly for some reason.  The side panels of the hatch area look to be made of some type of vinyl, and there is a little work to be done there to get them looking ship shape again.  The area around the inside of the hatch is pretty dark.  I am not sure if that is dirt, mold, or surface rust.  On the bright side, the struts are holding the hatch up pretty well.  Given how fast they fail on modern cars, my guess is that these are replacements.

While I have always been a Bricklin fan, and I like the color of this car, I am a bit leery about it.  From the look of the car, it has likely sat outside for some time.  Given their propensity for leaking, I’d be worried about water damage in the interior.  The seat material looks good.  Too good for what looks to be a thin fabric in a car this old.  With the carpet being a gold color, it is hard to tell if there are any leaks, but the debris and corrosion we see has to have a reason for being there.  Furthermore, the more I look at it, the more I think this is a re-paint.  If standard paints are used over the acrylic, then the paint will separate and flake off.  The solvents also destroy the acrylic, so I hope I am wrong about the re-paint.  On the good side, it uses a 351 cubic inch Ford engine, so parts and upgrades shouldn’t be any problem.

This could be a good car at a pretty good price, or it could be a gull-winged hole to throw money down.  As with every car we review, inspect carefully before buying, and buyer beware in every case.

 

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Comments

  1. Dave Wright

    My brother had one of these given to him for a bill a guy owed him a few years ago……..pretty poor car………..we studied them when they were new but they were never a performance car, so bored us pretty quickly.

    • Anthony Anthony Wurthmann

      Agreed…To much $ for so little in return.

    • Harvey Peever

      True. Build quality and door problems plus other things were an issue. However, in comparison, they were much faster and easier to hot rod than the delorean.

  2. angliagt

    I saw a White one of these at a local car show (for sale).
    AMC powered.They were asking over $11,000 for it.
    I restrained my enthusiasm for it,& passed.

  3. Milt

    The front end looks like its got a bar of soap in its mouth.

  4. Dennis

    I bought one for 5k and it was the biggest piece of crap I ever owned. It gives the appearance of a poorly made kit car even if in perfect condition as it is cobb’d together with AMC and Ford parts.

  5. Patric

    It’s one of my dream cars.
    I went To the Musée de l’automobile d’autrefois in Edmunston New-Brunswick.
    Nice place To visit To see others cars also.

    • Kris

      Hello fellow New Brunswicker! I’m in Fredericton.

  6. Rich

    HEY, I WAS THAT KID! I had one of these in 1976 (in oh so visible orange) when I was 19 and it was fun to drive. No power but still fun; lots(!) of attention. However, the SV1 (safety vehicle) sure lived up to it’s name. My buddy and I were sitting in rush hour traffic (shout out to Los Angeles!!) when we felt a very slight bump from behind. Since we were stopped anyway, we got out to look and were amazed to see that a Triumph had rear-ended us at what appeared to be a pretty good clip. We definitely didn’t expect that the front end of the Triumph would be mostly totaled, certainly not driveable, while the Brick had one tiny gash in the bumper. Seriously that was it. That probably wasn’t good for me to know either because after that I felt invincible in that car right up to the day it too got totaled (by another car landing on top of it…long story!)

    Thankfully I’ve since quit smoking but I remember the lack of an ashtray (rare back then) really annoyed me. I’d cheerfully drive one again. Cheers!

    Like 1
    • Bmac Bmac Member

      Malcolm didn’t believe in smoking while driving, hence no ashtray. He also didn’t believe in paying his bills, as a supplier of parts for these we got the shaft!

      • angliagt

        As a rule,I avoid almost anything
        he is/was involved in.
        I’ll bet he wished that he’d hung on
        to the Subaru import business,although that
        probably would’ve gone bankrupt too.

  7. Bill

    Got one of these (Safety Orange) running and driving for a guy a few years ago. It was actually a fun car. Nice to drive, (not fast) but a pain to get in and out of. The panels polished up nicely. They can be painted with the proper prep. Parts were fun to locate, but with a little research and gut instinct we were able to find front end (AMC) and brake parts (Dodge) and of course Motor and drive-line bits we needed.

