an interview with Subaru of America co-founder Malcolm Bricklin
"Few people in the car business are as colourful or have as interesting a life story as Malcolm Bricklin. The man who started at his father's Orlando, Fla. lumber yard and made his first fortune by building Handyman America into a franchised regional powerhouse is responsible for more of what is today's North American automotive marketplace than many people imagine. His first foray into the automotive world was in persuading Fuji Heavy Industries of Japan that a small automotive brand called Subaru could fly in North America. While the first Subaru sold on this continent, the 360, was a sales and safety flop, Bricklin went on to form Subaru of America and sell dealership franchises.
When he sold out, he had enough money to pursue his dream of becoming a carmaker. The Bricklin SV-1, a gullwing, futuristic-looking vehicle built with safety top of mind
(SV stands for Safety Vehicle) was born. The rise and fall of the SV-1 (the company went bankrupt within two years of launch) was the subject of a music-theatre production in Fredericton, N.B. last year, where the car was made.
Bricklin went on to form Yugo of America, bringing over the much ridiculed punchline of small cars, the Yugo...
Bricklin has since embarked on an electric-bike venture called the EV Warrior, which went bankrupt in 1997, and is now pursuing an electric-vehicle production dream through his new company, Visionary Vehicles LLC. We recently caught up with Bricklin at his home in upstate New York....
> Q We were at a car show [recently] and we were drawn to this 1975 Bricklin SV-1, in safety orange, and not enough people really know the story to it. What is your
opinion of the musical that finished playing last summer in New Brunswick on the SV-1?
A I have not seen it, but I've heard the musical and here's my opinion on that: That car was a very fun project for everyone involved. And it brought a lot of happiness and a
lot of notoriety to the province. Unfortunately, it ended the way bad things end; it went bankrupt, and everybody ending up losing money and jobs and hope and that's the
shame of it all. But the fact is a musical came out and it was done in fun and it made people happy. It's a nice epitaph, as far as I'm concerned, for the car.
> Q A big part of what happened to the Yugo had to do with Yugoslavia imploding on itself.
A Absolutely. You know, that's considered my biggest failure, and here's really the story. The dealers were making $3,000 over list, we were given 50,000 cars a year that
had no air conditioning and all were sticks, so we had to install air conditioning to sell them in North America. And all the cars coming off the line weren't of good enough
quality, so we built a factory outside the factory to fix every car. We had to pay the port and put in unleaded gas in Yugoslavia. It was the biggest car that had ever been
brought in from Europe; I mean it was the biggest-selling car in the fastest period of time and it still holds that record. The company was making $2-million a month and I
sold out for $20-million and then, three years later, it was against the law to buy because the United Nations put in an embargo on products to or from Yugoslavia. And
that's considered one of my great failures. You know, they don't know the story that Henry Kissinger was our adviser and [Lawrence] Eagleburger [who would become U.S.
Ambassador to Yugoslavia in 1977] was on our board of directors because the government was very interested in seeing if [it] could stabilize Yugoslavia and not have to go
to war like we did. And, as the car was becoming successful and other countries were buying from Zastava, it looked like it was going to stabilize. But there's just
something about communist labour that's just not going to be good in the car business.
> Q Let's talk about Visionary Vehicles. The Malcolm Bricklin saga is continuing; it's full steam ahead.
A Well, that's another unfortunate [thing], except, financially, it's going to be a very fortunate time in my life. I went around the world for three and a half years with my son
and a crew following me and filming all the meetings that were going on so we could distribute the video back to all the participants so everybody could see what was going
on. And it was an innovative, very, very effective way to do business, especially in countries where you don't speak the same language. And I made a deal with my son: If
he would stay to the end, win or lose, he could use all the footage to make a movie. So he made the movie. But what was interesting was, after we ended up getting
screwed -we spent a million dollars setting up a network and put up $200-million from George Soros in escrow and then they start talking to Chrysler behind our backs,
against the contracts. And then they brought in someone else and said they didn't need us and they did give them $265million and walked around us. You can do that in
China, but you can't do that in the rest of the world. Fortunately, we had arbitration in Hong Kong, which is under British law, and the people who went around us, we get
them under New York law. And those six cases will be ... to our, we believe, great favour. So, we're suing these people for a fraction of what we would have lost and we're
asking for a billion two [$1.2-billion]." http://www.windsorstar.com/cars/with+Malcolm+Bricklin/4945368/story.htmlmore on Malcolm Bricklin http://www.cars101.com/subaru_bricklin.html