DeLorean DMC-12: Past blast

By: John Bowe, Photography by: Joe Press

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John Bowe goes back to the future for supercar looks but not performance

DeLorean DMC-12: Past blast
Past blast: DeLorean DMC-12

 

DeLorean DMC-12

TIME TRAVEL

DeLorean certainly has an interesting history. Of course, many people know the car from the legendary 1980s movie Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly (played by Michael J. Fox) went back in time to the 1950s in one. But the real story surrounding the DeLorean – yes, it was a real car, not just something made up for a movie – is just as incredible as its role as a movie time machine.

The DeLorean was conceived by John DeLorean, a career car industry engineer and executive who started at Packard in the ’50s before moving to GM. Some people credit him with creating the muscle car because he conceived the big-engine, small-body GTO while working at Pontiac.

Later he was promoted to head Chevrolet – and later again to the vice-presidency of GM itself. He was a bit of a rock-star executive and lived the high life. But he resigned in the early ’70s to pursue a personal dream of creating an innovative sports car after GM apparently knocked back the idea.

That car was launched as the DeLorean DMC-12 in 1981. It was styled by Giugiaro and developed with input from Renault and Lotus. As well as providing the rear-mounted alloy V6 engine, Renault was contracted to build the DeLorean factory in Northern Ireland with millions of dollars in subsidies from the British Government in anticipation of the employment it would create.

Lotus was entrusted with the detail work on the chassis and suspension; the car had the trademark Lotus-style backbone chassis, with the Renault V6 installed at the rear.

The body was clothed in stainless steel over a fibreglass sub-structure and featured a plain brushed finish – no paint. It also had the standout feature of gullwing doors.

However, by early 1982 the DeLorean Motor Company was in trouble. Northern Ireland – a politically troubled environment at the time – probably wasn’t the best place to build a car factory, and sales weren’t as strong as they should have been because the DeLorean cost more than a Corvette in its most important market, the USA.

John DeLorean famously went looking for funds to prop-up his failing company and found it in a sophisticated drugs-trafficking and money-laundering sting allegedly set up by the FBI. He was subsequently arrested and tried for trafficking cocaine, but was acquitted in 1984. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

The factory was shut down by the British government after about 9000 cars had been built in less than two years, but the car was immortalised as Marty McFly’s time machine.

These days the DeLorean is something of a cult car and remaining examples are cherished. There’s even a good supply of spare parts from the US.

There are several DeLoreans in Australia, including this one owned by James Politino. It’s quite a striking looking car, and is stock standard apart from the paint.

The DeLorean was famous for its stainless steel finish, but this one has been wrapped in yellow. And I think it really suits the car. I’ve seen a few of these in the original finish and I reckon they look a bit drab.

This yellow coating is actually a stick-on wrap, rather than paint, and it can simply be peeled off, so the car’s value and integrity will not be affected.

The engine – an alloy V6 that was shared by Peugeot, Renault and Volvo, driving through a Renault five-speed originally fitted to a front-drive car – is mounted at the rear and there’s a bit of weight behind the rear axle. But it doesn’t have the odd look of some rear-engined cars, probably due to the hatch styling, the long bonnet and the grille up front.

Those gullwing doors – which, I must mention, worked perfectly – are awesome and make the car look a lot more modern than something from the early ’80s. But with the modest mechanicals, those amazing looks are the best part of the car; it may have futuristic supercar styling, but I’m sorry to say it doesn’t drive like one, even taking into consideration its era.

The seats are trimmed in leather, but are not particularly supportive. It has a very low roofline, so it would be difficult to sit in for taller people, but it’s not claustrophobic. And there’s no power steering, though it’s no heavier than a 911 from the same era.

Don’t get me wrong, it was pleasant to drive, but was obviously tuned for the US market, which favours ride comfort and smoothness over road feel and handling. If it had double the power and stiffer suspension, it would have been wonderful.

Apparently the DeLorean Motor Company intended to evolve the car with the fitting of a turbocharger or two – after all, it was launched at the dawn of the ’80s turbo-everything era – and with handling to match, but of course the company famously went belly-up before that had a chance of happening.

Nevertheless, this car certainly makes a statement. Okay, it’s a bit lazy in its performance – a claimed 0-100km/h of 8.9 seconds is hardly even hot-hatch territory – but with a bit of tuning you could have something that was really fun.

The story of its creator made it infamous while the movie made it famous, but if it wasn’t for those two situations the DeLorean may have sunk into obscurity as another failed pseudo supercar. But it didn’t, and that’s what makes it cool.


IT'S MINE...

Melbourne enthusiast James Politino has owned his DeLorean for a few years after importing it from the US, where most were sold. As James explains it, the recognition and popularity of the car today is driven by its presence in the Back to the Future movie trilogy in the 1980s.

"There’s a bit of a cult following for these things," he says. "I had one before this – it wasn’t quite as nice as this one – and my brother has one, too."

He admits that the car doesn’t really have the supercar performance promised by its styling: "However, you have to keep in mind the Corvettes and some other cars of the day weren’t particularly fast, either."


SPECIFICATIONS

1981 DeLorean DMC-12

Power: 96kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 207Nm @ 2750rpm
Weight: 1250kg
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheels: 14in front, 15in rear alloys
Brakes: Four-wheel discs
0-100km/h: 8.9sec (claimed)
Top speed: 209km/h (claimed)
Value: New (1981) $US25,000

 

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