THE MARKET / Bricklin SV-1 Buying Guide
Nobody can deny that Gullwing doors are extremely cool, and they were absolutely key in securing funding for entrepreneur Malcolm Bricklin’s sports car project. The wow-factor of these doors was just what the 1970s American car market wanted, and the sharp-looking, V8-powered SV-1 could have been a serious rival to the Corvette.
Roughly $23m of funding was secured from the Canadian province of New Brunswick, which saw the opportunity to bring much-needed employment to the area. Bricklin not only wanted to take on the Corvette, but also to create the safest car in the world with the SV-1 (for Safety Vehicle One). This two-seater sports car would feature a V8 engine from AMC, a strong glassfibre bodyshell with a steel rollover structure and 5mph impact bumpers, all integrated into the wedgy design.
Launched at New York’s Four Seasons hotel in June 1974, the SV-1 soon had a healthy waiting list. At that point the factory was barely operational, and when cars did start rolling off the line it was at a much slower rate than demand required. Production costs had also spiralled, making the expensive sports car unprofitable to build unless production was ramped up.
The doors were a nightmare to engineer, one contribution to the many setbacks that ultimately doomed the project. The Bricklin’s bodyshell was glassfibre but the outer panels were lightweight, colour-impregnated acrylic plastic. It was clever stuff, but as well as limiting colour choice to orange, suntan, green, white and red, the process turned out to be very wasteful. It took a long time to refine, and in the early days up to 60% of the panels ended up rejected. AMC’s 360ci V8 produced a healthy 220bhp, and could be specified with a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic gearbox. American Motors also supplied most of the suspension components.
So cars were trickling out of the factory, but further investment was needed. The Canadian province had no choice but to inject more cash, keeping production going into 1976. Bricklin had problems getting enough engines so it switched to Ford’s Windsor V8. The manual option was dropped; power dropped, too, to 175bhp. The hydraulic door mechanism was slow, and often failed through inherent design flaws. With that and myriad other quality failings, many customers were very unsatisfied.
An estimated total of 2854 Bricklins left the production line before the company went into receivership in 1976. Today, around 1500 survive. Despite its failings, the Bricklin generated a following among a small group of devotees, and there’s still a healthy enthusiasm for the Bricklin in the US and Canada. Finding one in Europe is a different matter, however. If you did import one into the UK, at the moment you could expect to see a maximum of two others on these shores, and one of those lives in the Haynes museum. There’s a huge appeal to owning such a fascinating piece of history – and you’ll be relieved to know that enthusiasts have long since figured out how to make those doors work properly.
What to pay
There has always been a following for the Bricklin, but the close-knit nature of the community has kept values relatively low. Near-enough perfect examples can be found from $30,000 at dealers.
Enthusiast-owned and maintained examples are available from around $15,000 to $20,000, with projects starting at less than $10,000. The cost and difficulty of restoration generally makes these an unpalatable prospect.
The better-built, Ford-engined cars are the most desirable. Upgrades won’t necessarily add value, but a well-modified and restored example can be a better ownership proposition.
What to look out for
Cosmetics should be a high priority, as original uncracked acrylic panels are extremely scarce and repairs are difficult. Glassfibre replacements are available if you don’t mind a painted car.
Both the AMC and the Ford engines are reliable and easy to maintain or upgrade.
The door mechanisms were originally hydraulic, but today most have been converted to a more robust air-lift system.