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'A BLAST FROM THE PAST': FATE OF THE BRICKLIN

CATEGORY:  [Automotive History]  |  TAGS:  [bricklin,history,safety car]

Jul
11
2014

 

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Bricklin. Maybe you’ve seen one as well. Although the Bricklin looks vastly different, its tale is not all that dissimilar from other “safety car” stories (eg. The Tucker). However this time it’s a Canadian car and a Canadian story.

 

There is an old saying that goes “At the heart of all innovation there lies risk”. In 1972, a former U.S. hardware supply millionaire-entrepreneur by the name of Malcolm Bricklin embraced that risk as he embarked on a journey to build his own “safety car”. After careful surveying of the battleground, Malcolm chose Canada as the place to set up shop. It was here that he came face to face with his first of many challenges to come – government negotiations. After failing to entice the Quebec government into investing; he approached New Brunswick with its 25% un-employment rates due to a failing fisheries industry. NB bit the bait – so to speak - and with the help of Bruce Meyers (of Meyers Manx dune-buggy fame) he had a full size prototype to show off in order to get more investment beyond the $23M that the NB government contributed.

 

The original hand-made prototype, nicknamed The Gray Ghost, has been recently found in the U.S. and long awaited photos are almost set to surface after almost 40 years 'lost'.

 

By 1974 the car had been re-designed by Herb Grasse (the original Dodge Challenger designer and co-designer of the 1955 Lincoln Futura (Concept Car) Batmobile) and the production line started… slowly and not without problems.

 

An AMC 360 cubic inch, 4 barrel carb V-8 powered the car in 1974. Only 771 cars were built in 1974 and only 155 of them were manual 4-speeds. The 4-speeds remain (along with other prototypes and one-off examples) as the most coveted by collectors due to limited production numbers and survivors.

 

Also in 1974, the car performed better than the competitive Corvette of the same year as reported by Car and Driver and Motortrend magazines - The buzz was beginning to build.

 

By 1975, the 4 speed option was gone and the only option was “colour”. The power train was replaced in 1975 by a Ford 351 Windsor 2 bbl (AMC cut off their supply to Bricklin) and all were automatic transmissions because Ford didn't have a 4-speed/Windsor combo capable of passing the new emissions standards of the day. The 1974 and 1975 pre-date the use of catalytic converters but the 1976 has one.

 

The car was only available in 1 of 5 colors; Safety Red, Safety Green, Safety Orange, Safety White and Safety Suntan. Safety Green is the rarest of colors being the least overall produced.

 

All body shells were a unique combination - fiberglass with an acrylic top-coat bonded to it that had the color impregnated into the acrylic. Because of this, surface scratches could be simply buffed out and the car would not suffer body rust or dents. However, the acrylic-bonded panels also were subject to color shift and surface cracking due mostly to environmental issues. The concept was leading edge for the time but needed more research to perfect.

 

The car was designed with more safety features than any other car built to date; with 35 mph bumpers, full crash cage, full steel frame with side impact beams and provision for air bags, no cigarette lighter or ash tray.

 

The Bricklin was the first and remains the only car ever to be mass-produced with push-button automatic gull-wing doors. It only takes 12 inches of side clearance to open the doors and enter or exit the car. The electric-hydraulic doors proved to be problematic and were re-designed to be operated with compressed air. Unfortunately, the company went into receivership before the air system was incorporated by the factory. Most Bricklins today have had this upgrade done after-market.

 

The Bricklin pre-dated the DeLorean by almost 7 years in production timing.

 

John Delorean (at the time; head of Chevrolet for GM) was offered a job at Bricklin, prior to any production being executed but declined the offer, only to attempt a similar venture later with the Irish government. The original Bricklin design by Bruce Meyers (which was ultimately rejected by Malcolm Bricklin and re-designed by Herb Grasse) closely resembles a production DeLorean.

 

By the time the last car was completed; 2854 total cars were manufactured as 1974, 1975 and 1976 models. Only 34 of them were 1976 models as the factory ceased operation in late September 1975 with 32 cars still on the line. The remaining cars were completed by the receiver and all 1976 models except 3 were Safety Suntan… the other 3 were Safety Red (Vin 2881), Safety White (Vin 2882) (both built in mid-September 1975 as pre-production 1976 models) and the last Bricklin ever built being Vin 2914 as a Safety Green 1976.

 

Problems with build quality, financing, parts supply and production costs in the factory killed this once raved "Corvette-killer" long before it had a real chance to become a great car like its rival. It has been 'reported' that there were over 40,000 back-orders for Bricklins when the company ran out of time/money and its estimated that there are approximately 1300 Bricklins alive and well today worldwide according to the Bricklin International Owners Club (www.bricklin.org). These survivors reach all corners of the world; New Zealand, Australia, The Isle of Man, France, Germany, England, Switzerland, Japan, the U.S. and Canada all boast examples on the road.

 

Due to the Auto Pact of the day; all Bricklins were exported to the U.S. and any found here in Canada have been repatriated. As a collector's exotic; it is one of the least expensive examples available to enter the hobby and gets attention wherever it goes without fail.

 

All of the mechanical running gear is readily available to keep the car running perfectly with the help of Chrysler, Ford, GM and many aftermarket suppliers at very reasonable prices. The body panels in original acrylic are becoming harder to find however, but there are after-market manufacturers in both Canada and the U.S. to supply the needs of the restorer or hobbyist. The after-market panels don't have the acrylic bonding layer so the panels either need a gel coat finish with impregnated color (Canadian supplier) OR primer and paint over the fiberglass. Current costs are about $6000 to completely re-body the car.

 

Like the Tucker; the Bricklin was a safety car and was a victim too early but it was built in Canada and remains a large part of our automotive history having had a $30 coin struck by the Royal Canadian Mint and a Stamp produced in commemoration. 2014 is the 40th anniversary of the Bricklin and will prove to be quite a time as many owners embark on a pilgrimage to Saint John, New Brunswick with their prized possessions.

 

Mike Paterson (Bricklin Enthusiast)