It’s not often that new car companies spring up. Cars are complex products to make, the competition is fierce and companies like Ford who have been around for a century have gotten pretty good at it. Modern environmental concerns have given way to some new EV marques entering the scene; however, safety concerns were an equally hot topic back in the 1970s. The federal government, therefore, decided to write up new regulations to make cars safer, such as low-speed, five mile-per-hour bumpers. And while these features certainly made cars after, they also made them considerably uglier.
For that reason, entrepreneur and Subaru of America co-founder Malcolm Bricklin decided there was an opportunity to be had. What if he could create a vehicle that was not only the safest thing on the road, but also looked like a sports car should? Well, after a brief period of design, some talk with chemical company Rohm and Haas—treasured for its experience with building materials in plastic tiling for bathroom showers—and a few arguments with the colorful president of AMC, the Bricklin SV-1 entered production in New Brunswick, Canada.
The SV-1, which stands for Safety Vehicle One, was manufactured in Canada for two reasons, and both of them are related to finances. The Premier of New Brunswick at the time, Richard Hatfield, wanted to boost employment in his province, so a new automaker in the area would be welcome. He was also willing to give Bricklin money to set up shop and build the cars, which was happily accepted by the fledgling automaker. A large portion of that money never went into actually building cars, however, as much of it was spent completing the engineering.
There were a plethora of issues with the plastic body. The gullwing doors didn’t quite work in the rain and at the last minute, AMC didn’t want to give Bricklin any of the V8 engines they allegedly promised. This resulted in a rather colorful exchange between Malcolm Bricklin and AMC’s President and COO Bill Luneberg.
Eventually, the cars were rolling smoothly off the line after several significant price increases, but it wasn’t enough to keep the company afloat without significant loans from the Canadian government—loans that they were no longer willing to provide. As a result, Bricklin went bust.
The story would end there if it was not for the Bricklin gaining something of a cult interest in New Brunswick. There has been a play written about the car, a commemorative stamp and even coinage. As a result, what may have just ended up as an automotive footnote turned into something much more for the Canadian province. And as Joe Ligo, host of AutoMoments will tell you, the Bricklin is still a pretty good car today.