  8. Terry J

    Know nothing about these cool cars, but have had 2 early Camaro convertibles . Huh? Relevance? The convertible top and all it’s monkey works were powered by a 12v electric motor driving a hydraulic pump. Leaky? Sure, but they worked. I’m guessing that Mr. Bricklin did not engineer his own system, but borrowed an existing set up for his doors. Anyone an expert? :-) Terry J

  9. Dan

    Only car ever built with a giant 8 track tape shoved into the front!

  10. Kris

    Ahh, the Bricklin. It’s just another Edsel, wait and see! We’ll let the Yankees try it, and hope to God they buy it. Let it be, dear Lord, let it be!

    I’m from NB, and this is the homegrown car. Yeah, they’re kit cars at best but there’s also some good to them. For instance, that acrylic is something like a quarter inch thick and all hand laid; scratches etc. can be polished out with enough elbow grease, and even a bad paint job can be made into a bad memory and the surface would never let you know it had been damaged. The engines are stock AMC 360s and Ford 351Cs. Trannies are Chrysler, I believe. In all honesty, these remind one of an AMC take on a Corvette, if no other reason than by the sheer amount of other manufacturers’ parts.

  11. Roger Gorski

    A Friend in Chicago bought one of the first sold in the Midwest. DefinItely poor quality and HAD doors that couldn’t be open inside a tight garage space. Best story he told was being trapped inside the car for almost 6 hours because the doors would not open. Remember the time period when these were sold was BEFORE cell phones, so he couldn’t just call AAA

  12. Wayne

    I worked for a Bricklin dealer. (Thank god we also sold Pontiacs and Hondas!)
    It took for ever to get our first one. It finally showed as the last one over the tractor. It was -30 below zero and the battery was dead. (that’s 1!) I was skinny and agile back then. (And into funny Furrin’ cars.) So I was elected to climb up on the transporter , unlock the hatch to crawl inside. The first thing that you see when opening the hatch is the hydraulic lines for the gull wing doors sticking out of the covers. (like some 5 year old that did not know any better installed them) Just like the car in this picture! They figured out how to jump the car from underneath and it started right up. It was then my “job” to back the car off the ice covered transporter. (without the aid of an open door to look out of for location guidance. (If you have never done that before it can be very scary!)
    Once removed from the transporter with no miss-haps. I proceed to pull it into the dealership. It has a somewhat throaty exhaust note. So I gun it a little as I pull up the ramp and tear off the front spoiler. (That’s 2) Once inside I am handed jumper cables through the cracked open bottom of the door as the emergency release for the door hydraulics would not release. (That’s 3!) I hand out the keys through the same ajar door. So that someone can open the hatch to let me out. Once battery is charged. The car is off to the detail department as the dealer is in a hurry to get the car on display. Once all pretty and ready for the show room. (Same showroom from the Movie Risky Business as it was later a Porsche dealer) I am called to pull it into the show room. As I am now the Bricklin specialist! I pull it out of the shop and onto the street. I now have no ramps in front me. So I stand on it to see what it’s got.
    5 gallons of water comes out of nowhere and totally drenches me. I pull it into the showroom and get out totally dripping wet. Everyone in the show room is having a great laugh at my expence! (That’s 4!) Needless to say, that all the salesmen start walking around the car (meaning staying away from it) and don’t want anything to do with it. It took about 3 months to sell it. The second car that was supposed to be a week behind it never shows. We drop the franchise like a hot potato!
    I later go to work for a manufacturers rep. selling accessories to AMC, FORD, GM, etc. We make a trip to the Bricklin engineering shop in Livonia Michigan. All the people there are friendly enough. But seem very reserved and nervous the whole time that we are there. We are invited to go out back to see one of their engineering mules. It is a complete car, sans the fiberglass skin. It actually looks rather impressive (and HEAVY!) After our playing around with them and the car. I turn around to address one of the Bricklin crew and slice my head wide open on the open driver’s gull wing door. (That’s 5!) I mention that I will probably sue. (in jest) The very next day. They closed the doors. (Can’t sue a dead company!) (That’s 6!) A few years later I hear about a Bricklin club. I think, wow maybe they all got together and figured out a way to keep them from leaking. (I had read that almost all Bricklins have hloes drilled in the floor so that the water leaking in from the roof/doors has a place to go rather than make a foot bath! A few years ago. I heard that the Bricklin club was having a meet in South Lake Tahoe. (close to where I now live) I was going to be going through there. So I thought that I would drive by and show my wife what a Bricklin looked like. It looked like it might rain that day. And when we went by the sponsoring hotel. We saw that all the Bricklins had mini tarps over the roof of the cars to keep the rain out. I THOUGHT MY WIFE WOULD NEVER STOP LAUGHING!
    I thought that it was rather indignant of her as she had driven British sports cars her whole life. It was kind of like the kettle calling the pot black!

