DETROIT --Malcolm Bricklin has been pretty quiet since a high-profile 2004 quest to sell Chinese cars in the U.S. skidded into court in a slew of lawsuits, some of which are still being litigated.
The man — who was once described as having a mind that works like a machine gun — is now 78 and relies on a cane to get around. But he is pulling the trigger again with a plan to turn high-end car dealers into high-end art dealers.
Bricklin wants dealers to give him $2 million. For that sum, they’ll get stock in his company and have the rights to sell two things:
1. From their stores, the Bricklin 3EV, a $25,000, three-wheeled, battery-powered two-seater. The vehicle, Bricklin claims, could be ready for sale in two years. Customers, he said, will “test drive” the ritzy-looking vehicle using virtual reality machines installed in a “pod” on dealers’ used-car lots. That pod, by the way, looks a bit like the saucer-shaped ship from the campy 1960s TV show “Lost in Space.”
2. From a separate gallery away from the dealership, high-end artwork by known artists, works that have a guaranteed value. And money is routed to the artists when the works are resold.
Is there a catch? Well, yeah. This is Bricklin we’re talking about.
Dealers can’t just invest in the car. They have to pony up $2 million for both the car and the art gallery, or no deal, Bricklin said.
No one but Bricklin could dream up something like this and get dealers not only to listen but to invest. The first check from a New York dealer has been deposited. Bricklin said four other dealers are on board. He needs 95 more dealers to buy in to fund the $200 million project.
But if you know Bricklin, this is what he does. And the only question is the same old question: Can he pull it off?
Dan Panoz, who runs Panoz Engineering Services, in Hoschton, Ga., about 90 minutes northeast of Atlanta, has done some preliminary engineering and design work for Bricklin’s three-wheeled car.
The company, Panoz said, is not yet under contract to complete the project for Bricklin. But his outfit, part of a group of companies affiliated with race car designer and engineer Don Panoz, who is Dan Panoz’s father, could manage the project and have the Bricklin 3EV ready by 2019.
“It’s tight, and it is a push,” said Dan Panoz. “Absolutely it can be done in two years, but not with a lot of product changes.”
Panoz said he doesn’t get the feelng Bricklin will make many changes. “He has a direction he wants to take us in,” he said. “He is an old-school go-getter, and he’s aggressive in the area he wants to go into.”