Aside from Bob Lutz, who’s still punching the clock at General Motors, outsized personalities in the car business are an endangered species. That’s what makes the rare sighting of Malcolm Bricklin so appealing in The Entrepreneur, a new documentary that’s executive produced by Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame. Directed by Jonathan Bricklin, the film follows his 70-year-old father – founder of Subaru of America, creator of the 1970s Bricklin SV-1 sports car, and infamous Yugo importer – on a globetrotting quest to start his own car company, Visionary Vehicles. The problem is that he has no car design. Or seemingly any automaker willing to provide said car, with which Bricklin intends to revolutionize the American auto business.
As Bricklin pitches his way from one automotive backwater to another, cursing with naval gusto, he alights in China, where he sees Chery Automobile as his best hope. The documentary becomes a Pilgrim’s Progress of a driven capitalist, or maybe The Producers of the auto business: It becomes clear that an aging, increasingly desperate Bricklin will risk anything for one last hit. See Bricklin bluff and bluster, demanding that Chery sign off on a letter of intent within hours of his arrival at its Chinese factory. See Bricklin disrobe before a roomful of polite Chery executives – Malcolm wants to show them “exactly who we are” – whose expressions suggest they’re not entirely surprised by his antics.
“I told my son, you shot 1500 hours, you could have made me look a little better,” Bricklin says with a laugh. Improbably, the film’s multiyear odyssey finally culminates in a U.S. distribution deal, and the wily salesman appears to have triumphed – only to have Chery renege and jump into bed with Chrysler, leading to his lawsuit against Chery.
Bricklin himself insists he’s far from finished. He’s been pitching hydrogen technology to the likes of Chrysler and GM. Lutz, he says, wrote him a complimentary letter but turned down a lunch offer, saying GM had more pressing issues.
“I don’t know how any maverick with ideas even survives there,” Bricklin says of the once-Big Three, before ramping up his trademark salesmanship: “For the first time in my life, this industry is ripe for innovation and new players. There couldn’t be a better opportunity.”