MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Award-Winning Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Malcolm Bricklin Archives. A special thanks to Historian Ron Konopka for this story.
Published 1.10.2024

Bricklin automobile advertising RESIZED 7A Bricklin automobile advertising photo

Happy New Year, everyone!

This is a story about the Bricklin automobile that was built and manufactured and built by Malcom Bricklin. In the beginning, Bricklin focused on the small car market and created a great looking automobile design.

I remember when I first saw the Bricklin automobile. I liked the design including its gullwing doors.  Bricklin, through the combination of his great talent and hard work, opened our eyes to new possibilities within the automotive design community, which most enthusiasts really appreciated at the time. 

Malcolm Bricklin 1Malcolm Bricklin

Bricklin started his automobile project in 1971. He later started working with Herb Grasse Design and Advanced Vehicle Concepts (AVC) of Michigan in 1972. AVC built seven of the next eight prototypes.

Herb Grasse (1945-2010) was very much involved with the development of the Bricklin automobile. Grasse was a graduate of the prestigious school Art Center College of Design in California. His past automotive resume included great automotive illustrations for Chrysler, Ford and Nissan. He also helped to transform the Ford concept model known as the 1956 Lincoln Futura into the “Batmobile” for the popular “Batman” television series. Some automotive historians have said that Grasse single-handedly designed the Bricklin SV-1 that achieved great recognition and multiple awards.

1970s Bricklin illustration by Herb Grasse Malcolm Bricklin Archives 21970s Bricklin illustration by Herb Grasse (Malcolm Bricklin Archives)

According to automotive historians, Tom Monroe was selected as Chief Engineer for the Bricklin automobile project. It should also be noted that Allan Cross left the Ford Motor Company engineering department to be a part of this automotive project as well.

In the 1970s, the Bricklin sports car was introduced to the public at New York’s prestigious Four Seasons restaurant. Another event was held at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas to unveil the new Bricklin model to West Coast dealers, as well as investors and Bricklin’s Scottsdale staff.

Bricklin production factory assembly Malcolm Bricklin Archives 3Bricklin factory assembly line (Malcolm Bricklin Archives)

The Bricklin SVI models were manufactured in Saint Johns, New Brunswick by Bricklin Canada. The body was made with fiberglass reinforced material. There were no wide seams or gaps, and the exterior colors included Safety Red, Safety Green, Safety White, Safety Orange and Safety Suntan.

Bricklin automobile PR image CROPPED 4Bricklin automobile promotional image

One of the most important innovative designs that represented the Bricklin model was the gull-wing doors. The doors were opened by an optional electro-hydraulic system. The Bricklin also offered a great looking interior that included contoured bucket seats along with tachometer, oil pressure gauge and an AM-FM stereo radio. The car was powered with a 360 cubic inch V-8 engine and a four-barrel carburetor.

Bricklin automobile PR image 5Bricklin automobile promotional image

The Bricklin model design was focused on providing safety features for the driver and passengers. Malcom Bricklin said this about his automobile: “The Bricklin is not just a new car. But a new kind of car. A car born of the convictions shared by my associates.” Bricklin also wanted a durable car that offered an affordable price and was easy to service.

The reason why Bricklin focused on the small car market was because sports cars were more maneuverable and responsive, but they were also more vulnerable if they got into accidents. The Bricklin model offered a bumper system capable of absorbing impacts in excess of existing government requirements. U.S. Government safety standards and regulations required all vehicles to withstand impacts of 5 mph with no vehicle damage to safety related items only.

Bricklin automobile advertising Malcolm Bricklin Archives 6Bricklin automobile advertising images (Malcolm Bricklin Archives)

Throughout my research for this story, all the information I found on Herb Grasse was very positive. He was a very kind person with a great and charming personality, in addition to his great talent for coming up with brilliant designs and automotive illustrations. Grasse had his own design firm from 1973-1975 and was chief designer for the Bricklin sports car.  

Bricklin automobile advertising CROPPED 8Bricklin automobile advertising image

In conclusion, the Bricklin automobile dealerships were all located in the United States. The cars were manufactured from 1974-1976, and today, they are highly sought after by automotive enthusiasts around the world. Prices for a Bricklin model range from $13,650 to $42,900. The Bricklin sports car will always have a place in our automotive history as a great-looking vehicle that many people still remember and admire.  

Bibliography

Fransen, Joseph. “1974-75 Bricklin SV-1: Safety Vehicle and Sports Car.” Collectible Automobile, December 1992, Page 26.

Bricklin Automobile sales catalog. Bricklin Vehicle Corp.

Branch, Jon. “A Brief History of the Bricklin SV-1: Everything You Need to Know.” Silodrome Gasoline Culture, February 6, 2020.

Strohl, Daniel. “RIP Herb Grasse.” Hemmings.com, August 31, 2021.