Malcolm Bricklin: The (Bumpy) Ride of a Lifetime, From Cheap Cars to Affordable EVs
When it comes to influential figures in the auto industry, Malcolm Bricklin is one of the most obscure. From humble beginnings working in his family’s furrier shop to founding Subaru of America and building a futuristic sports car, Bricklin has had the ride of a lifetime. Here’s a look at Malcolm Bricklin’s fascinating career.
Who is Malcolm Bricklin?
Malcolm Bricklin is an American businessman who made huge strides in the automotive industry. Born in 1939, Bricklin began his business career at 19 when he franchised his father’s building supply business. In the mid-1960s, during a business trip to Japan, Bricklin visited Fuji Heavy Industries, which made the Subaru 360. This tiny vehicle sported a Volkswagen Beetle-like front fascia and boasted 66 mpg gas mileage.
Bricklin noticed that because the Subaru 360 weighed under 1,000 pounds, it wouldn’t have to meet the safety standards of typical automobiles sold in America. After inking an exclusive deal with Fuji Heavy Industries to import the 360 to the United States, Bricklin formed Subaru of America. Yes, the same company that brought the Subaru WRX and Subaru Crosstrek started with Malcolm Bricklin.
According to Automotive News, Bricklin left Subaru of America in 1972. From there, he imported a series of vehicles from Yugoslavia to America. Called the Yugo, this ultra-cheap car ended up being one of the worst vehicles ever sold in America. Unfortunately, the same success of the inexpensive but well-made Subaru 360 didn’t translate to the Communist Yugoslavia-made clunker.
Who designed the Bricklin SV-1?
The Bricklin SV-1 is one of the most radically designed vehicles of the 1970s. Upon his successes with Subaru, Malcolm Bricklin wanted to revolutionize the American automotive industry with a sports car that was one of the safest on the road. Enter the Bricklin SV-1, short for “Safety Vehicle 1.” Marshall Hobart and Herb Grasse designed the futuristic sports car. Grasse was well known for his designs, including the Batmobile for the Batman TV series.
Manufactured in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1974 and 1975, the Bricklin SV-1 sported enormous safety bumpers, gullwing doors, “safety colors,” plastic bodywork, and pop-up headlights. These SV-1s had AMC 360 V8 or Ford 351W V8 engines, depending on the year.
What happened to the Bricklin car, and how much is a Bricklin worth now?
The Bricklin SV-1 was an incredible feat of engineering. Its use of plastics and safety-focused materials was at least a decade ahead of its time. Sadly, rising production costs and nonstop competition from other automotive manufacturers made this two-seat sports car’s success nearly impossible. Couple that with constant reliability issues and reported manufacturing problems, and the SV-1 was in rough shape. After only 2,854 vehicles left the factory, the SV-1 was discontinued.
Yet, Malcolm Bricklin remains proud of the SV-1. “It still looks like tomorrow. Yeah, I love it, I love it,” he told CBC in 2020.
Enthusiasts still hold a tremendous amount of respect for the Bricklin SV-1. Multiple car clubs are dedicated to keeping these models on the road. According to Hagerty, an average SV-1 in good condition is worth about $24,000.
What is Malcolm Bricklin doing now?
At 84 years old, Malcolm Bricklin remains active in the auto industry. He hopes to use his knowledge of improving vehicles from his Subaru days to bring affordable electric cars to America. Bricklin wants to offer the three-wheeled Bricklin 3EV in the United States. If successful, it would give Americans a sporty, highly efficient EV in the mid-$20,000 price range.
Decades after his pursuits overseas with Subaru, his Canadian Bricklin SV-1, and the Yugo, Malcolm Bricklin strives to make another massive impact in the modern American automotive landscape. Though his SV-1 had a short run, it was a staple of 1970s sports car culture.