Someone walked up to Brian Madu’s shiny orange Bricklin, at a car show, and said to him: “You know, that car is a piece of crap.” Why? Because the Canadian car manufacturer, which survived only from 1974 to 1976, was famed for making lemons.
Credit to the bystander for knowing that the car’s a Bricklin. Most people who see the car think it’s a DeLorean, because both cars have gull-wing doors and, well, the DeLorean was made famous by the Back to the Future franchise.
It was in the mid-1970s, at Bonnie Doon Shopping Centre, where Madu saw a Bricklin, and was hooked. From that time onward, he wanted one. And the fact that there are so few left – he said he counted about 40 at a Bricklin show in London, Ont. – makes it so much more interesting.
“How many hot rods do you see out there?” Madu says from the kitchen of his southeast Edmonton home. “We used to have a ’69 Mustang. We could have done one of those up. But you see them all over the place. Camaros you see all over the place. Chevelles you see. I could do any kind of hot rod; Ford, Chevy, they all look the same and there’s a million of them out there.”
Nearly a decade ago, Madu found one for sale by a doctor in Winnipeg. It was originally sold in California. It was white. And it had a state of Texas plate on the rear.
“When I got the car, it was an absolute crate,” he said. “There were clumps of carpet that just came right up – whatever carpet was left.”
The Ford motor was toast. There were 50 pounds worth of useless vacuum tubing underneath the hood. What Madu did, with his own hands over the next decade, wasn’t so much restore a Bricklin, but to build a new car using a Bricklin frame. And, it wasn’t easy. There aren’t Bricklin wrecks out there that parts can be pirated from; and it’s not like parts makers are stocking items meant for a 1975 car that’s pretty well gone extinct.
Madu went to an International Bricklin Club meet in London, Ont. to see what refurbished ones looked like. It was there where he met Bob Hoffman, a Bricklin enthusiast who runs the auto-repair shop, Bob’s Brickyard, in Michigan. Madu was able to source and buy parts from Hoffman to undergo the rebuild.
Bricklin’s automatic gull-wing doors looked like something out of the 23rd century, but hydraulic fluid would often flow into the interior. When Madu got to the doors, he realized that each was assembled differently – on one side there were welds and parts that didn’t have matching welds or parts on the other side. He switched out the hydraulics and replaced it with a system that works on air pressure, which he got from Edmonton’s Skeans Pneumatic & Automation Solutions.
The Bricklin’s headlights often failed. They were run on a vacuum-tube system, and it would often fail. Car enthusiasts call the one-headlight-up-one-down phenomenon “The Bricklin Wink.” Madu found old Pontiac Trans Am headlight actuators, built the brackets himself and got them to work in the car.
The engine was shot. Madu’s Bricklin had a Ford Windsor V8 that pulled only 170 horses, a paltry number for a car that, because of the tubes and safety support beams, weighed 3,600 pounds. So, Madu went to Freedom Ford and, as the former owner of a 1969 and 1992 Mustang, got the five-litre Ford Engine that you’ll find in the pony car’s GT model.
And, while he wanted the car to be orange, he didn’t want that pylon “Safety Orange” that was one of the Bricklin’s feature colours. He went with a darker shade. Bricklin was infamous for making cars with mismatched panels – some with colours faded, some darker.
Now the car has a better engine, doors that work, and is 300 pounds lighter than it was when it rolled out of the factory more than four decades ago. Madu says he’s put 2,000 kilometres on it in 2017. And, while he worked on it, his home became a bit of a tourist stop.
“Look at the weather outside, what are you going to do? At least you can go into the garage and putz and it keeps you busy, that’s the main thing… Most people don’t know what the hell it is. Even when I am working on it in the garage, cars come by, they hit the brakes and then they idle. One guy was going by in his pick-up truck and had his phone out the window, filming as he went by.”
So, what’s Madu’s answer for the next person who tells him the car is crap?
“I modernized it. The piece of crap, I got rid of. The body was crap, I put a new body on it. The doors were crap. So, new doors. Better engine, headlight system. All the crap is gone now.”