Jay Leno and Jeff Dunham agree: Bricklin is more than a punchline

Jay Leno's Garage

Stop us if you’ve heard this one: Two comedians jump into a Bricklin and love it. Seriously.

In the latest episode of Jay Leno’s Garage, Leno and fellow funnyman Jeff Dunham explore the mysteries of the much-maligned Bricklin SV-1 when Dunham brings his 1975 model onto the show. Leno later admits that he was expecting the worst, but in the end he is pleasantly surprised.

“You know, I gotta say I like this,” Leno says. “It makes me smile … It’s just so interesting. It’s just sad that it was a failure of workmanship over design, cuz the idea was good.”

Quick history lesson: The Bricklin SV-1 (Safety Vehicle One) was the brainchild of Malcolm Bricklin, who sought to create a safer—as well as unique, good looking, and sporty—vehicle and manufacture it at a new automobile plant in New Brunswick, Canada. Bricklin succeeded and failed at the same time. Assembled in Saint John beginning in 1974, the SV-1 had plenty of admirable attributes, including gullwing doors, but the sports car’s less-than-stellar build quality would ultimately render it a footnote in automotive history by 1976.

Encountering the production and supply problems typical of automakers in their infancy, Bricklin switched from AMC 360-cubic-inch V-8 engines and running gear to Ford 351 Windsor V-8s and transmissions and tried to push through additional manufacturing hurdles.

1975 Bricklin SV engine
Jay Leno's Garage

“This is one of the most misunderstood cars of all time,” Leno says. “It got a reputation—not for being a bad car but for being badly built.” That’s because, Leno says, Bricklin “brought in workers who’d never worked on automobiles before.” In the end, approximately 2900 SV-1s were produced before operations ceased.

“When I was a kid I had a friend whose father had one of these,” Dunham says, “and it’s one of those things that sticks in your head.”

Leno applauds the Bricklin’s safety features, including the roll bar and 10-mph bumpers, and pointed out that its cost-cutting “safety paint” isn’t paint at all. The car actually has color-impregnated acrylic body panels with fiberglass backing, which are resistant to dents and surface scratches.

1975 Bricklin SV front three quarter closeup low angle
Jay Leno's Garage

“It was a time—in the early ’70s—when safety became a primary issue,” Leno says. “[Automakers began asking,] ‘How can we cut down on road deaths and still make an exciting car?’”

Dunham points out a couple of his car’s glitches: the operation of its gullwing doors and pop-up headlights. Well, the headlights don’t really pop up … they slowly open in about 30 seconds, and Dunham has to bang on the hood a bit to get the driver’s side light to open completely.

1975 Bricklin SV front three quarter headlight stuck high angle
Jay Leno's Garage

“That’s quality,” Leno jokes.

Once on the road, Leno thoroughly enjoys the ride, despite the interior noise that Dunham says drivers of a certain age aren’t used to. “This is one of those ‘horsepower cures all problems,’” Leno says. “You say to yourself, ‘It’s kind of rattley, the panel fit isn’t good, but it goes like hell when you put your foot in it.’ It’s such a visceral experience.”

The two discuss the future of older cars and the availability of fuel. Leno is optimistic about both. When the subject returns to the Bricklin, Dunham expresses his appreciation for the car.

1975 Bricklin SV side profile
Jay Leno's Garage

“I love magnificent failures,” he says.

Leno chimes in, “I’d call it noble … because it’s not magnificent.”

Regardless, Leno likes the SV-1 and wishes things had turned out differently.

“I was pleasantly surprised by this car,” he says. “I expected to rip it apart. But as I said, it’s a noble effort … Sadly, it didn’t work out.”


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    I always liked the concept of the Bricklin plan – but the actual car turned me off. Not, as Jay remarks, because it wasn’t well built, but because I just don’t see it as attractive. If the SV-1 had been successful, they possibly could have evolved into building something I would’ve liked – I dunno – but that front bumper (and most everything following it) are just “blah” to me!

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