Yugo 45. The worst car in history?

Bricklin SV1 - the (financially) unsafe safety car

You can't keep a good – or even a bad – man down and by 1971 Bricklin was planning his next project which was to actually build cars himself. This was an era in which, despite safety regulations, American cars were still pretty dangerous to both drivers and pedestrians. A glaring example was the Ford Pinto; this had the habit of incinerating the odd driver and passenger as a result of damage to the fuel tank in the event of a bump to the car's rear end. Putting this right would have cost around $11 per vehicle but very tight cost specifications were being stuck to and the Ford management worked out that it would be cheaper to pay out the expected number of compensation claims made by the relatives of charred Pinto occupants. So, the modifications were not carried out and a few more Americans met an untimely end.

Bricklin reckoned that a car packed with safety features would sell. He got a design together but now he had to get the financing arranged, which considering his track record may have been an impossible dream. However he had lost none of his infective optimism and sheer sales ability so when he heard of a Canadian car manufacturing plant coming empty in Québec he approached the local government people to ask them to finance the plant; in exchange he would give them 40% of his company, General Vehicle Inc, which had negligible assets. Very wisely Québec said no thanks.

Undeterred he went to New Brunswick, a province in eastern Canada, which was greatly in need of industry and he put a similar idea to them. He told them that he would be producing cars within six months and the plant would turn out 10,000 vehicles in the first year, rising to 32,000 by year five. The car was to have gullwings, a built-in roll cage, a padded interior and a bump resistant body made of fibreglass with a coloured acrylic layer bonded to it. The theory was that any dents or cracks in the bodywork could be fixed relatively quickly because they could be repaired by a heat gun and then buffed out.

The local Premier, Richard Hatfield, appeared to have been under the impression that all the machine tools and dies were already in existence and, yes, full-scale production could indeed begin within six months. The truth was rather different; all that Bricklin had was a prototype which had been built by hand and had cost a small fortune. Nevertheless by 1973 Bricklin had got what he asked for; a plant to build the car in plus $5.5 million as seed capital plus a substantial loan guarantee. Bricklin floated yet another company called Bricklin Canada Ltd to manufacture and market the car and New Brunswick was to buy 51% of the stock.

Unfortunately Bricklin was by then a very experienced entrepreneur (albeit a habitually failed one) but he had no experience of building cars and appeared to have little knowledge of the economics of car manufacture. The amount of capital he had asked for was relative peanuts and nowhere near enough to make his dream a reality. Finance was not his only concern at the time either. Yes the prototype had been built but it had not been properly tested. For a start the gullwing doors were very heavy at 170 lbs each and they were opened via an electric motor which powered a single pump. They depended on a well charged battery to lift them; if it didn't have enough power in it the occupants were locked in the car and had to use an escape hatch at the back to get out. If one door was opening whilst the other was being closed there was a danger of the pump motor burning out. These doors inevitably leaked every time it rained anyway.

The bodywork was quite revolutionary; no paint was necessary since a self coloured acrylic layer was to be bonded to the fibreglass bodywork. Unfortunately this was so revolutionary that it had never been tested and no one knew for sure whether or not the two materials would bond together properly. They didn't.

By the middle of 1974 the first car, labelled the Bricklin SV1 (SV stood for Safety Vehicle) rolled off the New Brunswick assembly-line. It was estimated that it'd cost more than $50,000 to manufacture but to be fair the economies of scale had not kicked in yet and by the end of 1974 two cars per hour were assembled. These were not necessarily completed cars however. Many were delivered with missing parts. The majority of them had faults ranging from scratches to warped body panels and nearly every one of them leaked when it rained. Numerous dealers asked for their franchise fees back and one even wondered whether or not to drill holes in the floors of the cars so that the water could drain out. Bricklin should perhaps have been spending every moment of his time sorting out the quality control problem but with cash in his pocket he had moved to Arizona, leaving an employee to sort out all the problems.

Meanwhile production cars were costing far more to make than they sold for. The answer? More loans were raised. By September 1974 the Canadians had had enough; the project was starting to look like a bottomless money pit and they refused to provide any more money. Bricklin Canada Ltd went bust and a year later Bricklin declared himself bankrupt, owing more than $32 million including $2.75 million which had been awarded by a court to a former investor called Leon Stern in an earlier company, Fastrack. Mr Stern alleged that Bricklin had made numerous false statements in order to get him to hand over some land that he owned (which Bricklin had allegedly used as collateral for more loans) and the court agreed with him. His assets at the time were stated to be worth about $2000. Bricklin was down; but certainly not out.

Copyright © Ian Palmer 2021 All Rights reserved

Privacy   Terms  Disclaimer   About
Is A Yugo Insurable?

Meet The Yugo     |     Enter Michael Bricklin     |     The Bricklin SV1 Fiasco     |     Bricklin Faces Bankrupcy Again     |     The First Yugo In America     |     How Bricklin Promised Zastava The Moon     |     Lipstick Is Put On The Yugo Pig     |     America Decides The Yugo Is Awful     |     The Proton Saga     |     The End Of The Yugo