Beyond the embarrassment: Bricklin sports car has tourism potential, prof says

It’s a bit of New Brunswick history known far and wide — the story of the Bricklin, a gull-winged door sports car built in Saint John and Minto that failed after only a year in production.

But business professor Lee Jolliffe says the sports car from the mid-1970s can still be put to use as a tourist attraction.

Bricklin produced fewer than 3,000 of the cars before the company failed, costing New Brunswick taxpayers more than $23 million.

‘It’s part of our New Brunswick story. It’s part of our heritage.’
– Lee Jolliffe, UNB professor

The car with the fibreglass body was championed by the premier of the day, Richard Hatfield, and was loved by many who bought it, whether at the time or later for restoration.

Many New Brunswickers, however, saw the Bricklin adventure as an embarrassment, said Jolliffe, who teaches at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John.

Jolliffe is the co-author of a book called Automobile Heritage and Tourism with Michael Conlin. 

“I wrote a chapter about the Bricklin,” she said. “It’s part of our New Brunswick story. It’s part of our heritage.”

The Bricklin car was the creation of Malcolm Bricklin, who had experience importing Subarus but not making cars when he shopped around his idea of a sports car that was also safe.

The car was designed by Herb Grasse, who also designed cars for established auto companies. It looked a bit like a DeLorean, the car featured in the movie Back to the Future in 1985. 

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Bricklin, the sports car assembled in Saint John, is already on display in places. (Pat Richard/CBC )

Jolliffe wants the province to do something with the Bricklin — and provide a history lesson at the same time.

“The Province of New Brunswick does own several Bricklins in their museum collections,” she said. 

“That’s a beginning,” she said.

There is enough history for the development of a regular tourist attraction, she said.

Despite the lingering sense of disappointment about the Bricklin, Jolliffe feels it’s time to move on. 

“I think it’s huge,” she said. “Every small town probably in the Maritimes has a car show of car collectors and their families, so it’s a form of collecting that’s still accessible to the public.”

Jollifee said she also thinks New Brunswick has moved past the embarrassment, and people would be more than open to the idea of showcasing the car’s history.

But she hasn’t yet put the idea to anyone who might have the power to make it happen.

The history of the car extends from Saint John to Minto to Edmundston, where a car is on display at the museum.

“I’d be happy to have chats with Discover Saint John or the province to see what could be done,” Jollifee said.

“I think there is potential. We can tell the story in a way nobody else can tell it.”