23 May 2017

Bricklin SV-1: Canada’s sports car still struggling to find its way

If the Corvette is America’s sports car, then the Bricklin SV-1—love or hate it—is Canada’s.

Built in New Brunswick beginning in 1974, the project was a massive financial failure, and the car has also made numerous “worst cars” lists. But there’s something undeniably cool about the Bricklin’s exotic-looking and often brightly colored fiberglass/acrylic bodywork, its forward-thinking safety features, and its gullwing doors, which conjure thoughts of the Mercedes 300SL.

Considering that Bricklin values have mostly remained steady and even dropped despite the wider classic car market’s growth, the audience for these cars appears to be fairly small.

Despite being a college dropout, by his mid-30s U.S. entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin had already made millions through a chain of hardware stores and by founding Subaru of America to import the Japanese cars. After the Subaru venture, Bricklin’s next move was a bold one: He wanted to build an exotic high-performance sports car and put his own name on it.

To arrange financing and facilities, Bricklin looked north to New Brunswick. He convinced government officials that manufacturing cars could alleviate New Brunswick’s unemployment, which was particularly high in the winter. The provincial government bankrolled the operation, and plants were set up in St. John (for assembly) and Minto (for body panel construction).

Known primarily for its unmistakable gullwing doors, Bricklin’s design philosophy emphasized safety (SV-1 stands for “Safety Vehicle One”). A steel-tube perimeter frame surrounded the passenger compartment along with an integrated roll cage. Large impact bumpers protected the nose and tail. Bodywork was fiberglass with a thin layer of acrylic on the outside, and the doors opened via power hydraulic system. If the system failed, lifting the 100-pound doors manually was a true test of strength. In 1975, Car and Driver compared the process to “climbing out a manhole while a semi-trailer is parked on the cover.”

Suspension and brakes were borrowed from an AMC Hornet, and the original engine was a 360-cid V-8, also from AMC. Later Bricklins made do with a less-powerful Ford 351. Production costs caused prices to soar to nearly $10,000 by the end of production (the equivalent to more than $40,000 today) and they were also built more slowly than expected, with a planned 1,000 cars per month dwindling to less than than 3,000 cars in under three years. By 1976, the company had gone into receivership after receiving more than $20 million from New Brunswick.

From a sports car perspective, comparisons can be made between the Bricklin and another ambitious but ill-fated, underpowered gullwing sports car subsidized with government money: the DeLorean. But while DeLorean values have steadily crept upward, time hasn’t been as kind to the Bricklin, which doesn’t have the Back to the Future cachet nor the same enthusiast following.

Aside from top-notch show-quality Bricklins, Hagerty Price Guide values have dropped over the past several years, and most Bricklins are worth less than they were 10 years ago. A small bump in values came in 2015 after Serial No. 1 sold for $47,300 at Mecum’s Chicago auction, but no sustained value growth or buyer interest followed. In fact, buyer interest has fallen 25 percent over the last year.

Considering the numerous quality issues that hounded Bricklins, as well as the fact that they have never been valuable enough to economically restore, their survival rate is low. Only 33 examples have crossed the auction block since 2008, and just 24 sold. Among Hagerty clients, the average Bricklin owner is age 61 with an insured car in #3+ condition valued about $17,000. Baby Boomers make up nearly half of buyer interest, while Gen X-ers make up 21 percent and Millenials 20 percent. Despite being rarer, having more power with their AMC V-8s, and being available with a 4-speed, 1974 Bricklins are also actually worth a bit less than the 1975 models.

Bricklins will always be eye-catching, attention-grabbing cars, and they are certainly rare, but they aren’t mainstream. They don’t have a classic movie advertising them like the DeLorean, the AMC-sourced parts can be difficult to find, and the quality control issues at the Bricklin factory four decades ago continue haunting many SV-1s.

Given that values have fallen for most Bricklins, the market for these cars looks weak in the long-term. On the positive side, that means they will remain accessible to just about anyone who is romanced by the gullwing doors, unique features, and sharp styling.

1 Reader Comment

  • 1
    Joe LaGrange Highlands,IL July 3, 2017 at 08:05
    I always liked the body style but the interior to me did look kind of cheap, like a AMC built car. I know they used their motors the first year or so, and probably some interior parts. I had a chance to buy one years ago and probably should have. It was in the late 70's or early 80's and I just didn't have the cash. I still wouldn't mind owning one if the price was right and the doors had the upgrade done and I would prefer a manual transmission which I believe are harder to find.

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