For decades, the concept of automotive safety—the ability of a vehicle’s occupants to survive a crash—was something treated very gingerly by automakers, which feared discussion of this topic might infer their cars were ill-handling or otherwise defective. It was also largely ignored by the buying public, until the 1965 publication of Unsafe at Any Speed shocked the American government into regulatory action.
In the early 1970s, building Experimental Safety Vehicles (ESV) for research and auto show display was a popular theme with automakers around the globe, and it seemed the topic had finally reached widespread acceptance. It was into that environment that a young entrepreneur launched his unique new sports car, which lit off with a firework’s bright energy, and just as quickly, fizzled out.
Orlando, Florida, is where an ambitious 21-year-old college dropout named Malcolm Bricklin founded a home-improvement hardware store franchise in 1960; he would sell his interest in that business, dubbed Handyman, for a substantial profit a few years later, and get his real first taste of success. Bricklin’s next project brought him into the transportation world, when he sold leftover Italian motor scooters to the City of New York Police Department; with assistance from partner Harvey Lamm, he would create Fuji Heavy Industries’ beachhead into the American automotive marketplace with the 1968 establishment of Subaru of America.