    • Tim Rusling

      Did someone call Malcolm Bricklin’s mother? I believe she was his warranty person. The whole story is ludicrous, yet that’s a big part of the appeal to keeping these cars alive. If you were to give insane druggies free rein to write an auto story, it couldn’t be crazier than what actually happened.
      How many Brickers know that people dug through the mounds of junk body panels at the body panel plant at Minto, New Brunswick and slapped them onto short track stock car frames to make instant Bricklin race cars? Don’t know how many were done.

  13. Tim Rusling

    The late Terry Tanner lost his job at the Bricklin plant in Saint John (which my brother and I found while in the city in ’79) but he devoted his life to finishing the car’s development. Terry engineered an air system for those heavy doors, which made a world of difference in livability and usefulness. He did a lot of other upgrades as well. These cars are not to be compared to anything else. They are what they are, I love them inspite of all their inherent oddities and weaknesses. In stock form, the first year cars with the American Motors 360 are the quickest, but that isn’t the point in having one. You have to have a passion for driving an orphan, a car with a sad but compelling history that defies logic and conventional business sense. Everything that could have gone wrong did. Yet, we are left with these love or hate oddities that always evoke strong opinions, one way or the other. This particular car is a mess, to be sure, and in my opinion, overpriced because you don’t have to spend a lot more to get a nice one. Still, someone may get a lot of pleasure if they can rescue it. BTW, the seats they used were van units.

    • Bill Lott

      I love mine. All initial Bricklin problems are fixed. Remote control Doors work flawlessly, fit and finish corrected. Everything works. Starts first time, every time. Runs and drive beautifully. It’s not for sale

      Like 2
      • Tim Rusling

        I’m happy for you, Bill. A Bricklin just as good as if Toyota built it! And the color is super.

  14. Terry J

    Even a cool color Bill. Terry J

  15. Tom Stewart

    Bricklin was a guy who sold dreams, but couldn’t always pay for them. The Handyman franchise ended in lawsuits and was mostly smoke, he was forced out of Subaru (and sued by his initial investors), took up the Bricklin which failed in a spectacular manner (his whole family was on the payroll in well-paid positions) and then he got the idea of importing the Yugo (actually the imported the Spider first and failed, he was looking to the Yugo to bail himself out). We know what happened to the Yugo.

    Malcolm Bricklin is a fascinating guy and I love reading about what he’s up too, but I would never do business with him.

  16. Rod444

    Coincidentally, after not seeing one for a decade, I just caught one in the wild owned by a female WalMart employee in Utah. She obviously loved the ol’ orphan a lot, and after viewing it from all angles, I could see the appeal. It’s a good looking car that would have been a stunning stand out in the mid-70’s “malaise era” when your neighbors were driving a big brown LTD with oversized chrome bumpers.

  17. JimmyJ

    Bill, that’s the best looking bricklin I’ve ever seen
    How did you get the panels to line up so well?

  18. CitroenManiac Member

    I am the very proud owner of an orange 75 SV1. All the little bugs have been worked out and with a modern 4 barrel upgrade it is a blast to drive, almost daily by the way. Much like the 1976 Vette I bought brand new. It is like sitting On the ground and you can’t see A darn thing in front of you and then you flip up the headlights.Still a blast to drive. There are a couple of places that sell most of the parts you might need and they are friendly,helpful and reasonable. Btw the Bette was the biggest crapcan I ever owned. DF

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