By Elizabeth Sindelar-Loy
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute Doc, are you telling me you built a time machine out of a DeLorean?”
“If you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”
-Marty McFly & Emmett “Doc” Brown, Back to The Future, 1985
It has been hypothesized that if the release of Back to the Future had come out just a few short years earlier, the demise of the DeLorean Motor Company may have never occurred. The immediate popularity of the movie catapulted the DeLorean to iconic movie car status making it one of the most highly sought-after nostalgia vehicles of all time. What 80’s kid wouldn’t want to feel like Michael J. Fox with the DeLorean’s gull-wing doors open to their full glory as a backdrop?
Despite lacking a flux capacitor, going 88 miles per hour in a DeLorean feels like you’re going back to the future. I am positive that its creator would have immediately jumped at the chance to get his hands on plutonium to resurrect the ill-fated company.
John DeLorean was a talented engineer and long before he created the DeLorean Motor Company, he breathed new life into General Motors. His genius, arrogance, and persistence created a new genre of automobile with the birth of the Gran Turismo Omologato – GTO. The Grand Daddy of muscle cars and an instant legend. Even though John blatantly disregarded GM’s rules regarding installing the bigger engine into a smaller car to improve speed performance, he was still awarded general manager of Pontiac.
John DeLorean understood what most auto industry executives didn’t at that time. He knew the style of the vehicle was just as vital as the nuts and bolts that went into designing an automobile that consumers coveted. After the GTO, John solidified his rockstar status with the creation of the Pontiac Firebird followed by the Trans Am. All the success and fame went right to his head and led to his resignation from GM in April 1973.
It didn’t take long for the flamboyant automaker to create his new company, the DeLorean Motor Company in October 1975. John’s vision was to create an “ethical car” that was safe, long-lasting, and sustainable. The original protype, the DMC-12, took the new company two years to build. The prototype’s iconic design wowed investors.
Knowing who to recruit for his projects was one of the key components that made John DeLorean successful. He hired the world’s most influential modern automotive designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro to bring his vision for the DeLorean to life. Giugiaro based the design on a 1970 concept car he had drawn up for Porsche that included the similar wedge shape, stainless-steel body and of course the infamous gull-wing doors.
Originally the first protype of the DeLorean was powered by a Ford Cologne V6 Engine but plans changed, and it was replaced with a more reliable Citroën-sourced four-cylinder engine. However, when Citroën discovered that DMC wanted to turbocharge the engine, they asked that DMC find another company. This became the first nail in DMC’s coffin. They settled on a 2.85-liter Peugeot-sourced V6 which unfortunately produced only 130hp and 153-lb of torque. This solidified the DMC-12 as one of the slowest sports cars of its day.
The second nail in DMC’s coffin was the fact that John DeLorean decided to manufacture his car in Northern Ireland where automotive production was a completely new industry. This led to multiple quality control issues. The employees had no experience in making a sports car and they were poorly trained in the assembly of cars. Unless a buyer was a mechanic, they would spend a fortune fixing the car in repair shops. Out of all the issues that arose, the worst was the car would overheat due to the engine ventilation system being prone to failure. This especially happened when the driver tested the car’s limits.
The multiple quality control issues led to a halt in vehicles being shipped to the US in early 1982 but production continued well into May. By the time the cars were shipped to the US, they were already viewed to be a year old. Therefore, due to this issue more than 1,000 cars with 1982 VIN numbers ended up being changed to 1983 VIN numbers. Had the company not made this important distinction, the cars wouldn’t have been financed as “new”. This 1983 DeLorean has a VIN ending in DDO16XXX to indicate that it was originally a 1982 model.
The DeLorean was originally supposed to only cost $12,000, hence its original name, DMC-12. Unfortunately, the car ended up selling for over $25,000 making it one of the most expensive sports cars at that time. This was the final nail in DMC’s coffin. The company just couldn’t overcome growing manufacturer costs, shipping costs, a weak exchange rate and costs related to changes in the vehicle’s original design.
John DeLorean’s dream didn’t come with the revelry and fanfare that he so desperately wanted. Critics hailed the design, but it wasn’t enough to overcome all the flaws. The DMC-12 was underpowered, had so-so handling and not fuel-efficient. The result was nowhere near close to the groundbreaking idea DeLorean sought out to create. Than to make matters ever worse, the deal DMC made with the British government to receive funds came to an end when Margaret Thatcher took office. This led to John DeLorean making a desperate Hail Mary to save his company which infamously solidified his downfall as well as the end of the company.
Whether you are looking to buy a DeLorean for the myth, the man who created it or the legend it became, owning one is a solid investment. Despite known flaws, it’s one of the most recognizable cars of all time and highly collectible. The DeLorean has appreciated in value over the last 3 years as the numbers of those still on the road is starting to dwindle. Originally, there were only just over 9,000 made and it is estimated that only about 6,000 are still operable.
For those who are questioning how to keep their DeLoreans in pristine shape, the DeLorean Motor Company was established in 1995 with John DeLorean’s blessing. Their three locations across the country provide original parts, service, and the ability to have the vehicle refurbished.
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